A Community Exploring Its Past
While most Americans probably think of Capitol Hill as simply the site of the U.S. Capitol, those who live here know it as an old and thriving residential neighborhood, a small town within a large city. The Overbeck Project captures the history of this community by recording the recollections of its longtime residents and preserving other records of its fascinating past.
Project volunteers collect and transcribe interviews for posting on this site. We also sponsor a highly successful lecture series exploring our city's history. We urge you too to get involved in this exciting effort, sponsored by the Capitol Hill Community Foundation.
The Overbeck Project was founded 12 years ago to collect oral histories from longtime Capitol Hill residents and former residents. Our interests have diversified in the meantime, but that's still our primary effort.
The most recently added transcripts are for interviews with former Ward 6 DC Council member Sharon Ambrose and these three recipients of the Capitol Hill Community Foundation's 2013 Community Achievement Awards: Francis Campbell, Elizabeth Nelson and Nick Alberti, and Bill Phillips.
The late John Alexander, a Washington attorney, lived at 217 Third Street SE from the early 1960s until about 1995. According to his daughter Michele Alexander, he absolutely loved the townhouse and the neighborhood, especially The Hawk & Dove, the bookstore and the restaurant next door, the cleaners, the drug store on the corner, etc.
In 1967, John purchased this original drawing of the corner of Third and Pennsylvania Avenue SE from Elizabeth Beer, staff artist for the Capitol Hill Spectator newspaper, after seeing the drawing in the paper's Sept. 14, 1967 edition. When Michele inherited the drawing from her father, she searched for an appropriate home for it and discovered the Overbeck Project. We are delighted to have her donation, and we've scanned it for use as our Facebook page cover photo (look for us there as Capitol Hill History). We're sharing it here too, because we think you'll enjoy seeing this lively, cheerful scene of one corner of our neighborhood almost 50 years ago. For a closer look, click here.
Many thanks to Michele for her donation and to Nancy Freeman for scanning the drawing.
We're excited to announce that three additional transcripts of interviews done in 1974 are now posted. Collectively, the seven transcripts now online provide an amazing glimpse into many corners of Capitol Hill in the early 20th century.
Added March, 2014: John and Elsie Miller. John Miller was born in 1910 and lived in the Navy Yard neighborhood for most of his life. Twice, he saw his home demolished: the house where he was born, at First and N Streets SE, fell to expansion of the Navy Yard during World War I. Another childhood home at 1216 I Street SE, where he and his wife later lived, was torn down in the 1960s when Potomac Gardens was built. Read this transcript for references to local businesses, streetcar routes, long-gone locations like Poplar Hill, Southeast Gardens, Pipetown, and descriptions of working class life.
Added March, 2014: Mr. and Mrs. Norman Schroth. Born in 1905, Norman Schroth spent his whole life in the vicinity of Seventh Street and Maryland Avenue NE. The interview discusses other people and businesses in the immediate area and also further west near Stanton Park and Union Station. Readers will be interested to read which "local politician" was residing, at the time of the interview, in a home created from a smokehouse that Mr. Schroth's father had built for his meat processing business.
Added March, 2014: Florine Walker Walther. The oldest of these interviewees was born Florine Walker in 1887, at 420 B Street NE. Her father, Major Samuel Walker, was a prominent builder, investor, and (briefly) the police chief for DC; excerpts from articles written about him are included in the transcript. He converted his own house into a grand dwelling (a picture is included in the transcript), and he built many other houses in the area around Fifth Street and Constitution Avenue NE.
Updated March, 2014: John and Elsie Yost Leukhardt. When the Leukhardts were interviewed in their home near Tenth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue SE, Mrs. Leukhardt had lived at 1002 Pennsylvania Avenue SE for 80 years. It was originally her parents' home; they, and then she, had had the same telephone number for 70 years. Her father, William Yost, built that house and the four adjoining it, as well as many others in the neighborhood. A member of the Naval Lodge, he also built the lodge building at 330 Pennsylvania Avenue SE where the Overbeck Lectures are held. The updated transcript includes links to a wonderful 1920 photo of the 1000 block of Pennsylvania Avenue SE, and to a page of Yost family photos.
Nellie May Morton. Mrs. Morton, nee Sweet, was born in 1897. She provides extensive information about the Bradburn Memorial Methodist Church, founded in 1890 in the 1300 block of L Street SE, and about many homes on I, K, and L Streets SE, between 12th and 15th Streets. (The linked file includes some photos; this version with no photos may be easier to load.)
Freda Murray. Freda Murray also stayed within the same few blocks her whole life, the area near Tyler School. She was born on the east side of the 700 block of Tenth Street SE around 1893, when the original school faced 11th Street around the block from her home. She, her children, and a grandchild all attended school in that building. By the time of the interview, she lived at 761 Tenth Street SE, on the west side of the street, and the site of her former home had become the Tyler playground when the new school was built. This short transcript contains fascinating information about that immediate area of Capitol Hill.
Milton Sladen. Milton Sladen was born in 1900. At the time he was interviewed, he lived at 120 11th Street SE, in a house occupied by his family for 67 years. The interview provides fascinating details of the residents, houses, and businesses in the Lincoln Park area and elsewhere through the first two-thirds of the 20th century
Many thanks to Paula Causey and Hazel Kreinheder for their conscientious efforts to prepare and edit these files. The interviews were done as part of the effort to gain Historic District status for the neighborhood, a task led by the Capitol Hill Restoration Society. To support the application process, Project namesake Ruth Ann Overbeck (then Ruth Ann Perez), Hazel Kreinheder, and Suzanne Ganschinietz, of the D.C. Historic Preservation Office, interviewed long-time residents as a way to gather information about neighborhood buildings and residents.
Other News and Reminders
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The Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project, Washington, D.C.