Supplement to the 122nd Annual Meeting

Walking Tour of Capitol Hill

Joe Wallace, December 2007

During your stay at the AHA annual meeting, consider visiting the city's distinctive Capitol Hill neighborhood. The area offers a unique blend of official Washington and a vibrant community that has contributed much to the city's culture. The Capitol Hill Historic District includes public buildings, businesses, and tree-lined streets of ornate brick row homes. Locals used to call the area "Jenkins' Hill" after its namesake, Thomas Jenkins, who owned the several-hundred-acre tract of land that became the site for the U.S. Capitol.

This article suggests a Metro-accessible walking tour that will allow you to visit a neighborhood that lends the capital city part of its small-town feel and southern charm.

Capitol South

The Capitol South Metro station is conveniently located near the nation's legislative center of power and offers a good jumping off point for a walking tour of the Hill. Up 1st Street from the station exit you will see the Cannon House Office Building, part of the House of Representatives side of the Capitol Complex. The building, named for Joe Cannon, the imperious Speaker of the House, celebrates its centenary in 2008. From the corner of 1st Street SE and Independence Avenue, the Longworth and the Rayburn buildings, also named after prominent 20th-century speakers of the House, are to the left. To your right is the Madison Building of the Library of Congress, which houses arguably the country's greatest manuscript collection. The East Front of the Capitol (under which sits the mammoth Capitol Visitor Center, slated for completion in 2008) is to your left. Congress first occupied the Capitol Building in November 1800, when it was still under construction and encompassed only a small portion of the current north wing. Burned by the British in 1814, it was subsequently rebuilt, expanded, and, finally, capped by its soaring dome during the Civil War. Across Independence Avenue and to the right sits the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress, with its elaborate architecture and visually stunning public reading room.

Barracks Row

To see some of the less-traversed areas of the Hill, turn right onto Independence Avenue and continue east. To the right, along Pennsylvania Avenue between 2nd and 8th Streets SE, is a historic commercial strip housing restaurants, taverns, cafes, and a variety of shops. Turn right on 8th Street to see the revitalized Barracks Row district, home to more eclectic shops, ethnic restaurants, and the Washington D.C. Marine Barracks. This registered historical site is the oldest post in the United States Marine Corps, featuring the ornate home of the Commandant of the Marine Corps at the corner of 8th and I Streets SE.

Eastern Market

One block northwest of the 8th Street corridor, Eastern Market is a registered historical site and one of the city's most beloved indoor and outdoor markets. Eastern Market was built in 1873 and is the last of Washington's 19th-century markets to remain in continuous operation. A three-alarm fire in April 2007 severely damaged the structure. While the building is undergoing renovations, a temporary structure has been erected on an adjacent lot. Farmers markets, arts and crafts festivals, and a flea market enliven the weekends.

Lincoln Park, East Capitol Street, and the Supreme Court

Leaving Eastern Market and heading North on 7th Street SE, bear right on North Carolina Avenue and walk three blocks to Lincoln Park, part of Pierre L'Enfant's plan for the city. For a majestic view of the Capitol, walk up East Capitol Street off the west side of the park. Magnificent homes and wide tree-lined sidewalks accent Capitol Hill's grand avenue. The Capitol Dome seems to rise out of the road in the far distance.

At the corner of 2nd and East Capitol Streets stands the 1932 the Folger Shakespeare Library and Theater. The library is home to the world's largest collection of Shakespeare materials. Continue on East Capitol Street for one more block and turn right on 1st Street NE. To the right is the U.S. Supreme Court Building, first occupied in 1935 (for its first 146 years the court met in the U.S. Capitol). The pediment and façade were renovated in the summer of 2006.

The Senate Side and Union Station

One more block north is the busy intersection of Constitution Avenue and 1st Street NE. This is the "Senate side" of the Capitol, with the three Senate Office Buildings—from left to right: Russell, Dirksen, and Hart. The Sewall-Belmont House, on the corner of Constitution and 2nd Street NE, was the headquarters of the National Woman's Party and the Washington home of its leader, Alice Paul. Continue straight for three blocks to arrive at Union Station. This massive structure—with its great central hall—celebrates its centennial in 2008. An estimated 20 million travelers and tourists pass through the building annually.

—Joe Wallace is at the Office of History and Preservation of the U.S. House of Representatives.