The Capitol Hill Historic District, Washington DC


Capitol Hill Historic District
Photo courtesy of the DC SHPO

The Capitol Hill Historic District takes its name from the hill, which rises in the center of the Federal City and extends eastward. This hill, which in 1790 was called Jenkins Hill or Jenkins Heights, was the site chosen by Pierre L’Enfant for the placement of the “Congress House,” a site which L’Enfant characterized as a “pedestal waiting for a superstructure.” In accordance with this plan, the US Capitol Building was situated upon the crest of the hill facing the city. Stretching easterly behind the Capitol Building along wide avenues lies the residential area known as Capitol Hill. Capitol Hill, one of the oldest residential communities in Washington, has grown from a small boarding house community for members of Congress to an area of more than 150 squares embracing a number of separate neighborhoods.

In the early years of the Republic few Congressmen wished to establish permanent residence in the city. Instead, most preferred to live in boarding houses within walking distance of the Capitol. Nothing remains of this community, and the area closest to the Capitol contains the Library of Congress, the Supreme Court, and the House and Senate Office buildings.

Capitol Hill is the largest residential historic district in the District of Columbia. Almost every street is composed of rowhouses of different stylistic varieties and periods forming a continuous wall broken only by street intersections. Side by side exist early 19th century manor houses, Federal townhouses, small frame dwellings, ornate Italianate bracketed houses and the late 19th century press brick rowhouses with their often whimsical decorative elements combining Richardsonian Romanesque, Queen Anne, and Eastlakian motifs. One of the more interesting houses is the Sewell-Belmont House, perhaps one of the oldest houses in the city and rebuilt after the War of 1812. Interspersed with the rowhouses are churches, which serve the community such as Christ Church and St. Mark’s.

Capitol Historic District, looking down E. Capitol St.
Photo courtesy of the DC SHPO

The street pattern in Capitol Hill has remained faithful to the original 1791 L’Enfant Plan for the Federal City, a plan that called for grand diagonals superimposed over a standard grid pattern. East Capitol Street, a monumental avenue running east from the Capitol to the banks of the Anacostia River, still provides a major focus for the area and serves as the division between the northeast and southeast sectors of the city. The eastern edge of the historic district terminates at the East Capitol Street Carbarn, now an adaptive use project featuring apartments, but which represents the end of the trolley tracks and the end of much of the nineteenth century development. Pennsylvania Avenue, another prominent diagonal street, contains a lively commercial corridor with shops, banks and restaurants. Another lively area is Eastern Market that still provides meats, fish and produce in an unpretentious ambiance. Capitol Hill attracted a stable, unpretentious middle class citizenry whose modest yet imaginative housing typifies the historic district and gives it its character and identity.

The Capitol Hill Historic District is bounded by Virginia Ave., SE.; S. Capitol, 2nd Street and and F Sts., NE.; and 14th Sts., SE & NE. Most of the buildings are private residences and not open to the public. Metro stops: Union Station, E. Capitol, and Eastern Market.