LeDroit Park in Washington, District of Columbia — The American Northeast (Mid-Atlantic)
The Prettiest Place
—LeDroit Park/Bloomingdale Heritage Trail —
Before there was a LeDroit Park, map engraver David McClelland owned a mansion on the property across Rhode Island Avenue. When the Civil War broke out in April 1861, McClelland possessed a detailed map of Washington that suddenly had great strategic value. He offered to sell his map and its copper printing plates to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, but his asking price was too high. So Stanton sent soldiers here to confiscate the map. Eventually McClelland settled for less than half of the requested fee.
In 1925 the Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks of the World, a fraternal society, bought McClelland's house for its headquarters (later replaced by the United Planning Organization). When few social venues admitted African Americans, the Elks lodge and its extensive lawns drew neighbors to dances and outdoor band concerts. "Lord, that was the prettiest place," recalled a former LeDroit Park resident who attended concerts there as a girl. "I never wanted to leave." After the Elks moved next door in the 1960s, a Safeway replaced their former lodge. The Safeway closed in 1998.
Acclaimed sociologist E. Franklin Frazier, author of The Negro Family in the United States, lived at 220 Rhode Island Avenue until his death in 1962. The Howard University faculty member
Frazier's sister-in-law, artist Hilda Wilkinson Brown, lived at 237 Rhode Island Avenue from 1934 until her death in 1981. Her husband Schley operated a medical practice from their home. Brown established the art program at nearby Miner Teachers College and often painted the neighborhood. Her niece, artist Lilian Thomas Burwell, later lived in the house.
LeDroit Park and its younger sibling Bloomingdale share a rich history here. Boundary Street (today's Florida Avenue) was the City of Washington's northern border until 1871. Beyond lay farms, a few sprawling country estates, and undeveloped land where suburban communities would rise. Nearby Civil War hospitals and temporary housing for the formerly enslaved brought African Americans to this area in the 1860s. Howard University opened just north of here in 1867. Boundary Street (today's Florida Avenue) was the City of Washington's northern edge until 1871.
Around this time, a Howard University professor and trustee and his brother-in-law, a real estate speculator, began purchasing land from Howard University to create LeDroit Park, a suburban retreat close to streetcar lines and downtown. It took its name from the first name of both Barber's son and father-in-law. Bloomingdale was developed
For its first two decades, wealthy whites set up housekeeping in LeDroit Park. By 1893, African Americans began moving in. Soon LeDroit Park became the city's premier black neighborhood. Bloomingdale remained a middle- and upper-class white neighborhood until the 1920s, when affluent African Americans began buying houses in the area south of Rhode Island Avenue.
Among the intellectual elites drawn here was poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. The trail's title, Worthy Ambition, comes from his poem, "Emancipation": Toward noble deeds every effort be straining./Worthy ambition is food for the soul!
Although this area declined in the mid-20th century as affluent homeowners sought newer housing elsewhere, revitalization began in the 1970s. The stories you find on Worthy Ambition: LeDroit Park/Bloomingdale Heritage Trail reflect the neighborhood's -- and Washington's -- complicated racial history and the aspirations on its citizens.
Worthy Ambition: LeDroit Park/Bloomingdale Heritage Trail is an Official Washington, DC Walking Trail. The self-guided, 2.5-mile tour of 16 signs offers about 90 minutes of gentle exercise. For more DC neighborhoods, please visit www.CulturalTourismDC.org.
Erected 2015 by Cultural Tourism DC. (Marker Number 15 of 16.)
Location. 38° 54.825′ N, 77° 0.945′ W. Marker is in LeDroit Park, District of Columbia, in Washington. Marker is at the intersection of 3rd Street Northwest and Florida Avenue NW, on the right when traveling north on 3rd Street Northwest. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 251 Florida Avenue NW, Washington DC 20001, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Elks Columbia Lodge No. 85 (about 500 feet away, measured in a direct line); Great Expectations (about 500 feet away); A Voice from the South (about 800 feet away); Robert and Mary Church Terrell House (approx. 0.2 miles away); Barnett Aden Gallery (approx. 0.2 miles away); Home to Headliners (approx. 0.2 miles away); T Street Elites (approx. 0.2 miles away); Government Girls (approx. 0.2 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in LeDroit Park.
Categories. • African Americans • Industry & Commerce • Science & Medicine • War, US Civil •
Credits. This page was last revised on December 5, 2017. This page originally submitted on November 23, 2017, by Devry Becker Jones of Silver Spring, Maryland. This page has been viewed 38 times since then. Photos: 1, 2, 3. submitted on November 23, 2017, by Devry Becker Jones of Silver Spring, Maryland. • Bill Pfingsten was the editor who published this page.