So unlike the survey pages I really like, this one is fairly sparse. Anyway, today’s feature is Salem Baptist Church at 917 N Street NW in Shaw. It’s a church building on lot 0809, and a residential structure. Looking at PropertyQuest, there’s another lot the church owns on the other side of the main building. The survey does not tell the racial make up. I’m not 100% sure about the major racial make upof it now, but I’ll guess, African American.
Okay, let’s get back to the boring church surveys….well they can be exciting when you take them in as a whole looking at the changes of the neighborhood. They also chip away at an idea that some churches have been here since the dawn of time. Just as there is this myth that certain people have been in the neighborhood since a vague forever. People move around. We are aware of it, but sometimes we don’t apply this knowledge. Churches, they also move around, let’s take the church at 44 Q Street NW in Truxton Circle.
According to the survey, this was previously the chapel for St. Agnes, a Roman Catholic church I believe. I think there was a graveyard where Eckington is, that was associated with St. Agnes. At some point in time, maybe 1949, the Catholics moved on and the Baptists moved in.
Corinthian Baptist Church is a church constantly on the move. According to the survey they were founded in 1919 at 4th and New York Ave. From 1920-23 they moved south to 4th and K. Then in 1923 they moved north to 4th and Q, possibly where the Fourth Street Seventh Day Adventists sit, but I’d have to research that further. Then in 1932, they moved a block over to where Mt. Sinai sits at 1615 3rd St NW. I gather they moved to 44 Q St NW in 1949. When the survey was done, they were already thinking about moving to 5th and I St NW, and they did. I found a Facebook page with some great 80s photos of church members at the 502 I Street NW location in Chinatown. Currently, the Chinese Community Church is in that location. As of April 14, 2019, Corinthian Baptist Church (the same one I think, not 100% sure) is in Lanham, MD. I don’t know when Ebenezer Baptist replaced the itchy-footed Corinthian Baptists, but that is the church that currently sits on that spot.
For the time Corinthian Baptist was in Truxton Circle, it drew a number of congregants from the community. They estimated about 33.5% of their members lived in the Northwest Urban Renewal Area (parts later to become the Shaw School Urban Renewal Area), and 66% lived in other parts of the city. I will dare to say this was a middle class, white collar African-American church, as they claimed a large percentage (no numbers given) were government workers. Also, 4-5% of the roughly 800 members were professionals.
Okay, I need to regularly post this topic. Because DC is a city that attracts people from elsewhere, the nuances of the city’s history get lost over time with each new fresh face.
There is a piece in the Washington Post, a “Where we live” real estate article about Truxton Circle. There is a line that refers to other neighborhoods, Bloomingdale and Shaw. I’m only going to nit pix here and state, once again, Truxton Circle is in Shaw. I thought I mentioned it to the writer to reached out to me for contacts, when I warned her about the group of residents who hate the name ‘Truxton Circle’.
Look at this map above. Let’s point out a few of the neighbhorhoods covered by this circa 1968 map of the Shaw School Urban Renewal Area. U Street
Let’s start in the north with the top of the map where we have the area currently known as U Street. Formally this was the city’s Black Broadway. What are the boundaries? Beats me. Let’s say U St and Florida Ave NW.
Truxton Circle (most)
Coming over the east in a clockwise direction, we have the NW section of Truxton Circle. There is a NE section that I ignore most of the time. That north east section is not part of the original Shaw neighborhood.
Mt. Vernon Square (part)
Funny thing, there are parts of Mt. Vernon Square, or at least the Mt. Vernon Square Historic District (map, PDF) in Truxton Circle. And there are parts of Mt. Vernon Sq. outside of Shaw. This is in the southeastern part of Shaw and bordering Shaw. There is an overlapping. Don’t freak out, it’s okay.
Now this is the section that these days gets touted as the current boundaries of Shaw, although I don’t know who redrew them. Mid-city contains within it, the small historic districts of Blagden Alley and Naylor Court. It also has the most awesome restaurants.
Finishing our loop around Shaw is Logan Circle to the west. According to the Logan Circle Community Association the boundaries are: “S Street to the north, K Street to the south, 9th Street to the east, and 16th Street to the west.”
Back in the aughts, I was looking for an Episcopal Church (St. A &A) but I had the address all wrong. I knew it was somewhere near or along Massachusetts Avenue but I was lost. I was running out of time, and so I saw Luther Place and thought ‘Episcopal/ Lutheran…. close enough’, and joined them for service.
Looking at the 1957 Church Survey for Luther Place, the congregational makeup is fairly similar to the small crowd of people I encountered when I wandered in sometime between 2000-08, mostly white. It was a very small group and it was so long ago. The 1957 crowd mostly (67%) lived in other parts of the city and good quarter living in the ‘burbs. I’m sensing a trend of 1957 Shaw churches being commuter churches.
I went to St. Luke’s once or twice when I was church shopping. Although it doesn’t say so on the 1957 Church Survey for the Northwest Urban Renewal area, the ethnic makeup was primarily African American. Maybe it was a little more mixed in 1957, but circa 2001-2002, for the visit(s) I made, it was an African American congregation.
Regarding the number of parishioners who lived in the urban renewal area, the survey says that a number used to live in the area but in a period of 10-15 years many began moving out. Actually, they don’t give any numbers. How many people lived in the urban renewal area….. “a few.” How many in the rest of DC? A “large majority.” How many out in the burbs? Well, there we get something numerical, “few (8 families).” They had parking for 44 cars, so let’s call it a commuter church.
Let’s also call it a retiree church. Though professionals (17%) and white collar workers (29%) had significant numbers, I couldn’t help but notice the 22% of the congregants being retirees. So far it doesn’t look like the other churches I’ve featured had so many retirees.
Okay, let’s do a Shaw Church for this series of churches in the 1957 Church Survey. A survey that has never been done since, because a later “survey” done in the 1970s or 80s was very uninformative compared to this one. My last church was Metropolitan AME, and before that Eckington Presbyterian, so I figured I bring the posts back to the part of the Northwest Urban Renewal Area that later became Shaw.
Mt. Gilead still stands at 1625 13th St NW. According to their history website, their church building was bought at auction from Trinity Baptist Church in 1932. The church (people) itself was a mission group of about 75 people who started this church. As far as I can tell from their site, it is still an African American church.
So I’m going to go into the well that is the October 1957 Northwest Urban Renewal Area Church Survey to look at churches that may or may not still exist in Shaw.
Lincoln Memorial Congregational is one of those churches that fit into the may and may not exist limbo because the church is no longer functioning and held its last service in 2018. In the September 30, 2018 Washington Post article regarding the church’s shuttering, about a dozen parishioners would show up on any given Sunday. The stated reason for the reduced numbers was the demographic changes in the neighborhood and problems with parking. When you look at what was going on with the church in 1957, neighborhood demographics didn’t matter as much as the parking.
The Northwest Urban Renewal Area was bigger than the boundaries of Shaw, and encompassed most of Shaw, and only a quarter of the 725 members lived in the urban renewal area. According to the 1957 survey, a majority lived in other parts of DC. A notation says those congregants outside of the urban renewal area lived in upper Northwest, Kenilworth and Brookland. Half of the working parishioners were white collar workers, I’ll guess members of the Black middle class who probably had cars and drove/ car-pooled to church. Those other parts of DC are too far to walk to church in one’s Sunday best.
One morning on the radio, NPR was doing a story on a question about citizenship to be included on the 2020 census. I understand the worry, as there is the thought that census data was used to help round up Japanese residents and their American born children and put them in internment camps in the desert. My first thought hearing the story is, people could just lie. Digging down into the data for my on-going, long term neighborhood history project I’m noticing this.
People lie about their age. People lie about being married. Some people may be flexible in the racial group they identify with (Lucky C. Young I’m looking at you), which could be interpreted by some as lying about their race.
I’m trying to clean up data for a the Truxton Circle neighborhood history project where I look at the US census for every resident of my neighborhood. In this clean up attempt, I’m encountering lies and things that look like untruths. Take for example my attempt to hunt down Spencer Heywood. According to the 1940 census Spencer Heywood, a 50 year old self employed barber from Georgia who lived at 1649 3rd St in DC with his wife Ethel Heywood, a 37 year old government maid from Arkansas. According to the census he was a home owner. Outside of the 1940 Census, I can’t find any other record of the man. Now Ethel on the other hand….. In 1930 the residents of 1649 3rd St were 41 year old rail road worker Saunders Thomas, and his 30 year old wife Ethel, who owned their home. According to property records, Ethel shows up as the owner in 1924. No mention of a husband. In later records, Ethel and Sanders appear as owners. But in a 1972, when the Redevelopment Land Agency buys her house to (I assume) bulldoze it, the record stated that Ethel Louise Heywood (formerly Ethel Louise Thomas) was the unmarried widow of Saunder Frank Thomas, who died in 1934. Soooooooo, who was that guy at her house in 1940?
Now, I’m just guessing here. She may have been shacked up with some guy named Spencer. Was that the US Federal government business if she did? She was incorrect about her age being 30 years old in 1930 but only 37 in 1940. One of those ages is wrong, but what is it to the government?
This is not a call for people to lie about their citizenship status or any other field on the census. No, please don’t do that. Leaving it blank is a perfectly good answer. Just recognizing that people do and will put in incorrect information in the US Census. And not just the census, other documents I use, like city directories, land records and newspaper articles probably contain misstatements, fictions, and errors. It’s frustrating when you are trying to hunt down someone in the record. I do understand reasons for misstatements for things where the respondent isn’t getting anything of value in return, because some questions are intrusive and probably none of my business, but I really want to know what someone made in 1940 and how much education they had.
I’m reminded of a professor’s whose name I’ve forgotten who wanted me to be more critical of primary documents. Most of the time, 99% of the time, I trust the primary documents. But as I encounter these things with conflicting information, or lies, depending on my mood at the time, my general faith in the documents goes from 99% to 75%. The professor wanted me to take into account the biases of the document creators, and how I shouldn’t just give the benefit of the doubt.
This is an edited reprint of a post published elsewhere.
There are dozens of churches that existed in general Shaw area in the 1950s that are no longer around. Some church congregations moved, some churches are closed by their denomination, there are a variety of reasons. The Lincoln Memorial Congregational Temple at 11th and R St NW, 2-3 blocks from the Shaw metro R Street exit had its last service this weekend.
The Washington Post made mention of gentrification in its article about the church’s last days. There isn’t a direct blaming of gentrification, but there is a lot of hinting. The church attempted to reach out to neighbors, added some programing but couldn’t get the membership numbers up after the Rev. Benjamin E. Lewis retired. Yes, parking pressures didn’t help. But looking back at the 1957 Church Survey (PDF), Lincoln UCC church members mostly lived outside of the Shaw neighborhood.
The Church Survey from October 1957 looked at steeple, storefront and residential houses of worship from a block over from U St, Florida Ave, 14th St NW, Mass Ave and 2nd St NE. Lincoln UCC was one and in 1957, 74% of parishioners lived outside of the map in Brookland and Kenilworth. Those 25% who did live in the Northwest Urban Renewal Area were reported to be elderly members, who should be more than dead right now. Don’t blame the demographic changes on the church’s decline.
When doing neighborhood history, I encounter many quaint fictions. Most of them are harmless. There is the belief that residents are home owners. And there’s the idea that church congregants lived in walking distance. Some do, many don’t. Bible Way Church, which stopped the I-395 from destroying Shaw and going all the way through, only had 30% of its members in the Urban Renewal area. Mt. Sinai who will host tonight’s BACA meeting, had 96% of its members scattered elsewhere in the city. The upper and middle class Blacks who supported and were a part of these churches did not all live in the slum that was Shaw.
UPDATE #2- Okay the Haywood/ Heywood confusion was on me and my note taking. So it was Heywood as in Hey! Wood. She also sold the property in 1972 not 1975 as reported earlier. The other confusion is I noticed the date of her husband and it is reflected in the amended post.
I was working on a longer post when I came to a hiccup. People. People are complicated.
So I have a person in the 1940 census named Spencer Heywood, a black man born in Georgia possibly in 1890. He’s a barber. He owns his own shop according to what his wife Ethel Heywood reported to the census. Problem is, I can’t find Spencer Heywood outside of the 1940 DC census. The other problem is the Sanborn map says his house 1649 3rd Street NW does not exist, city directories says it does. If it did exist, it doesn’t exist anymore because there is a Northwest Co-op on that spot.
Sometime the indexing is crazy, maybe his name was misspelled in this or another census. I checked the 1940 census and that area was covered by someone who wrote in clear block letters. Then I checked the property records using that his name. Nada for that time period.
I moved on to the wife, maybe if I can find her, I might be able to locate him. Oh, I found her, but I did not find Spencer anywhere. Ethel appears in the land records for Square 551 (where Mt. Sinai, Florida Park and the Co-op sit) with two names between 1924 and 1972. Ethel Louise Heywood exists in the records between 1950 and 1972, Ethel Louise Thomas is named as the owner of lot H, later lot 0909, between 1924 and 1950. The April 1950 deed links Ethel Heywood and Thomas together naming her as the widow of Sanders Frank Thomas. Another deed from 1944 also calls her the widow of Sanders Thomas. She’s the main owner, but Mr. Thomas is only mentioned again in 1933 and 1937. The earliest record makes no mention of a husband, she acts as a singular entity regarding the business of the property.
So who the hell is Spencer? Could Sanders be Spencer?
In the 1930 census at 1649 3rd St NW, 30 year old nurse Ethel Thomas of Arkansas is living with her husband Sanders Thomas, a 41 year old waiter and DC native, with a lodger Ruth Sweeney, a 40 year old laundress. In 1940 the two residents of 1649 3rd St NW are Ethel Heywood of Arkansas, a maid for the federal government and her husband and head of household, Spencer Thomas Heywood, the barber from Georgia.
According to the 1972 paperwork, Sanders Thomas died in 1934, before the 1940 census, and Ethel did not remarry.
I don’t think Spencer and Sanders are the same guy. Okay, who the Hell is Spencer?
My spouse has a crazy theory. He thinks Ethel was upset, leaving Sanders she walked over to a dance club and ran into Spencer Heywood. They hatched a plan to bump off Sanders. Initially, he supposed she went to the Baker’s Dozen on 4th Street to dance her cares away, until I pointed out it didn’t open until 1944, after the 1940 census, and after Thomas’ death. Finally that damned plaque is good for something.
UPDATE- So it’s Heywood in the Census but Haywood in the record.