DC’s Federal Triangle Neighborhood Was Night And Day Different In The 19th Century

    Washington DC. It’s a beautiful city full of powerful government buildings,  majestic monuments, blocks of lovely old townhouses, amazing museums, and wonderful restaurants.
   Just east/southeast of the White House between Pennsylvania Avenue, Constitution Avenue, and 15th Street NW are the impressive, neoclassical buildings that make up the formidably large Federal Triangle complex. These grand structures are full of offices where people work throughout the week keeping the bureaucracy of government churning along. Next to the office buildings is the stunning columned National Archives.
   But it wasn’t always this way.
   Nope.
   The structures there now were built in the 20th Century. Before this, the neighborhood was quite different. Like night and day different.
   Put it this way, during the latter half of the 1800s, this neighborhood had several names including Hooker’s Division and Murder Bay.
   Back then, the area was often pretty rough and consisted of smaller buildings and houses, many of which contained saloons and bordellos. Gambling and prostitution were prevalent as was theft, fighting, and the occasional murder.
   During the Civil War, Union troops were frequently encamped in and around the city.  In their off hours, the soldiers would often seek out places to drink, gamble, and have sex. As a result, prostitution in the neighborhood became very common. Apparently, for a while, Union General Joseph Hooker ordered all the city’s prostitutes to congregate in this neighborhood, thus the nickname Hooker’s Division. Though, it should be noted that the referring to prostitutes as hookers probably predates this time.
   Immediately after the war, it seems to have been a working class neighborhood that became much rougher as the years went by. Gambling, drinking, prostitution, and theft were extensive and murders were not uncommon. Many would say don’t go south of Pennsylvania Avenue after dark, and supposedly, many police agreed and stayed away at night themselves. There are reports that as a result, volunteer firefighters may have taken on the role of peacekeepers at times. This is considerably ironic since they were often a tough, rowdy bunch and likely started quite a few drunken brawls themselves.
   In 1914, Washington DC began to seriously crackdown on prostitution which led to the closure of the bordellos. The Federal Government acquired the area and eventually tore down the old buildings and replaced them with the structures you see today.

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