Tour reveals hidden world of Foggy Bottom

Visitors and residents of Foggy Bottom saw the sites of GW’s surrounding community for the first time, or at least in a new light, June 2. A walking tour of the historic neighborhood was part of D.C. Heritage Neighborhood Day, a celebration of D.C.’s history and culture at 70 sites around the city.

Carolyn Crouch, a tour guide for Washington Walks, began the walk at the Foggy Bottom Metro stop – a modern icon – and led the group of about 35 people by colorful townhouses of the past along 25th and I streets. She pointed out the juxtaposition of the 19th century dwellings to modern buildings, many of which belong to GW.

“Foggy Bottom is known as being resilient, loyal and something fierce,” Crouch told the group, referring to the neighborhood that has withstood time and construction.

Crouch spoke to the group about the riverfront neighborhood on the Potomac, formerly called Hamburg or Funkstown. She said Jacob Funk, a German immigrant from Frederick, Md. purchased the 130 acres of land in 1765. He subdivided this land into 234 lots roughly located from H Street to the Potomac and 19th to 24th Streets.

Stopping in front of a townhouse on I Street, Crouch described the blue-collar Foggy Bottom area in the 19th century, when African Americans and Irish and German immigrants lived there to be near their jobs. Many worked in the shipyard, coal or gas companies. The industry of the waterfront, now an attractive, upscale residential area, caused the upper class to move away.

The tour continued down a street called Snow’s Court, which leads to a hidden maze of alleys lined with more houses. Crouch said the hidden community was a result of the alley-dwelling movement of the 19th century. Some people said the area had problems with drugs and crime, but many cherished it as their home, she said.

“These secret worlds behind the main streets were teeming with life,” Crouch said.

The next stop was by Virginia Avenue, where Crouch pointed out the GW residence hall, known as the Hall on Virginia Avenue and the former Howard Johnson hotel that was famous for its part in the Watergate scandal. Students occupy all the rooms except room 723, which remains a shrine to the spying operation that incriminated the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate Hotel in 1972. The Watergate now includes apartments, business offices, restaurants and shops.

The name Watergate refers to the area by the Lincoln Memorial, where steps lead down to the water, Crouch said. The National Symphony Orchestra gave concerts on a barge on the river until 1941, when the outdoor performances had to stop because of noise from the planes coming into National Airport, she said.

In the same area by the river there was once the Watergate Inn and an ice skating rink, Crouch told the group.

The waterfront area also formerly displayed the Titanic Memorial, dedicated to the men who risked their lives to save women and children aboard the ship. After the 1940s, the memorial was moved to Washington Channel and Fort McNair in Southwest D.C., Crouch said.

The last stop of the tour was St. Mary’s Episcopal Church at 728 23rd St., the first Episcopalian church for blacks in the area. Stained glass windows, stenciled walls and a mosaic of tile on the floors help give the red brick building what Crouch said is its commonly known name, “the little jewel” of Foggy Bottom.

The growing black population commissioned James Renwick to design the church in 1886. While the church’s congregation began in the 1870s as Foggy Bottom residents, its members now come from all around D.C.

Foggy Bottom was once known for the Heurich brewery where Foggy Bottom Ale was brewed, Crouch said. Established by Christian Heurich in 1872, the first brewery was on 20th Street and moved to 25th and Water Streets in 1895. It closed in 1960.

Foggy Bottom Historic District, which forms the center of the neighborhood, has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1987 for the architecture of its row houses, according to University Archives. This area is bounded by K, 26th, H and 24th streets and New Hampshire Avenue.

Other D.C. historic districts include Georgetown, Dupont Circle and Capitol Hill.

Crouch said she helped start the Washington Walks company, which also gives tours of places like Embassy Row and the Washington Waterfront. The company modeled its program after London Walks, she said.

“Everyone really loves Washington and loves talking about it,” she said. “We get paid and get to yack about D.C.”

Many of the tour participants, some of whom had attended other neighborhood tours that day, said they enjoyed the walk. A woman from Northern Virginia said she was looking into moving to the District.

“I enjoy the historical and architectural aspects,” she said. “I had no idea it was a residential area.”

Foggy Bottom residents Beverly and Steve Nauheim said they also learned from the tour of their historic neighborhood.

“It never really sinks in until you walk around,” Beverly said.

“As a fourth generation Washingtonian, it brought back some memories,” Steve said.

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