Georgetown Heights

In 1915, William A. Gordon, the author of “Old Homes on Georgetown Heights” was writing about houses in the northernmost tier of residential streets of what is now the historic district of Georgetown. And yet, instances where the term was used to refer to points a good deal further north are not hard to find.

Such as this, in 1926, when the name Glover Park was still unknown, and proximity to the park-like campus of the Naval Observatory was a selling-point: “Georgetown Heights, Near Naval Observatory, 3507 W Place, Attractive apartments.”

Or this, in 1900: “The school for girls connected with the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, of the diocese of Washington, situated at the northwest corner of the park at Mount Saint Alban, on Georgetown Heights…”

(Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Vol. 18 (1915) , pp.70-91; Evening Star, March 13, 1926, p.30; “Hearst Girls’ School: Bishop Satterlee Dedicates the New Structure.” Washington Post, May 25, 1900, p.7)




The northern boundaries of the city of Georgetown, as confirmed by Congress––”An Act Amending the Charter of Georgetown,” March 3, 1809––are shown in red on a modern street map. (Prepared by Col. Robert B. Curtiss, of the Burleith Citizens Association in 1974.)


A wider application of the term might be based on the fact that, before 1871, the corporation boundary of the city of Georgetown extended north to a point very near the present intersection of Tunlaw Road and Fulton Street NW. The Russian Embassy, at 2650 Wisconsin Avenue, sits at the high point of the former city of Georgetown. In 1867 the site was described as: “Part of lot 262, and all of lots 263, 264, and 300 on the Heights of Georgetown on the west side of High Street, containing some 17 acres, from which is now taken the celebrated yellow sand for government and other moulding purposes, probably the most commanding site in the district, it being named Mount Alto.” (Georgetown Courier, May 25, 1867. For the various names by which the high point was known, see Pole Hill, Red Hill, Mount Alto. See also The View from the Heights.)




A painting of Weston, at about 36th and Massachusetts Avenue, entitled “Old Georgetown Heights”. (“Watercolor Views of Washington”, Evening Star, November 19, 1916.)



That points west of the Russian Embassy were considered to be on Georgetown Heights is also clear. In 1916 a watercolor painting, entitled “Old Georgetown Heights”, was reproduced in the Evening Star, showing the old house called Weston that stood at about the intersection of 36th Street and Massachusetts Avenue. The painter was Charles Henry Davis, Jr. (1845-1921), who had been Superintendent of the neighboring Naval Observatory. Davis would have been confident in his use of the term because he issued all his reports with that address.

The property purchased by the federal government  in 1881 for the new Naval Observatory was widely understood to be on Georgetown Heights. “Admiral Rogers, who has been very ill for some time at the Naval Observatory, was yesterday afternoon moved to the Barber mansion, on Georgetown Heights, the site recently purchased for the new observatory.” “Rear Admiral John Rogers, superintendent of the U.S. naval observatory, died at his residence, at the site of the proposed new naval observatory, on Georgetown Heights, at 8 o’clock last evening, after a painful illness of Bright’s disease, of several weeks’ duration.” This understanding was also reflected in official announcements. “Bids were opened at the Navy Department today at noon for the construction of the new naval observatory building on Georgetown Heights.”

(“Watercolor Views of Washington”, Evening Star, November 19, 1916; Report of the Superintendent, United States Naval Observatory, Georgetown Heights, Washington, September 28, 1893; Anthony Bruce, William Cogar, Encyclopedia of Naval History, p.101; Washington Post, April 25, 1882, p.4; Evening Star, December 27, 1921, p.2; “The Death of Rear Admiral Rogers”, Evening Star, May 6, 1882, p.1; “The New Observatory”, Evening Star, June 12, 1888, p.3; “Oldest Weather Man: Half a Century of Service at Naval Observatory”, Washington Post, October 22, 1905, p.S1.  See also:  Specifications for engine pumps, pump house, etc., to be furnished for the United States Naval Observatory, Georgetown Heights, District of Columbia, from plans prepared by Leon E. Dessez, architect, Corcoran Building, Washington D.C., Washington, Government Printing Office, 1891; and other official publications of the period.)



“Superintendant’s Dwelling, U.S. Naval Observatory, Georgetown Heights, D.C.” Elevation by Leon Dessez, 1891.  (US Naval Observatory Archives)








Carlton Fletcher

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