Mount Vernon Square in Washington, District of Columbia — The American Northeast (Mid-Atlantic)
Words and Deeds
Midcity at the Crossroads
— Shaw Heritage Trail —
Wealthy industrialist Andrew Carnegie donated funds to build the Beaux Arts-style building you see across the street to your left, the city’s first public library. The Central Library opened in 1903 with 12,412 books by its predecessor, the private Washington City Free Library.
The public library welcomed all races at a time when the city was generally segregated. It occupied an unofficial border between businesses that primarily served Whites to the south, and those that largely catered to African Americans to the north. The library became a resource beloved by all where speakers such as civil rights activist and lecturer Mary Church Terrell gave public lectures. Edith Morganstein who grew up nearby in the early 1920s called “the beautiful building with magnolia trees all around” her “second home.”
The library’s square was part of Pierre L’Enfant’s 1791 plan for Washington, and it was unused until Northern Liberty Market opened there in 1846. The market became notorious in 1857 when a citywide election erupted in violence. Members of the anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant “Know-Nothing”
In 1872 the deteriorating market was ordered demolished by Territorial Governor Alexander “Boss” Shepherd. Defying proper procedures and without notice, Shepherd had the building razed at night, accidentally killing several inside.
When parts of the city went up in flames the day that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in1968, this neighborhood was badly damaged. Order was restored when U.S. Army troops and National Guardsmen were brought in to end the burning and looting.
Erected by Cultural Tourism DC. (Marker Number 1.)
Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: African Americans • Civil Rights • Government & Politics. In addition, it is included in the Carnegie Libraries 📚, the Former U.S. Presidents: #15 James Buchanan, the Mary Church Terrell, and the Shaw Heritage Trail series lists. A significant historical year for this entry is 1903.
Location. 38° 54.181′ N, 77° 1.326′ W. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 801 Mount Vernon Place Northwest, Washington DC 20001, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Central Public Library (within shouting distance of this marker); The Place to Shop (about 400 feet away, measured in a direct line); Roots of Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral (about 400 feet away); Remembering "the Village" (about 400 feet away); For the Working People (about 500 feet away); To Market, To Market (approx. 0.2 miles away); Reaching for Equality (approx. 0.2 miles away); Power Brokers (approx. 0.2 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Mount Vernon Square.
More about this marker. [Captions:]
Marine General Henderson confronts rioters at Northern Liberty Market in 1857. “Boss” Shepherd above later tore down the Northern Liberty Market. (Marine Corps Historical Center)
“The damned old shed was so hideous that it had to come down.” Alexander R. Boss Shepard. (National Archives)
Millionaire Andrew Carnegie donated money to build four public library buildings in Washington. (The Historical Society of Washington, D.C.)
Checking out books, Central Library around 1935. (Washingtoniana Division, D.C. Public Library)
Modest shops and apartments occupied this corner in 1965. (Kiplinger Washington Collection)
In 1968, after rioters burned much of Seventh St., U.S. Army troops protected this intersection. The Convention Center now occupies the burned out block at center. (Washingtoniana Division, D.C. Public Library)
Related markers. Click here for a list of markers that are related to this marker. Other Shaw Heritage Trail markers in the Historical Marker database.
Additional keywords. Civil disorder, unrest
Credits. This page was last revised on July 21, 2021. It was originally submitted on August 19, 2009, by Richard E. Miller of Oxon Hill, Maryland. This page has been viewed 1,307 times since then and 20 times this year. Last updated on July 5, 2020, by Bruce Guthrie of Silver Spring, Maryland. Photos: 1. submitted on August 19, 2009, by Richard E. Miller of Oxon Hill, Maryland. 2. submitted on July 21, 2021, by Ray Gurganus of Washington, District of Columbia. 3, 4. submitted on August 19, 2009, by Richard E. Miller of Oxon Hill, Maryland. • Devry Becker Jones was the editor who published this page.