“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Southwest in Washington, District of Columbia — The American Northeast (Mid-Atlantic)

Linking the “Island” to the City

River Farms to Urban Towers


—Southwest Heritage Trail —

Linking the "Island" to the City Marker image. Click for full size.
By Craig Swain, April 10, 2010
1. Linking the "Island" to the City Marker
A massive, Romanesque style Metropolitan Street Railway car barn once commanded the corner behind you across O Street, with repair shops across Fourth Street. They dated from the 1880s, and were part of Washington's first street railway system. Streetcars were a lifeline for this neighborhood, long known as "the island" because it was cut off from the rest of Washington by creeks, a canal, the Mall, and eventually railroads and freeways. "We had our own community here," recalled Southwester Clarence "Chick" Jackson, "but we could also go anywhere off the island on the streetcar. It was our ... connection to the city."

In the early 1800s, Washingtonians walked or rode in carriages and wagons or astride horses. Later they traveled in horse-drawn wagons known as public omnibuses. By the Civil War, however, the city was booming, overwhelmed with soldiers, civilians, and supplies that needed to be moved around. In 1862 Congress chartered the first street railway - rail cars pulled by horses on steel tracks. Given the strategic importance of Southwest's wharves, one of the first three lines ran from Boundary Street (now Florida Avenue, NW) to Seventh Street, then back.

The electric trolleys of the late 1880s came next, but they were replaced with buses in 1962. That year most car barns became unnecessary. O. Roy Chalk, who
Back of Marker image. Click for full size.
By Craig Swain, April 10, 2010
2. Back of Marker
owned D.C. Transit (which became Metrobus in 1973), tore down his car barns to build the apartment houses Riverside Condominium and Channel Square.

(Photo Captions from upper right to lower left):
Cars of the Metropolitan Street Railway spent the night at this Romanesque style car barn that once stood behind your right.

On a quiet Sunday in 1951, tidy townhouses stretched ahead of you on a tree-lined Fourth Street.

When this photo was taken on Maryland Avenue in 1890, horse-drawn streetcars were rapidly disappearing. This 1880 map shows the city's horse-drawn street railways, including the line that ran through Southwest on Seventh and Fourth Streets passing this spot.

D.C. Transit streetcars parked next to the car barn, 1961.

The Downtowner minibus cars ran from F Street, NW to Southwest's Waterside Mall, 1976.

The Chalk House apartments (now Riverside Condominium) are near completion in the foreground of this 1965 view.

From 1800 until 1950, Southwest was Washington's largest working-class, waterfront neighborhood. The beginning in 1954, nearly all of Southwest was razed to create an entirely new city in the nation's first experiment in urban renewal. The 17 signs of River Farms to Urban Towers: Southwest Heritage Trail lead you through the Modernist buildings erected in the 1960s while marking
Linking the "Island" to the City Marker image. Click for full size.
By Craig Swain, April 10, 2010
3. Linking the "Island" to the City Marker
the sites and stories - and the few remaining structures - of the neighborhood that was. Follow this trail to discover the area's first colonial settlers and the waves of immigrants drawn to jobs on the waterfront or in nearby federal government offices. Here Chesapeake Bay watermen sold oysters and fish off their boats. The once-gritty streets were childhood homes to singer Marvin Gaye and movie star Al Jolson. Later residents included Senator Hubert H. Humphrey and other legislators.

River Farms to Urban Towers: Southwest Heritage Trail, a booklet capturing the trail's highlights, is available at local businesses along the way. To learn about other DC neighborhoods, visit
Erected by Cultural Tourism DC. (Marker Number 15 of 17.)
Location. 38° 52.384′ N, 77° 1.046′ W. Marker is in Southwest, District of Columbia, in Washington. Marker is at the intersection of 4th Street SW and O Street SW, on the right when traveling north on 4th Street SW. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Washington DC 20024, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Harbour Square (within shouting distance of this marker); Wheat Row (about 400 feet away, measured in a direct line); Military Education at Fort McNair (about 400 feet away); Lewis House (about 600 feet away); Barney House (about 600 feet away); Blending Old and New (about 600 feet away); Housing Reform and the Syphax School (about 700 feet away); Titanic Memorial (about 700 feet away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Southwest.
Categories. Railroads & Streetcars
Credits. This page was last revised on February 13, 2018. This page originally submitted on July 3, 2010, by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia. This page has been viewed 792 times since then and 22 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3. submitted on July 3, 2010, by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia.
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