Topography of the Federal city showing the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers, 1791. Image: Library of Congress, contributed by Don A. Hawkins

Our Neighborhood's River: The Changing Life of the Aanacostia

February 11, 2003
On February 11, 2003, Don Hawkins described how the neighborhood river of Capitol Hill, 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 all the way to Bladensburg, Maryland. Since the city was created the river has silted in from agricultural runoff and suffered other serious degradation, which Hawkins described in his Overbeck lecture.

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 was displayed 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.

Past Lectures