Buzzard Point as shown in the 1884 Sachse Map. Library of Congress

Buzzard Point – From Indians to Soccer

March 6, 2017

On March 6, 2017,  Hayden Wetzel presented an Overbeck Lecture on the history of Buzzard Point, to the area to the southwest of Capitol Hill.

Buzzard Point, originally included land on both sides of James Creek at the confluence of the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers. In1866 implements used by Native Americans were discovered, while the mouth of James Creek was being improved. During colonial and federal times the area was part of larger estates and eventually owned by Notley Young (west of the creek) and Daniel Carroll (east of the creek) at the time Washington city was established. By 1803 the land west of the creek was designated for use as a US arsenal and after that, the area was most commonly referred to as Arsenal Point.

According to Wetzel, during the first half of the 19th century, Buzzard Point remained an underdeveloped area. An 1853 survey found numerous market garden plots but only 8 frame houses and 1 business. By 1875 another survey listed 29 frame houses, 7 brick houses, 6 businesses and 8 shanties; the population reached a high point in the late 1890s when 323 residents were counted (146 black and 177 white). Wetzel illustrated his lecture not only with maps and historic photos of scenes and individual houses but he also provided vignettes from newspaper stories and ads that gave a fuller dimension to the community that grew up in this area of Southwest south of Q Street. However, as he pointed out, despite the visions of landowners and even some limited improvements to the James Creek Canal, the residential neighborhood remained mostly a semi-rural area of houses set among small market garden plots and orchards. Unfortunately residents were increasingly beset by businesses that were smelly, unhygienic, generally a nuisance and a detriment to efforts to improve the neighborhood. One 1909 ad shown proclaimed: “For Sale – Is Your Business Objectionable to Your Neighbors?  Then buy on Buzzards Point, 1st Street, SW; 10,000 feet for sale cheap.“

Wetzel noted that during the first half of the last century as the old gardening community declined (population dropped to 87 in 1930 and 34 in 1940), officials and landowners turned to the idea of industrialization of the area.  Railroad tracks were laid and zoning was changed to allow such uses. Although many plans and ideas were discussed, not much actually appeared in the area south of Q Street.  The exceptions were the Gulf Refining Company’s oil and gas storage facility, the 1933 PEPCO power plant (which still stands) and the Corinthian Yacht Club (displaced from Alexandria). He ended his lecture by pointing out that a new chapter in the development of Buzzard Point was about to begin with the construction of a soccer stadium.

In retirement, Hayden Wetzel, a professional tour guide, enjoys contributing to the historical record of Washington.  He has researched and written over 15 landmark nominations and authored many studies, including several on different aspects of the Southwest’s buildings and history, some of which were written at the request of the Southwest Neighborhood Association.

Past Lectures