The LeDroit Park Historic District -Washington DC


LeDroit Historic District
Photo courtesy of the DC SHPO

The LeDroit Park Historic District was originally a planned architecturally unified subdivision of substantial detached and semidetached houses designed by James McGill and constructed mainly between 1873 and 1877. LeDroit Park presently contains 50 of the original 64 McGill houses. The remaining brick and frame rowhouses were constructed in the late 1880s and 1890s.

The McGill houses were designed in the tradition of A. J. Downing’s Country Houses which first appeared in 1850 and depicted homes designed in the style of Italian villas, Gothic cottages, and other stylistic variations. Illustrated in prospectuses published by the developer entitled, “LeDroit Park Illustrated,” and “Architectural Advertiser,” the houses are depicted with varied facades and similar floor plans. There is one block left which includes all of the original McGill houses and no intrusions (the 400 block of U Street). Another block which contains several very handsome McGill houses is the 500 block of T Street. The Gothic style house at 317 T Street is a fine example of McGill’s style. Located next door at 325 T Street is a Second Empire style house. The double house on Third and T Streets constructed for General William Birney and Mr. Arthur Birney also has a high mansard roof. The house retains its patterned and scalloped roof, a finial and elaborate molded wood cornice and dormers. The house at 201 T Street (later the home of Frelinghuysen University) still retains some Eastlakian motifs, combined with Italian Villa style alterations, added probably in the 1880s.

The rowhouses, constructed in the late 1880s and 1890s, are primarily low-rise brick buildings with fine terra cotta and decorative brickwork. They have rooflines which are frequently accented with turrets, towers, pedimented gables and iron cresting. The original developers took care in landscaping the area with the planting of ornamental trees and hedges. The circle at the juncture of T and 3rd Streets provides a focal point for the district.

An early drawing of LeDroit Park, Harewood Ave.
NPS Photo

LeDroit Park was developed by Amzi L. Barber, one of the founders of Howard University. Barber married the daughter of successful real estate broker LeDroit Langdon and resigned his post at Howard in 1873. LeDroit Park was developed as an exclusively white residential area, and this policy was enforced to the extent that a fence enclosed the area and guards were stationed at the gates to restrict access. This fence became a focal point of unrest. In July of 1888, the fence was torn down by protesting African Americans, which signaled a movement toward the integration of the area. In 1893, a barber, Octavius Williams, became the first African American to move into the subdivision. The LeDroit Park area was integrated for only a short time, and by the beginning of World War I, the white families had moved out.

Among the prominent African Americans who lived in LeDroit Park were Robert A. Terrell, the first African American municipal Judge and his wife, Mary Church Terrell, a distinguished educator, suffragette, and civil rights activist. She was the first African American to serve on the DC School Board. Her house, at 326 T Street is a National Historic Landmark. Major Christian Fleetwood, a Civil War hero, General Benjamin Davis, the first African American general, and violinist Clarence Cameron White also resided in LeDroit Park. Walter Washington, the first mayor of DC elected under home rule and his wife, Benetta resided at 408 T Street, and the poet Paul Laurence Dunbar resided at 321 U Street. The Frelinghuysen University also had its roots in LeDroit. This school, located at 201 T Street and founded in 1906 by Dr. Jesse Lawson and Dr. Anna J. Cooper, was established to provide evening education classes for employed African Americans who were unable to attend school during the day. LeDroit Park remains essentially intact today and serves as home to many prominent African Americans.

The LeDroit Park Historic District is roughly bounded by Rhode Island and Florida Aves. on the south; Howard University on the west; Elm St. on the north; and 2nd St. on the east. All the houses mentioned above are private and not open to the public. Metro stop: Shaw-Howard University