During the three-year modernization of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, the majority of Washingtoniana neighborhood history materials will be available by appointment in the Washingtoniana interim location, opening Tuesday, September 19, 2017 at the Newseum. For more information, visit the Special Collections Interim Access & Services page.
Online Research Guides
The Special Collections Department has created several online research guides for D.C. neighborhood history. These guides include research materials available in Washingtoniana and online:
- Southeast D.C. Neighborhood History
- Southwest D.C. Neighborhood History
- Northeast D.C. Neighborhood History
- Getting Started with Washington, D.C. History
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
- 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.
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)
Please visit our Appointments/Contacts/Hours page (preferred) or call 202-727-2272 to make an appointment to view archival collections. Materials will be delivered, by appointment, to the Library of Congress Newspaper & Current Periodicals Reading Room.
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
- Neighborhood Businesses
- Neighborhood Info D.C. includes statistical information and reports on D.C. neighborhoods
- Historical Society of Washington, D.C. - search their catalog for neighborhood photographs and archival collections
- Cultural Tourism D.C. produces heritage trails and brochures on neighborhood history
- Humanities Council of Greater Washington, D.C. funds community heritage projects
- D.C. Historic Preservation Office