Georgetown Heights

In the 19th century the section of the District of Columbia in and around the northern extension of the former city of Georgetown was generally spoken of as Georgetown Heights. That the term applied to points well north of modern Georgetown is not hard to explain, since it had to have included the highest point within the municipal boundaries of the former Corporation of Georgetown, and these ran as far north as Fulton Street NW. They included what is now 2650 Wisconsin Avenue, and a house that once stood there was described as standing “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)

“The funeral of the late Benjamin F, Hunt took place yesterday afternoon from his late residence on Georgetown Heights, and was attended by a large concourse of his friends.” (“Georgetown,” Evening Star, July 2, 1875, p.4)


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.)


“Michael Weaver, perhaps the oldest butcher in the District, died at his residence on Georgetown Heights last Wednesday, the 23rd of January, 1872, age 86.” Weaver’s residence was opposite Holy Rood Cemetery. (Georgetown Courier, January 27, 1872)


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, as that was its official address: “U.S. Naval Observatory, Georgetown Heights, D.C.” “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)



As late as 1926, when the name Glover Park was still unknown, and proximity to the park-like campus of the Naval Observatory was a selling-point, the apartment building at 3507 W Place (2200 Wisconsin) began listing apartments:  “Georgetown Heights, Near Naval Observatory, 3507 W Place, Attractive apartments.”

(Evening Star, March 13, 1926, p.30)


The term applied as far north as the National Cathedral, McLean Gardens, Sidwell Friends School, and even Maret School.

“St. Alban’s Church, on Georgetown Heights”––“Mount Saint Alban, on Georgetown Heights”––”the farm and mansion called “The Retreat”… on the summit of the heights above Georgetown”––“the college villa grounds, Georgetown heights”––”the Highlands… on the heights above Georgetown”––”Woodley… upon the heights of Georgetown”––”Woodly Farm … on the Heights of Georgetown.”

(“St. Albans Church,” Evening Star, April 30, 1896, p.2; “Hearst Girls’ School: Bishop Satterlee Dedicates the New Structure.” Washington Post, May 25, 1900, p.7; “A Most Desirable Residence For Sale,” Washington Daily Globe, July 16, 1842, p. 3; “Georgetown,” Evening Star, September 28, 1872, p. 5; “Female Education,” National Intelligencer, August 7-October 30, 1845, p. 4; “For Rent,” Daily National Journal, November 25, 1825, p. 3; “Of Cholera Beware,” National Intelligencer, August 31, 1832, p. 3.)


(The heights were occasionally even termed imperial. “Few places, indeed, can boast of more lovely scenery and picturesque views than Georgetown, with its quaint structures and stately mansions; its shady nooks and winding ways; its imperial Heights and undulating surface.”––”Our Colleges, Academies, Schools, Hotels, Drives, and Imperial Heights are unsurpassed the country over.”)

(“City News,” National Intelligencer, January 18, 1865, p. 3; Georgetown Courier, June 17, 1871.)





Carlton Fletcher

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