Neighborhood Research

Neighborhood Research

In the People's Archive

Online Research Guides
The People's Archive has created several online research guides for D.C. neighborhood history. These guides include research materials available in the Washingtoniana Collection and online:

Neighborhood Bibliography
This resource, available online and in Washingtoniana, lists books about D.C. neighborhoods and is the best place to start your research. Secondary sources such as these will help you get an overview of the history and development of each neighborhood. Take note of the following details about the neighborhood to eventually use in searching primary source material:

  • People important to the neighborhood
  • Events important to its history
  • Churches and schools
  • Businesses and stores
  • Parks and theaters
  • Streets
  • Other landmarks

Vertical Files (ca. 1930-the present)
These subject folders are filled primarily with news clippings, but also include pamphlets and some government publications. The Vertical File Subject Heading Index is available online and in Washingtoniana. Subject headings that are useful for researching neighborhoods include:

  • Residential sections – by name of neighborhood
  • Streets – streets in the neighborhood
  • Houses – by address
  • Personal name – individuals important to neighborhood
  • Other institutions (schools, churches, businesses, theaters) or places (parks)

In addition to searching the vertical files, search these terms in The Washington Post and The Washington Evening Star databases through the library’s website (library card required) and in the historic newspapers available online through the Chronicling America.

Researching Properties
The Washingtoniana Map Collection contains plat maps, which are an important resource for studying changes in a neighborhood’s built environment over time. Other resources for researching buildings and houses in a neighborhood, and the people associated with them include:

  • Building Permits (1877-1949) – find out the builder, architect and original owner as well as year built, materials and cost. The Building Permits Database, which provides information from original permits to build, is now available online at HistoryQuest DC
  • Assessment Directories and Board of Realtors Records – show ownership over time and value
  • City Directories – show residents over time and their occupations
  • Census Records – provide detailed information about individual families

For detailed instructions on how to use these records visit our House History page.

D.C. Community Archives
Archival collections of local organizations and individuals provide a rich resource for studying the history of a neighborhood. Relevant collections include:

  • Records of Civic and Citizens Associations (Example: Mt. Pleasant Civic Association, 1959-1966)
  • Records of community activists and social clubs (Example: Neighbors, Inc. – Takoma/Petworth activists)
  • Photos from local neighborhoods. (Example: Joseph Curtis Collection of old Southwest, 1914-1970)
  • Documentary films about local neighborhoods ( Example: Black Georgetown Remembered documentary)

Photograph Collections
Photo collections in Washingtoniana include the D.C. Historical Image Collection, the Star Collection, and the D.C. Community Archives.

Neighborhood Strengths for Images:

  • Street Scenes
  • Historic Houses
  • Places of Worship
  • Schools
  • Neighborhood Businesses

Other Resources

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