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  Lecture Series  
 

Our Next Lecture: Why DC Has No Vote in Congress

Among all the capital cities of all the democracies in the world, only Washington, DC has no voting representation in its national legislature. How did this happen? And why, after two centuries of trying to rectify the problem, do citizens here still endure taxation without representation?

Local historian and political activist Nelson Rimensnyder will address these questions at an illustrated Overbeck History Lecture on Monday, November 17 at the Naval Lodge Hall.

Rimensnyder is a longtime student of DC history and champion of DC home rule. During his career at the Library of Congress (1970-1975) and then as director of research for the House Committee on the District of Columbia (1975-1992), he compiled what he describes as "the only existing comprehensive archive on the history of the complex DC-Federal relationship." He has been intensively involved in local historic preservation efforts and has served on the boards of the Historical Society of Washington, DC and the Association of the Oldest Inhabitants of the District of Columbia, in addition to running as a candidate for DC public office.

The lecture is set for 7:30 p.m. at the Naval Lodge Hall at 330 Pennsylvania Avenue S.E. (Please note this event is scheduled for a MONDAY, not our usual Tuesday.) As always, admission is free but a reservation is required due to limited seating. To reserve, or to request inclusion on our email notification list, please contact us at OverbeckLecture@CapitolHillHistory.org.

Also remember we always welcome your ideas for lecture topics and speakers. Series coordinator John Franzén can be reached at franzen80@franzenco.com.

Historian Summarizes U.S. Marine Band's First Two Centuries

On Tuesday, September 16, the U.S. Marine Band's historian, Gunnery Sergeant Kira Wharton, delivered an Overbeck History Lecture on the origins of the band at the end of the 18th century and its long and colorful history in our neighborhood.

Known as "the President's Own," the Marine Band is America's oldest continuously active professional musical organization and has performed for every U.S. president since John Adams. With its unique mission to provide music for the President and the Commandant of the Marine Corps, it has grown from a handful of fifers and drummers to one of the premiere musical organizations in the world, with more than 150 musicians and support staff. Its offerings include not only band music but chamber music, jazz, pop - most anything the President and the public want to hear.

A highly skilled musician in her own right with a doctorate in musical arts from the University of Iowa, GySgt Wharton joined the Marine Band as a librarian in 2003, with duties including the preparation of music for performances by the band and the Marine Chamber Orchestra. She was appointed assistant chief in 2008 and historian in 2013.

Her lecture included musical samplings from the band's storied past and generated a lively discussion with our audience. Information on the Marine Band's history can be found at:
http://www.marineband.marines.mil/About/OurHistory.aspx

Author Tells How Shakespeare Library Came to Capitol Hill

On April 8, 2014, Stephen H. Grant delivered an outstanding Overbeck History Lecture on the lives of Henry and Emily Folger, who amassed the world’s greatest collection of Shakespeare treasures, including 82 First Folios, and built a library on Capitol Hill to house them.

Based on his highly praised book Collecting Shakespeare, Grant described how the Folgers financed their collecting hobby with the fortune Henry earned as president of Standard Oil of New York and how they secretly acquired prime real estate near the Library of Congress for a facility that would include a reading room, a public exhibition hall and an Elizabethan-style theater.

A former Foreign Service officer, Grant has authored five books, including a biography of Peter Strickland, a New London, CT sea captain who became the first American consul in French West Africa. His book on the Folgers was preceded by his article in the June 2012 issue of Washington History, “A Most Interesting and Attractive Problem: Creating Washington’s Folger Shakespeare Library.”

Grant earned a B.A. at Amherst College (from which Henry Folger graduated in 1879), an M.A. with the Middlebury College program in Paris, and an Ed.D. at the University of Massachusetts. After serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ivory Coast, he pursued a career with the U.S. Agency for International Development, with assignments in Ivory Coast and Guinea, Egypt, Indonesia, and El Salvador. He serves now as a Senior Fellow at the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training in Arlington, VA.

Walt Whitman Scholar Describes the Poet's Years in Washington

An enthusiastic crowd filled the Naval Lodge Hall on the evening of Tuesday, November 5, 2013, to hear Martin G. Murray discuss Walt Whitman's immersion in the life of his adopted city, Washington, DC, during the Civil War and the following decade.

Whitman arrived in the nation's capital in 1863 in search of his brother, who had been wounded in the war, and became a regular visitor at the makeshift hospitals that had sprung up all over the city to tend to the thousands of Union casualties. He stayed on to serve as a federal clerk and formed strong friendships with several of the city's leading figures, including the naturalist John Burroughs, while also writing some of his most notable poetry based on his experiences in the city.

Martin Murray serves as an economist at the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission and is also an independent writer and researcher with deep expertise on the life of Whitman. He founded The Washington Friends of Walt Whitman, leads walking tours of the poet's 19th century D.C. haunts, and has written and lectured widely on this giant of American literature for both academic and nonacademic audiences. He has been published in The Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, The Yale University Library Gazette, Washington History Magazine, The Walt Whitman Encyclopedia, and Blackwell's Companion to Walt Whitman, as well as on The Classroom Electric and Walt Whitman Archive websites.

Murray has discovered several pieces of Whitman's uncollected prose journalism, provided biographical information on soldiers appearing in Whitman's Memoranda During the War, and written a biography of the poet's companion Peter Doyle. He also served on the coordinating committee for "Melville and Whitman in Washington: The Civil War Years and After" sponsored by the Melville Society and hosted by George Washington University.

Local Historian Depicts a City Transformed by War

On September 17, 2013, Lucinda Prout Janke kicked off a new season of the Overbeck History Lectures with an illustrated look at Washington, DC during the Civil War.

A small, essentially Southern city when the conflict's first shots were fired in 1861, Washington underwent explosive growth and profound cultural change as tens of thousands of Union soldiers poured in to defend the vulnerable capital and dozens of makeshift hospitals sprang up to care for the wounded and dying.

Janke's presentation was based on her new book, A Guide to Civil War Washington, D.C., published by The History Press.

Now an independent historian, Janke has served as curator of the Kiplinger Washington Collection and collections manager of the Historical Society of Washington, D.C. She has authored a number of books and articles on aspects of the city's history and delivered many lectures, including three previous Overbeck Lectures.

The well-attended event was held at the Naval Lodge Hall at 330 Pennsylvania Ave. S.E. and concluded with an author book signing.

Eyewitness to the Civil Rights Revolution Looks Back Seven Decades

Award-winning journalist Simeon Booker, who wrote for leading U.S. news publications for more than seven decades, joined us on the evening of April 16, 2013, for a discussion of his coverage of the U.S. civil rights struggle from the mid-twentieth century onward.

Booker's recently published Shocking the Conscience: A Reporter's Account of the Civil Rights Movement recounts the days when "the man from Jet" regularly put his life on the line as he ventured into the deep South to cover lunch counter sit-ins, the Selma to Montgomery march and other events that eventually forced open the region's schools, public accommodations and voting booths to people of all races.

The book was written in collaboration with the author's wife, Carol McCabe Booker, an attorney and former journalist, who also joined in the April 16 discussion with lecture series coordinator John Franzén.

Born in Maryland in 1918 and raised in Youngstown, Ohio, Simeon Booker contributed pieces to the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper while still in high school and landed a full-time reporting job there after graduating from Virginia Union University. He later wrote for the Cleveland Call and Post and was awarded a Nieman Fellowship for a year of study at Harvard University.

In 1951 Booker became the first black staff reporter at The Washington Post, but after two years he left to serve as an associate editor at Jet and Ebony magazines. He became their Washington bureau chief and White House correspondent in 1955 and continued in those roles for 52 years, covering 10 presidents and virtually every major story of the modern civil rights movement. He is remembered especially for his courageous reporting on the 1955 killing of Chicago teenager Emmett Till in Mississippi and the subsequent murder trial, a case that sparked outrage among African Americans and new demands for racial justice.

The Bookers have lived on Capitol Hill since 1973. Shocking the Conscience is available at local book stores and at www.Amazon.com.

Mike Canning Returns to “Hollywood on the Potomac”

A capacity crowd gathered at the Naval Lodge Hall on the evening of February 5, 2013, to welcome back Mike Canning and hear him share his encyclopedic knowledge of Hollywood movies set in Washington. Canning delivered a superb Overbeck Lecture in 2007 on the amusing and often inaccurate ways that the movie industry has depicted our home town, and that presentation eventually evolved into a book: Hollywood on the Potomac: How the Movies View Washington, DC. Canning’s new lecture, based on the book, included images from films spanning more than half a century.

Canning has written movie reviews for the Hill Rag since retiring from the Foreign Service in 1993, and maintains a website (www.mikesflix.com) featuring film reviews and essays. He was a programmer and commentator for ten years for the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop’s classic films series and a long-time officer with the Capitol Hill Restoration Society and a Hill Center board member. He also served on the founding board of Capitol Hill Village. He and his wife Judy have lived on the Hill, on and off, since 1965.

Hollywood on the Potomac is available for purchase at local shops and at www.Amazon.com.

Tersh Boasberg Tells the DC Historic Preservation Success Story

Our November 20, 2012, Overbeck History Lecture featured an illustrated talk by DC historic preservation champion Tersh Boasberg, based on his 11-year tenure as chairman of the District’s Historic Preservation Review Board. Looking at designation and design review in Washington’s historic districts, he presented case after case from the past decade where economic development was allowed to go forward while maintaining the visual integrity of historic structures.

A noted author, professor of preservation law and protector of Civil War sites, Boasberg is a legend among local preservationists. He is the past president and a founder of the Cleveland Park Historical Society, which successfully preserved the third largest historic district in the city, and is also a former chair of the Committee of 100 on the Federal City, a past trustee of the National Building Museum, and a past president of the Alliance to Preserve the Civil War Defenses of Washington. As counsel to the Brandy Station Foundation in Culpeper County, Virginia, he led the nine-year legal fight which preserved over 1,500 pristine acres of the largest cavalry battle of the Civil War, and was also attorney for the conservation groups in the Virginia Piedmont that stopped the proposed Disney theme park at Manassas.

Morley Recounts Washington’s First Race Riot and Its Troubling Aftermath

The Overbeck Lecture Series launched a new season on September 18, 2012, with a gripping account of Washington’s first race riot and the criminal trials that followed, prosecuted by the city’s politically ambitious district attorney, Francis Scott Key.

Washington writer Jefferson Morley told the harrowing tale, based on his book Snow-Storm in August: Washington City, Francis Scott Key, and the Forgotten Race Riot of 1835. The title is a reference to Beverly Snow, a former slave whose successful restaurant at Sixth and Pennsylvania N.W. was ransacked by a white mob driven by fears of a slave rebellion.

By 1835, freed African Americans in Washington outnumbered those still in bondage, and racial tensions were running high. On the night of August 4th, a drunken slave, Arthur Bowen, stumbled into the bedroom of his owner, Anna Thornton, carrying an ax. Although he did not attack or directly threaten her, the ensuing alarm precipitated a charge of attempted murder and ignited a race riot that engulfed the city for three days. In its aftermath, attorney, poet and slave-holder Francis Scott Key conducted a set of prosecutions that do not reflect well on the “Star-Spangled Banner” author.

Snow-Storm in August author Jefferson Morley has worked as an editor and reporter for Salon, The Washington Post, The Nation, The New Republic and Harper’s Magazine, and his account of this largely forgotten chapter of our history has won high critical praise. He can be reached through his publisher at www.JeffersonMorley.com.

Mary Z. Gray Delights Us with Memories of the 1920s

What was it like to live on Capitol Hill nine decades ago? On March 18, 2012, Mary Z. Gray brought that era back to life in a superb Overbeck History Lecture based on readings from her new book 301 East Capitol: Tales From the Heart of the Hill.

A capacity crowd at the Naval Lodge Hall heard the 93-year-old author recall a neighborhood served by lamplighter, iceman and horse-drawn produce wagon, where a child could wander at will around the Capitol grounds and within the Capitol itself. She recounted being taken to the White House in 1925 to meet President Coolidge and described her colorful family, who had inhabited the Hill for five generations.

Gray grew up above her family's inherited funeral parlor at 301 East Capitol Street, a building owned today by the Folger Shakespeare Library. A writer all her adult life, she got her first byline in The Washington Post in 1940, served as a speechwriter in the Kennedy-Johnson White House, and contributed witty, flawlessly crafted articles to The Post, The New York Times and other publications for over half a century.

In 2007 she was contacted by Overbeck Project volunteers who were seeking an oral history interview. The encounter led instead to her writing 301 East Capitol, which was published in 2011 by a newly launched Overbeck History Press. The book is available for purchase at local shops and at Amazon.com.

Cindy Hays Digs into Congressional Cemetery’s Past – and Its Restoration

On February 7, 2012, a capacity crowd at the Naval Lodge Hall enjoyed a highly informative illustrated talk by Cindy Hays on the history of Congressional Cemetery and the neighborhood’s successful efforts to rescue the site from decades of decline and neglect. The 30-acre cemetery, which is owned by Christ Church, has served the Capitol Hill community for more than two centuries.

Hays served for four years as executive director of the Association for the Preservation of The Historic Congressional Cemetery, the local citizens organization that has restored and refurbished the storied resting place and made it a source of pride for the neighborhood. Among the many historic figures buried there are Matthew Brady, John Philip Sousa, J. Edgar Hoover and dozens of members of Congress.

You can learn more about Congressional Cemetery’s history and its remarkable comeback at www.congressionalcemetery.org.

Gordon Brown Tells of "The Captain Who Burned His Ships"

On November 8, 2011, local author Gordon S. Brown delivered an Overbeck History Lecture on the growth of the Washington Navy Yard under its first commandant, Captain Thomas Tingey, and the terrible choice he faced during the British invasion of 1814.

Based on his book The Captain Who Burned His Ships, Brown traced the Yard's history during the quarter century of Tingey's command - a period when that part of our neighborhood was known to many as Navy Yard Hill. At the time, Brown noted, the Yard was a larger employer than the U.S. Congress and a dominant factor in Capitol Hill's social and economic life.

A retired diplomat, Gordon Brown has authored several other books, including Incidental Architect, on William Thornton and his influence on early Washington cultural history. He had a 35-year career in the U.S. Foreign Service, where his many postings included director of Arab Gulf Affairs in the State Department, political advisor to General Norman Schwarzkopf during the 1991 Gulf War, and ambassador to Mauritania.

Writer on Prohibition Reveals “How Dry We Weren’t”

The Overbeck History Lecture Series kicked off a new season on September 13, 2011, with an entertaining look at Prohibition-era Washington, where thirsty locals could choose among nearly three thousand speakeasies and publicly teetotaling congressmen gave a supplier of spirits safe harbor within the U.S. Capitol.

Based on his book Prohibition in Washington, DC: How Dry We Weren’t, literary journalist Garrett Peck described an underground city of amateur bootleggers largely untouched by organized crime and the efforts of local authorities to put them out of business. He traced the main trends and forces that brought Prohibition into being, including the rise of anti-Catholic and anti-German sentiment across the country, the passage of a federal income tax in 1913, which made the U.S. government less reliant on liquor taxes, and, perhaps most important, the success of the women’s suffrage movement, which had formed a powerful alliance with the temperance movement. Peck also noted that Congress imposed a ban on intoxicating beverage sales in Washington, DC before Prohibition was adopted nationally, on the mistaken assumption that the capital would serve as a “dry” model for the rest of the country.

A frequent public speaker on the social history of alcohol, Peck is also the author of The Prohibition Hangover: Alcohol in America from Demon Rum to Cult Cabernet. His Temperance Tour of Prohibition-related sites in the nation’s capital has been featured on C-SPAN’s Book TV. He can be reached at www.GarrettPeck.com.

Mort Reviews the History of the Old Naval Hospital 

On April 19, 2011, as renovation of the Old Naval Hospital at 9th and Pennsylvania S.E. was nearing completion, art and architectural historian Kamissa Mort delivered an excellent Overbeck Lecture detailing the site’s 145-year history.

The Capitol Hill landmark, now reborn as the Hill Center, was built to treat wounded Navy veterans of the Civil War. Over the years, however, it evolved from hospital, to medical training school, to old soldiers and sailors home, to office space for various DC agencies and public service efforts, and eventually it fell into serious disrepair and neglect. In 2002, concerned Capitol Hill residents formed the Old Naval Hospital Foundation to rehabilitate the facility and make it a center for lifelong learning, cultural events and community life (www.HillCenterDC.org).

Speaking to a capacity crowd at the Naval Lodge Hall, Mort based her lecture on the documentation, photos and artifacts that have been collected by a number of neighborhood researchers to create the Hill Center’s permanent history exhibit. A significant part of her presentation was devoted to the question of who designed the hospital, which was completed in 1866. Although no building plans or other records have been found to identify the architect, Mort made a strong case that the likely designer was the hospital’s builder, Ammi B. Young, who is known to have designed a number of similar mid-19th century public buildings, including military hospitals.

Mort earned a masters degree in the history of decorative arts and architecture from the Smithsonian’s joint program with the Corcoran College of Art and Design, and has worked as a visitor guide and historian at the U.S. Capitol. In 2010 she curated an exhibit on Arctic explorer and artist Russell W. Porter at the National Archives.

Kathy Smith Tracks the Development of Washington’s Neighborhoods

On March 8, 2011, Kathryn Schneider Smith presented an outstanding Overbeck History Lecture based on her newly updated book Washington at Home: An Illustrated History of Neighborhoods in the Nation’s Capital. Using Capitol Hill as a starting point, she explained how DC became a city of neighborhoods, weaving their stories together to reveal pivotal events and themes in the city’s history as hometown and nation’s capital. The product of 26 local historians, the book includes two chapters written for the first edition by Ruth Ann Overbeck, to whom the book is dedicated.   

Smith is an urban and social historian who has specialized in Washington’s history as an author, editor and teacher, and as creator of numerous local history projects and exhibits. She’s the founding executive director of Cultural Tourism DC, a coalition of arts and heritage organizations dedicated to promoting all of Washington as a cultural destination. She’s also a past president of the Historical Society of Washington, DC and the founding editor of its magazine Washington History. A former resident of Capitol Hill, she lives now with her husband Sam in Freeport, Maine, and chairs the Board of Advisors for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Washington At Home is available for purchase online and at Riverby Books on East Capitol Street.

Rogers Reveals the Early Days of Washington Streetcars

With streetcar lines about to reappear in Washington after a half-century absence, transportation planner and DC historian Lee H. Rogers launched our 2010-11 lecture season on Tuesday, October 12, with a richly illustrated look at Washington streetcars of the 19th century. Starting with the horse-drawn streetcars in the 1860s, our city saw a proliferation of streetcar styles, lines and companies over the next hundred years.

An international transportation consultant and economist, Rogers has pursued a decades-long interest in transportation history. He’s a founding member of the Washington Streetcar Museum and the Baltimore Streetcar Museum, and has documented the histories of DC neighborhoods. He possesses tens of thousands of historic images of DC area streetcars, trains, bridges and other transportation infrastructure, many of them inherited from the late historian and collector Robert Truax.

Gary Scott Elucidates Freemasonry in Washington – and Our Neighborhood 

On April 20, 2010, National Park Service historian Gary Scott treated a rapt audience at the Naval Lodge Hall to a well-researched account of the role of Freemasonry in Washington’s history, with a particular focus on the Naval Lodge itself.

A longtime tour leader for Smithsonian Resident Associates, Scott explored the history and iconography of the lodge at 4th and Pennsylvania S.E. where all Overbeck lectures are held. The lodge was founded in 1805 by officers and workers at the Navy Yard and went on to became a major institution in our community. In addition to recounting the institution’s history, Scott offered explanations of the symbols and murals adorning the lodge’s Egyptian revival style meeting hall, which was built in 1895.

Scott also discussed the extensive Masonic involvement in the building of Washington, including construction of the White House and the Capitol, and offered a touching remembrance of our project’s namesake, Ruth Ann Overbeck, who took a keen interest in the Naval Lodge’s history and conducted oral history interviews with a number of its older members. Click here for a transcript of Scott’s tribute to Ruth Ann.

A longtime resident of Capitol Hill, Scott has served as Regional Historian, National Capital Region, for the National Park Service since 1976. He has been a DC Mason since 1975 and served as Worshipful Master of the Naval Lodge in 1996.

Dick Wolf Recounts the Battles of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society

On March 2, 2010 the Overbeck history lecture series hosted Dick Wolf, past president of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society, as he recounted some of the organization’s early battles to save our neighborhood from the bulldozer and wrecking ball. CHRS has been fighting the good fight for more than five decades and deserves much credit for the preservation of the Hill’s historic character.

Wolf recalled, among other harrowing near-misses, an almost-approved plan in the 1960s that would have routed a freeway directly across Capitol Hill, in a giant trench between 9th and 11th Streets. He also described how local residents stopped the Baptist church at 6th and A Streets N.E. from wiping out an entire block of historic homes to create a Washington mega-headquarters.

A longtime resident of the Hill, Wolf has been deeply engaged in land use and historic preservation efforts throughout our city for more than four decades, helping to establish the DC preservation law, the DC Comprehensive Plan, the Capitol Hill Historic District, and much more. He served as president of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society from 1977 to 1980 and again from 2005 to 2009.

Mary Z. Gray Remembers Capitol Hill in the 1920s

On the afternoon of November 8, 2009, the Naval Lodge Hall rang with laughter and delight as Washington writer Mary Z. Gray read excerpts from her forthcoming memoirs and answered questioned about growing up on Capitol Hill in the 1920s.

Born Mary Zurhorst in 1919, Ms. Gray spent her childhood living above the Zurhorst funeral parlor at 301 East Capitol (which now houses offices of the Folger Shakespeare Library) among a quirky and memorable extended family that had inhabited the Hill for four generations. Her book vividly recalls a neighborhood served by gas lamps and trolley cars, iceman and ragman, produce peddler and the “Lavender Lady,” while exploring a family mystery that took five decades to unravel.

Gray’s long career as a reporter, writer and editor included service as a White House speech writer in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations and the frequent contribution of droll personal essays to the Washington Post and the New York Times, some of which appear in her 1984 book Ah, Bewilderness!: Muddling Through Life With Mary Z. Gray.

The Overbeck History Project takes special pride in this presentation, having actively encouraged Ms. Gray in the writing of her memoirs. Now being shopped to publishers, they offer a wonderful window on the life of our neighborhood in the early 20th century.

Janke Profiles the Onetime Owner of Most of Capitol Hill

On September 22, 2009, local historian Cindy Janke presented an excellent illustrated Overbeck Lecture on William Prout, the 18th century owner of the land that today comprises most of the Capitol Hill Historic District, a wedge of territory stretching from the Navy Yard waterfront to present-day Florida Avenue.

Historical accounts of the District’s founding have tended to focus on Daniel Carroll, who provided the land for the U.S. Capitol, but Janke pointed out that the largely forgotten Prout played a bigger role than Carroll in the development of the Capitol Hill neighborhood. He was instrumental, for example, in persuading President Jefferson to authorize the creation of the original Eastern Market.

This was Janke’s third Overbeck lecture. She delivered an excellent one in 2006 on Capitol Hill’s 19th century breweries and another in 2007 on John Philip Sousa’s years in our neighborhood. A former curator of the Kiplinger Washington Collection, she is a longtime explorer of the city’s past and co-author, with Ruth Ann Overbeck, of a groundbreaking study of Prout. She serves now on the collections committee of the DC Historical Society and the steering committee of the Overbeck Project. She is also writing the caption material for a forthcoming pictorial book on “Washington Past and Present.”

   
 

Hill Historians Describe Early Emancipation in DC

On April 14, 2009, the Overbeck project continued its celebration of the Lincoln bicentennial with a lecture by Capitol Hill historians Robert S. Pohl and John R. Wennersten based on their new book Abraham Lincoln and the End of Slavery in the District of Columbia, an annotated collection of 19th century public documents, narratives and newspaper accounts that illuminate a little-known part of DC history. Emancipation in the District came on April 16, 1862, nine months prior to the general Emancipation Proclamation, with a special sweetener for local slave holders. They were paid for the loss of their property.

In their presentation, Pohl and Wennersten gave special attention to events in our own neighborhood leading up to and ensuing from the early emancipation, including the erection of the Abraham Lincoln statue in Lincoln Park. Their book is published by Friends of the Southeast Library, with sales proceeds devoted to expansion of the library’s Capitol Hill history research room.

Robert Pohl is an I.T. professional and architectural historian whose first book was a history of his own house on 11th Street Southeast. John Wennersten is a retired professor of history and government and the author of several books, including a history of the Anacostia River which served as the basis for his Overbeck Lecture in September 2007.
 
   
 

Author Sheds New Light On the Lincoln Assassination

On February 10, 2009, the Overbeck project marked the impending bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth with a lecture by DC historian Anthony Pitch based on his highly praised new book “They Have Killed Papa Dead!”: The Road to Ford’s Theatre, Abraham Lincoln’s Murder, and the Rage for Vengeance.

Pitch recounted how, through nearly a decade of research, he was able to make a number of new discoveries about the Lincoln plot and its aftermath, including an attempt by John Wilkes Booth to accost Lincoln in the U.S. Capitol on the day of his second inauguration.

The presentation was a return performance for Pitch. In 2003 (see below) he delivered a superb Overbeck lecture on the burning of Washington by the British in 1814, based on his book on that subject.

The author of several other books as well, Pitch has worked as a journalist in England, Africa and Israel, as a broadcast editor for the Associated Press, and as a senior writer for US News and World Report’s books division. He is a highly sought-after public speaker and has been featured as a historical commentator on NPR, The History Channel and C-SPAN, among other media outlets. He also has developed a broad following as a director of historic tours in the Washington area, where he can be reached at dcsightseeing.com.

 
 
 
 

Expert Animator "Visualizes" Early Washington

On November 11, 2008, digital graphics expert Dan Bailey treated a capacity crowd at the Naval Lodge Hall to an engaging presentation of his 3-D animations of Washington, DC as it would have appeared around 1812, just before the British invasion. The Overbeck lecture audience included no fewer than eight of our previous speakers, and the event turned into a kind of seminar on the challenges of mapping and picturing the early city based on sketchy and often inaccurate contemporary depictions and eye-witness accounts.

Bailey, who directs the Imaging Research Center at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, created his "best guess" glimpse of early Washington by collaborating with architectural historians, cartographers, engineers and ecologists familiar with the District's history and early topography.

Bailey has won numerous awards for his films and animations, which have been included in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Georges Pompidou Center in Paris. A pilot of his visualization of early DC was exhibited at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore in the spring of 2008, and it received extensive attention in a August 31, 2008 Washington Post Magazine article by our September speaker Scott W. Berg.

 
 
 
 

Author Describes L'Enfant's Rocky Relationship With the City He Helped Create

On September 9, 2008, our lecture audience got a compelling look at the French visionary who designed the original plan for Washington, DC. Local author Scott W. Berg described Pierre L'Enfant's critical role in the creation of the federal city, his stormy relationships with his patrons and overseers, and his fall into obscurity through most of the 19th century after others took over the execution of his ideas and significantly amended them.

Berg is the author of an excellent L'Enfant biography, Grand Avenues, which traces the Frenchman?s artistic and professional roots in 18th century Paris, his service in the American Revolution under General George Washington, and his brief and troubled commission to create the basic layout of a new capital city. Among other insights, Berg offered a description of L'Enfant's plan to assign the squares and circles that appear at avenue intersections around the city as home bases for the individual states of the union.

Berg teaches nonfiction writing and literature at George Mason and frequently contributes articles on historical subjects to the Washington Post. You can learn more about him and his book at www.scottwberg.com.  

 
 
 
 

Local Legend Extols Capitol Hill Row House Designs

On April 8, 2008, historic restoration expert C. Dudley Brown delighted a capacity crowd at the Naval Lodge Hall on Pennsylvania Avenue with a pictorial presentation on the unique character and features of Capitol Hill?s historic row houses. A living legend in local historic preservation circles, Mr. Brown delivered trenchant commentary on the mistakes and misconceptions that have periodically threatened the neighborhood's historic housing stock .

For decades Mr. Brown has been a tireless advocate for historic preservation in our neighborhood while heading one of the Washington area?s oldest firms specializing in historic restoration and traditional interior design. C. Dudley Brown & Associates has completed hundreds of projects for private residences, churches, clubs and public buildings and has won numerous awards and honors, including the DC Mayor's Award for Excellence in Historic Preservation and the Designer of Distinction Award from the American Society of Interior Designers. For an interesting account of Mr. Brown's career and his personal involvement in the community, read the transcript of our project's interview with him, recorded in 2002.

 
 
 
 

John Vlach Returns to Discuss African American Housing

A sizable crowd braved an ice storm on the evening of February 12, 2008, to hear noted folklife and architectural historian John M. Vlach share findings from his recent studies of 19th century African American housing in the District, with a special look at the alley dwellings of Capitol Hill. This was a return appearance for Vlach, who delivered an outstanding Overbeck lecture five years earlier on the landowners and residents of Capitol Hill at the time of the federal city’s founding. (See the report on that April 2003 presentation below, along with a link to Vlach’s article on the subject for the U.S. Capitol Historical Society.)

A longtime Capitol Hill resident, Vlach is a professor of American studies and anthropology at George Washington University, where he has taught for 27 years. He has  authored 10 books, including Back of the Big House and The Planter's Prospect, and is the curator of an exhibition entitled "Landscape of Slavery" at the Art Museum of the University of Virginia. He also serves on the DC Historic Preservation Review Board and is a valued adviser to the Overbeck Project, where he assists with the training of volunteers.

 
 
 
 

Janke Delivers November 07 Lecture on Capitol Hill's John Philip Sousa

The Overbeck Project celebrated John Philip Sousa's birthday on November 6, 2007, with a lecture by Capitol Hill historian Lucinda P. Janke, whose knowledge of this local hero and international celebrity ranges from his stellar achievements as a composer and band leader to the ingredients of his mother's spaghetti recipe. She presented a pictorial tour of Sousa's several homes in the neighborhood and traced other aspects of his remarkable life.

A former curator of the Kiplinger Washington Collection, Janke is a longtime explorer of the city's past and co-author, with Ruth Ann Overbeck, of a groundbreaking study of one of Capitol Hill's founding landowners, William Prout. She serves now on the collections committee of the Historical Society of Washington and also on the Overbeck Project's steering committee.

 
   
 

Wennersten Lecture Explores Our Neighborhood’s River

With a new baseball stadium and various waterfront development proposals focusing new attention on the river that partially bounds our neighborhood, Capitol Hill historian John R. Wennersten led off the Overbeck History Lecture season on September 11, 2007, with a look at the significance of the Anacostia to the city and the nation.

Based on a forthcoming book, Wennersten?s presentation explored the early days of capital-building, when the Anacostia figured largely in Pierre L'Enfant's vision of Washington as a political and commercial center, and the Civil War-era transformation of the waterway into an urban river and sewage conduit whose problems continued into the modern era. The river, he noted, became a metaphor for regional racial divisions that extended from slavery days through the public housing controversies and urban discontent of the twentieth century.

A retired professor of history and government, Wennersten taught for 32 years on three campuses of the University of Maryland system, as well as in Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan. His earlier books include The Oyster Wars of Chesapeake Bay; Maryland's Eastern Shore, a Journey in Time and Place; and Chesapeake Bay, An Environmental Biography.

 
   
 

April 10 Overbeck Lecture: Hollywood on the Potomac

On April 10, 2007, Hill Rag film critic Michael Canning delivered an Overbeck History Lecture on the strange, ill-informed and occasionally accurate ways that Hollywood moviemakers have depicted Washington, DC. With clips from films spanning most of the twentieth century, Canning presented amusing examples of mangled geography and cultural tone-deafness, along with some notable cases where the filmmakers actually got it right, and featured a number of scenes shot on Capitol Hill.  Canning has also left us his lecture notes.

A longtime Hill resident, Canning worked for 28 years as a press and cultural officer for the U.S. Information Agency both in Washington and overseas, and began writing movie reviews for the Rag upon his retirement from the Foreign Service in 1993. Since 1999 he has also served as a programmer and commentator for the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop's classic films series. In addition, he has published a number of articles on the treatment of Washington and the U.S. Congress in American feature films, including a paper delivered to the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association in 1997.

 
   
 

Feldman Explores the Past and Future of the National Mall

On the evening of February 27, 2007, Judy Scott Feldman delivered an excellent illustrated lecture on how the National Mall has evolved from Pierre L’Enfant’s original vision to its reality today and how it might look in the future. Ms. Feldman chairs the National Coalition to Save Our Mall, a nonprofit, all-volunteer citizens organization, and is a widely respected authority on issues surrounding the Mall’s further development.

According to Feldman, L’Enfant considered the Mall the most important element of his plan for the capital city, the nexus of federal and local life, but his concept was never really achieved. Feldman showed that the Mall’s history has been one of constant change, of L’Enfant’s democratic idea ignored, deferred, replaced, and recast to suit changing needs, and she also raised some provocative questions about how the Mall might best meet the needs of the next hundred years.

A native Washingtonian, Feldman earned B.A. and M.A. degrees in art history from Penn State University and a Ph.D. in art history from the University of Texas at Austin. After several years of teaching at the University of Dallas, she moved back to Washington in 1993 and taught medieval art history and Washington architecture at American University. She left AU in 1999 to devote herself to the work of the Coalition, educating the public about Mall history, current issues, and creative ideas for the Mall's future. She also lectures frequently on art history and Washington topics for the Smithsonian’s Resident Associates program. You can learn more about her organization at savethemall.org.

 
   
 

Wadsworth Marks Project's Five-Year Anniversary With Memories of Capitol Hill in the 1920s and 30s

In observation of the five-year anniversary of our oral history project, our Overbeck History Lecture on November 14, 2006, took the form of a staged interview with one of our more remarkable interviewees, Margaret Wadsworth, who delighted her audience with recollections of Capitol Hill in the 1920s and 30s. The dialogue was conducted by Beth Eck, who interviewed Mrs. Wadsworth for our project in April 2005, and was accompanied by projected scenes of the neighborhood as it appeared in Mrs. Wadsworth’s childhood and as it appears today.

Born Margaret Fleming in 1920, Mrs. Wadsworth spent her childhood in her family's home in the 500 block of 8th Street S.E., in the heart of the Barracks Row business corridor, and later on Bay Street S.E. She attended the Holy Comforter elementary school, graduated from Eastern High School, and made an early attempt at a singing career, auditioning for band leader Bob Crosby and performing briefly on Arthur Godfrey's radio show. She and her late husband raised their family in the neighborhood, but moved to Arlington after the 1968 riots. She worked for many years at the Naval Historical Center at the Washington Navy Yard and also at the Smithsonian. She serves now as a volunteer teacher's aide, reading to children at Glen Forest Elementary in Fairfax.

 
   
 

Ackerman Recounts the History of Eastern Market

The Overbeck History Lectures launched a new season on the evening of  September 19, 2006, with Capitol Hill author Stephen J. Ackerman presenting an illustrated history of Eastern Market. The lecture was based on Ackerman's forthcoming book on the subject and coincided with the 200th anniversary of the market?s founding at its original site near 6th and L Streets S.E. Publication of the book is being supported by the Overbeck Project.

Ackerman disclosed a wealth of detail from the market's improbable history, including the period when the building's north hall served as a stable for the firehouse next door and another when the basement served as a rifle range.

A Capitol Hill native and sixth-generation Washingtonian, Ackerman has pursued a varied career, moving from college English teacher to congressional aide to federal civil servant, and has worked for the past twenty years as a free lance writer. His highly readable historical articles have appeared in American Heritage, Smithsonian, Preservation, American History, Washington Post Magazine and many other publications. He can be reached at sja@sjackerman.com

 
   
 

The Navy's Top Historian Gives History of the Navy Yard

A near-capacity crowd gathered at the Naval Lodge meeting hall on April 11, 2006, for an illustrated history of the Washington Navy Yard, presented by the U.S. Naval Historical Center’s lead historian, Edward J. Marolda.

Few people today are aware of how great a role the Navy Yard has played in the life and development of Capitol Hill. The walled facility at the foot of 8th Street was once the biggest builder of Navy ships in the country, and then became the biggest manufacturer of munitions. For roughly 150 years it was our neighborhood?s largest employer and a much more significant driver of the community's growth than Congress and the Capitol.

Dr. Marolda is the author and editor of several books on U.S. Navy history and traditions, including The Washington Navy Yard: An Illustrated History, which is generally available for purchase at the gift shop of the Navy Yard museum.

 
   
 

Janke Depicts "The Breweries of Capitol Hill"

On February 7, Capitol Hill historian Lucinda Janke treated a capacity crowd at the Naval Lodge meeting hall to a charming look at the breweries that thrived in our neighborhood in the days before Prohibition.

Although hardly a trace of them remains today, in the late 19th century the Hill boasted two of Washington's largest breweries, one in the block where Stuart Hobson Junior High stands today, the other at the site of the present-day 14th Street Safeway. The latter facility, which operated under various names and owners and had a beer garden that seated more than a thousand customers, greeted Prohibition by successfully converting to the manufacture of ice cream.

Ms. Janke showed an array of photos and other brewery memorabilia, and introduced about a dozen members of the audience who are direct descendents of Washington's 19th century brewers, most of whom were German immigrants. A former curator of the Kiplinger Washington Collection and board member of the DC Historical Society, Ms. Janke is a longtime explorer of the city's past and co-author, with Ruth Ann Overbeck, of a groundbreaking study of one of Capitol Hill's founding landowners, William Prout. She also serves on the steering committee of the Overbeck Project.

 
   
 

Smithsonian Curator Salutes "The Instrument Makers of Capitol Hill"

On November 15, 2005 , Deborah J. Warner of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History delivered an interesting talk on a group of Capitol Hill residents who contributed greatly to the advancement of American science, surveying and geodesy. In the 19th century, Warner noted, a number of scientific instrument makers lived and worked in this neighborhood, supplying the needs of the US Coast and Geodetic Survey and a variety of other government and private clients. These highly skilled craftsmen, most of them German immigrants, turned out telescopes, surveyor's transits, heliostats and other precision devices that were needed for mapping, astronomy and other scientific pursuits. Among the craftsmen featured in the talk was Edward Kübel, whose workshop in the three hundred block of First Street N.E. produced the heliostat that Albert Michelson used for measuring the speed of light.

Warner is curator of the History Museum 's Physical Sciences Collection, which includes a number of instruments that were made by Kübel and other Hill manufacturers. The collection can be browsed at www.americanhistory2.si.edu/collections/surveying.

 
   
 

September Lecture Profiles "The Communist Who Designed Eastern Market"

The 2005-06 season of Overbeck History Lectures opened on the evening of September 13 with a charming look at Adolf Cluss, the visionary Navy Yard engineer and architect who designed Eastern Market and many other 19th century Washington landmarks. Joseph L. Browne, director of a new Cluss exhibition at the Sumner School Museum, delivered the lecture to a near-capacity crowd at the Naval Lodge Hall on Pennsylvania Avenue.

A friend and follower of Karl Marx in his native Germany, Adolf Cluss arrived on Capitol Hill in 1849 with grand ideas for reforming society and becoming a major architect. He eventually cooled on Communism, but succeeded spectacularly as a designer of some of Washington's most distinctive buildings, including the Smithsonian's Arts and Industries building and Wallach School, which stood where Hine Junior High stands today. Working with Alexander ?Boss? Shepherd and others, he played a major role in changing the face of Washington in the latter half of the 19th century.

Our speaker, Joseph Browne, earned a Ph.D. in American Studies at the University of Maryland and taught history for thirty years at schools in the U.S., Germany, England and Italy. He's the author of a Maryland regional history, Sotweed to Suburbia, and co-author of the Cluss exhibition book. You can learn more about Cluss at the exhibition’s web site: www.adolf-cluss.org.

 
   
 

Authors Recall the 1932 "Bonus Army"

At our Overbeck History Lecture on April12, 2005, Washington writers Paul Dickson and Thomas B. Allen vividly described how tens of thousands of impoverished World War I veterans descended upon Washington in 1932 to seek payment of a bonus (basically one dollar per day of service) that Congress had promised them but had put off paying until 1945. These “Bonus Army” petitioners camped for months in tents and shacks along the Anacostia River and in empty buildings elsewhere around the city, only to be forcibly evicted eventually by the very Army in which most of them had served. Dickson and Allen explained how the men ultimately won their bonus and instilled in their country a new sense of obligation to military veterans, which led to passage of the GI Bill in World War II.

Dickson and Allen are co-authors of the highly praised The Bonus Army: An American Epic, and are collaborating on a documentary film on the Bonus Marchers for public television. Allen is a longtime contributor to National Geographic and the author of numerous books and articles on U.S. and military history. Dickson is a contributing editor to Washingtonian magazine and a consulting editor at Merriam-Webster, Inc. You can learn more about these writers at tballen.com and pauldicksonbooks.com

 
   
 

Rogers Recalls “ Washington’s Railways and the Rise of Union Station”

A capacity crowd gathered at the Naval Lodge Hall on the evening of February 15, 2005 to hear Lee H. Rogers give us a fascinating history of Washington’s railroad service and the creation of Union Station. Prior to the consolidation of routes that occurred with Union Station’s construction at the beginning of the 20th century, Rogers noted, DC residents had to choose from as many as eight different railway stations within the city, depending on which line they wanted to ride and where they wanted to go. (Rogers showed slides of these stations and the trains they served, drawing in part on the extensive photo archive of DC historian Robert A. Truax.)

An international transportation planner and economist, Rogers has worked on transport projects in fourteen countries while also pursuing a decades-long interest in the history of Washington, where he has lived since 1953. He frequently gives lectures and slide presentations on Washington’s streetcars, canals, bridges and other transportation infrastructure. He’s a founding member of the Washington Streetcar Museum and the Baltimore Streetcar Museum, and has researched the histories of District neighborhoods on 14th Street N. W. and H Street N.E. Rogers is a graduate of American University and a member of the U.S. Transportation Research Board.

 
   
 

Rimensnyder Asks for New Respect for Washington’s “Boss” Shepherd

At our Overbeck History Lecture on the evening of November 9, 2005, Capitol Hill historian Nelson Rimensnyder offered a compelling portrait of the legendary 19th century territorial governor who turned Washington, DC into a modern city. Alexander R. Shepherd was an unjustly maligned civic leader, Rimensnyder contended, whose statue should be restored to its previous place of honor in front of the District building on Pennsylvania Avenue. The statue was, in fact, returned to the site in January 2005 due to Rimensnyder's efforts and other public pressure.

As Rimensnyder noted, as late as 1870 Washington remained an embarrassing backwater marked by mud streets, open sewers and wandering livestock, lending credibility to the serious movement then underway to have the national capital moved to St. Louis. More than any other individual, Alexander Shepherd changed all that, with a massive effort to grade and pave the streets, improve the parks, and install new lighting, water and sanitation systems. But by plunging forward with this effort without the expected level of financial support from Congress, he also left the city bankrupt and incurred the derision of partisan press lords, who dubbed him Boss Shepherd.

Rimensnyder says it was grossly unfair to lump Shepherd with the likes of New York’s Boss Tweed, and notes that this urban visionary also worked to change the social landscape as an outspoken supporter of women’s suffrage and racial equality.

Rimensnyder has been a student of DC history and a champion of DC home rule since his high school days in Pennsylvania, where he lobbied his state legislators to approve the 23rd Amendment to the Constitution giving District residents the right to vote for President. Later, working at the Library of Congress (1970-1975) and then as director of research for the U.S. House Committee on the District of Columbia (1975-1992), he compiled what he describes as “the only existing comprehensive archive on the history of the complex DC-Federal relationship.” He has been intensively involved in local historic preservation efforts and has served on the boards of the Historical Society of Washington, DC and the Association of the Oldest Inhabitants of the District of Columbia.

 
   
 

Brad Snyder Opens Our 2004-05 Season With “ Washington’s Homestead Grays and the Integration of Baseball”

Award-winning sports reporter and author Brad Snyder led off the Overbeck Project’s 2004-05 lecture season on September 14 with a look at professional baseball in Washington in the 1940s. In those years the city’s fans could choose between the Washington Senators, who hovered near the bottom of the segregated major leagues, and the Homestead Grays, one of the greatest teams in the history of the Negro Leagues, with legendary sluggers Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard, among others.

Snyder described how the contrast between the two teams, and the dogged advocacy of local sports reporter Sam Lacy, made Washington, D.C. a focal point in the campaign to integrate major league baseball well before the Brooklyn Dodgers broke “the color barrier” with the signing of Jackie Robinson.

Brad Snyder is author of the widely acclaimed Beyond the Shadow of the Senators: The Untold Story of the Homestead Grays and the Integration of Baseball (Contemporary Books, 2003). The New York Times Book Review called it “a rich panorama of Washington as it evolved from a Southern provincial town to a large city with a black majority … Snyder’s book is not just the history of a team but the tale of one city in all its social complexity.” You can find out more about the book at beyondtheshadow.com.

In the early 1990s, Snyder was a reporter for the Baltimore Sun, where he covered the Orioles and also Baltimore city crime and Capitol Hill. He left the Sun to earn a law degree at Yale and later practiced briefly with Williams and Connolly LLP, but he has since returned full-time to his first love – writing about the business and sociology of sports.

 
   
 

Tom Kelly Recalls “Capitol Hill in the Jazz Age and the Great Depression”

The 2003-04 season of the Overbeck History Lectures concluded on the evening of April 13 with a charming look at life on Capitol Hill during the 1920s and 30s. Hill native and longtime journalist Tom Kelly offered vivid memories of his childhood here in the Jazz Age and the Great Depression. His descriptions were mainly excerpts from the early chapters of his memoirs – a work in progress.

Mr. Kelly grew up on the 400 block of Constitution Avenue N.E. (then known as B Street), where he and his wife Marguerite later raised their family and still reside today. He was recently interviewed for the Overbeck project by one of our volunteers, Andrea Kerr, and the transcript of that exchange will be posted soon on our Interviewees page.

Tom Kelly’s first newspaper job was as a copy boy at the Washington Post in 1939. After serving in the Navy during World War II, graduating from Penn State, and reporting for two papers in Louisiana, he covered the White House during the Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations for the old Washington Daily News. He later served in the federal Office for Economic Opportunity and as Director of National Affairs for the newly formed VISTA program. From 1970 to 1986 he free lanced, and then worked part time for the Washington Times until 1993, when he retired at age 70.

 
   
 

Potter Describes Our Predecessors on the Potomac

On the evening of February 10, 2004, a capacity crowd at the Naval Lodge Hall on Pennsylvania Avenue S.E. heard a fascinating account of the Native Americans who populated the Washington area prior to European contact. National Park Service archeologist Stephen R. Potter presented a lecture called “Contested Ground: Aboriginal America and the Potomac Frontier, A.D. 700 to 1676.”

The area where we live today, Potter showed, was highly prized and fought over by a variety of bands of Algonquian-speaking peoples, whose alliances and trade relationships stretched from the Virginia Capes to the Great Lakes and southern Ontario. Dr. Potter’s observations were based in part on recent archeological discoveries within the District of Columbia and were accompanied by slides of old maps, illustrations and unearthed artifacts. (Some of the information presented in his lecture is available at www.nps.gov/rap. Click on “Exhibits,” then “Prehistoric Landscapes of the Nation’s Capital.”)

Dr. Potter, who serves as head archeologist for the National Capital Region of the National Park Service, has a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and has written and lectured widely on the prehistoric and historic archeology of the eastern United States, the 17th century Chesapeake frontier, the southern Algonquian Indians, and the archeology and history of the American Civil War.

 
   
 

C.R. Gibbs Tells of DC's Black Civil War Regiment

On November 18, 2003, our Overbeck lecture audience heard Capitol Hill historian C.R. Gibbs deliver a moving presentation on the First Regiment, U.S. Colored Troops, the black Civil War regiment that was recruited and trained in Washington, D.C. In the spring of 1863, Israel Bethel AME Church, which stood approximately where the Rayburn House Office Building stands today, became the main recruiting station for this brave collection of fugitive slaves and freedmen from throughout the region who volunteered to fight for the Union cause.

Mr. Gibbs is the author of five books on African American history, including the recently published Black, Copper & Bright: The District of Columbia 's Black Civil War Regiment . He has also written for dozens of newspapers and magazines, lectured at schools and universities throughout the Washington region and beyond, and mounted a variety of historical exhibits for museums and other organizations. His expert guidance has been sought in connection with a variety of video and television productions, and his anecdotal history tours for the Smithsonian Associates and other groups are among the best in the city.

Copies of Black, Copper & Bright and other books by Mr. Gibbs were available for purchase and author signature at the end of the lecture.

 
     
   

Anthony Pitch Describes the 1814 Burning of Washington

The 2003-04 season of of Overbeck History Lectures got off to a dramatic start on Tuesday evening, September 16, as the highly regarded author and lecturer Anthony S. Pitch told the gripping story of the British capture of Washington, DC in the summer of 1814, with a special focus on events on Capitol Hill. The burning of the Capitol, the White House and most other government buildings in the District brought our new country precariously close to extinction and of course were devastating blows to this fledgling community.

The lecture was held, as usual, in the visually striking Egyptian Revival style meeting hall of the Naval Lodge building at 330 Pennsylvania Avenue S.E.

Anthony Pitch is the author of The Burning of Washington : The British Invasion of 1814, along with numerous other books and publications, and is noted for his excellent anecdotal history tours for the Smithsonian Resident Associates and other organizations. He has worked as a journalist in England, Africa and Israel, served as senior writer in the books division of U.S. News & World Report, and is now at work on a new history of the Lincoln assassination. He can be reached at dcsightseeing.com.

 
     
   

George Didden, Jr.,

I thought this evening we would concentrate on my father's ancestors in Washington . My mother was a Stoutenbourgh. Her family dates back to the 1200s when the Stoutenbourgh dynasty was a royal family in Holland .

This is the story of two incredibly productive and successful Washingtonians of German descent who came to Washington after the Civil War. Their collective energy and business acumen substantially shaped our great city, as we know it today. Albert Carry was a self made man, a prominent Washington brewer, real estate investor, banker and philanthropist. Mr. Carry hired Clement August Didden, a prominent Washington Architect to design buildings to their highest and best use on corners all over downtown to house National Capital Brewing Co.'s many wholly owned pubs. The building in which we celebrate Washington 's history tonight is testament to the profitability of a pint of liquid bread at the turn of the century. On May 24, 1905 (exactly 95 years ago today), the Brewer's oldest daughter Marie married the Architect's oldest son, George. These were our paternal grandparents.

 
     
   

April 8 Overbeck History Lecture
Looks At Capitol Hill Before L'Enfant?

At our Overbeck History Lecture on April 8, 2003, noted author, GWU professor and longtime Hill resident John M. Vlach took a spellbound audience back to Capitol Hill Before L'Enfant to the woods, streams and plantations that were here before the grand design for a federal city was superimposed. Vlach treated a capacity crowd at the Naval Lodge Hall to a pictorial tour of the Hill?s perimeter, where most of the 18th century landowners had their homes, slave quarters and tobacco barns.

Click here for the text of Vlach's lecture, along with the many maps and slides that he showed. Also, check out the very interesting article Vlach wrote for a recent issue of the newsletter of the U.S. Capitol Historical Society. In it he thoroughly debunks the oft-repeated claim that Capitol Hill was once known as Jenkins Hill

Vlach is a professor of Anthropology and American Studies at George Washington University and the author of ten books, including Charleston Blacksmith, The Afro-American Tradition in Decorative Arts, Folk Art and Art Worlds, and Back of the Big House: The Architecture of Plantation Slavery. He also has curated a number of exhibitions for the Smithsonian's Museum of American History and other institutions around the country and has generously assisted the Overbeck Project as a conceptual adviser and as a trainer of our volunteers.

 
     
   

February History Lecture Explores "Our Neighborhood's River"

At our Overbeck History Lecture on February 11, 2003, Don Hawkins described for a capacity crowd at the Naval Lodge hall how our neighborhood’s river, the Anacostia, has shaped our community – and been shaped by it.

Few people today are aware that Washington's founders sited the federal city in this particular place along the Potomac not so much because of what the Potomac had to offer but because of its Anacostia tributary. It was the Anacostia that had the best harbor, and it provided passage for ocean-going ships, in those days, all the way up to Bladensburg.

Since then, of course, the river has silted in from agricultural runoff and suffered other serious degradation. To find out more about the river's ecology and what can be done to clean it up, go to www.cbf.org/anacostia.

Don Hawkins is an architect by profession, but he’s probably better known locally for his avocation as a historian of early Washington and its topography. He’s drawn and published dozens of maps and illustrations showing how our area looked to early European settlers and how it evolved over the years. His many other research projects include a reconstruction of William Thornton's lost design for the U.S. Capitol, which is on display today in the crypt under the Capitol's rotunda.

Hawkins grew up in Arlington, and studied architecture at the Architectural Association in London, the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, and Catholic University, where he also received a master’s degree in urban design. He's a frequent lecturer on D.C. history at the Smithsonian, at local historical societies, and at most of our area's universities.

 
     
   

Sam and Kathy Smith Spark Memories of the 60s

On the evening of November 12, 2002, husband-and-wife team Sam Smith and Kathryn Schneider Smith presented one of our most successful Overbeck History Lectures yet, a very entertaining and informative look at Capitol Hill in the turbulent 1960s.

Sam and Kathy were prominent activists here in those days, and their lecture – "Cauldron and Community: Joining the Hill in the 1960s" – looked back on a decade when Congress grappled with civil rights and the war on poverty while people living in the shadow of the dome struggled to save a neighborhood hit hard by neglect, misguided development, and middle class flight to the suburbs.

If you missed the event, click below for a full transcript of their remarks. Kathy gives a great description of her involvement with Friendship House and other community efforts. And Sam, who was founder and editor of the Capitol East Gazette, gives a very colorful view of a community awakening to change, culminating in a gripping account of the 1968 riots.

Kathy today is executive director of the D.C. Heritage Tourism Coalition, which she helped start five years ago to bring more of Washington's visitors into the city's downtown and residential areas. She's the author and editor of a number of books on the history of our city, including Washington at Home: Neighborhoods in the Nation's Capital, and is the founding editor of Washington History, the journal of the Historical Society of Washington, D.C., which she also served as president.

Sam, who helped to found the D.C. Statehood Party and the national Green Party, today is editor of The Progressive Review and a prominent critic and commentator on D.C. life and politics. The first of his four books, Captive Capital, which he wrote in 1974, is still one of the basic books about Washington.

To read Kathy Smith's lecture Click Here
To read Sam Smith's Lecture Click Here

 
     
   

September Lecture Looks At Civil War Capitol Hill

Our Ruth Ann Overbeck History Lecture Series began its new season on the evening of September 10, 2002, with a fascinating look at life in our neighborhood during the Civil War. A capacity crowd at the Naval Lodge Hall was held spellbound by American University professor and Civil War authority Edward C. Smith as he described how the conflict to preserve the Union profoundly altered the life of our community.

Among other things, he pointed out, the Navy Yard down at the foot of 8th Street brought in hundreds of new workers to service the ships and churn out munitions for the war effort. A neighborhood church became a recruiting station for U.S. Colored Troop #1. And on the site of present-day Lincoln Park, the largest hospital in the city sprang up, treating thousands of wounded soldiers.

Professor Smith is a third-generation Washingtonian and the Director of American Studies at AU, where he's taught since 1969. He's also achieved a wide following as a Civil War, African-American cultural heritage and art history lecturer and study tour leader for the Smithsonian Institution, the National Geographic Society, the National Park Service and the D.C. Historical Society.

 
     
   

April 2002 Lecture Explores Freemasonry on the Hill

Another capacity crowd gathered at the Naval Lodge hall at 4th and Pennsylvania on the evening of April 9, 2002, to hear Barbara Franco deliver the second in our series of Ruth Ann Overbeck History Lectures - a fascinating look at the role of Freemasons in our neighborhood's history.

Franco, who became an expert on Freemasonry and other fraternal organizations in American history while serving at the Museum of Our National Heritage in Lexington, Massachusetts, spoke in some detail about the history of the Naval Lodge itself, and used the hall's elaborate interior to illustrate Freemasonry's symbols and beliefs. Naval Lodge #4, which was founded in 1805 by officers and workers at the Navy Yard, has played a major role in the social and economic life of Capitol Hill.

As president of the Historical Society of Washington, D.C., Franco also provided an update on the society's plans for the new D.C. history museum, which is scheduled to open on Mount Vernon Square in 2003.

 
     
   

New Lecture Series Is a Hit

An enthusiastic, capacity crowd gathered at the Naval Lodge Hall on Pennsylvania Avenue on the evening of February 5, 2002, to hear Edmund and Sylvia Morris deliver the first of our Overbeck History Lectures, a fascinating presentation on "Washington in the time of Theodore Roosevelt."

Edmund Morris is the author of The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, which won the Pulitzer Prize, and its widely praised sequel, Theodore Rex. His wife Sylvia Jukes Morris wrote the highly regarded biography of TR's wife, Edith Kermit Roosevelt: Portrait of a First Lady. The Morrises also are our Capitol Hill neighbors.

All of our lectures are held at the Naval Lodge Hall at 330 Pennsylvania Avenue S.E. This intact 1895 Masonic temple, decorated in the Egyptian Revival style, is one of our neighborhood's architectural treasures.

Our thanks to the Lodge, and to all our volunteers who helped make our first lecture a great success.

 
     
   

Kiplinger Backs Our Lecture Series

In December 2001, the Overbeck Project received a generous grant from the Kiplinger Foundation to support our new lecture series on Washington, D.C. history. The Overbeck Lectures began on February 5, 2002, with a presentation by Edmund and Sylvia Morris on "Theodore Roosevelt's Washington."

 
 
     
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