Georgetown Heights

 

The section of the District of Columbia, in and around the northern extension of the former city of Georgetown, once went by a less cumbersome name: Georgetown Heights. That it applied to points well north of modern Georgetown is not hard to explain, since the term had to have included the highest point in the former Corporation of Georgetown, which ran as far north as Fulton Street NW, and included what is now the Russian embassy, at 2650 Wisconsin Avenue. The original house at that location was described in the local press as “on the Heights of Georgetown on the west side of High Street… probably the most commanding site in the district, it being named Mount Alto.” (Georgetown Courier, May 25, 1867)

During the 19th century the sweeping panorama from that commanding site––now obscured by trees and buildings––was frequently sought out by artists, whose images were often titled View from Georgetown Heights.

 

 

 

The northern corporate boundary of the City of Georgetown, extending north almost to what is now Fulton Street, are shown in red. (Map prepared by Col. Robert B. Curtiss, Burleith Citizens Association, 1974.)

 

 

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. (“Watercolor Views of Washington”, Evening Star, November 19, 1916)

 

 

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

 

There is also no doubt that the property purchased by the federal government in 1881 for the new Naval Observatory was considered 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.”

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.)

 

 

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

 

 

On at least one occasion the term was applied as far north as Cathedral Avenue: “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…” (“Hearst Girls’ School: Bishop Satterlee Dedicates the New Structure.” Washington Post, May 25, 1900, p.7)

 

 

 

___________________________________________________________

Carlton Fletcher

 The citation and acknowledgement of my research is greatly appreciated.

All rights reserved.

 

 Questions and corrections may be directed to

carlton@gloverparkhistory.com

 

The support of the Advisory Neighborhood Council (3B) is gratefully acknowledged.