Barracks Row Trail Opens This Week

Posted December 3, 2004 at 2:50pm

Cultural Tourism D.C. will inaugurate its third self-guided neighborhood heritage trail at Belga Café on Barracks Row at 10:30 a.m. Thursday.

The private “celebration of everyone involved” will consist of speeches and the unveiling of a sign outside the restaurant, said Jane Freundel Levey, chief program officer and historian at Cultural Tourism D.C.

“Tour of Duty: Barracks Row Heritage Trail” focuses on how the presence of the military influenced the development of the Barracks Row neighborhood, Levey said.

“Barracks Row is full of quite a rich history,” she said. “The neighborhood wanted to capture that history and make sure it wasn’t forgotten.”

Consisting of 16 poster-size illustrated signs, the trail will give people an “understanding of how the city developed,” Levey said. Barracks Row is “one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city,” she said.

The Navy Yard was placed in Southeast Washington in 1799 before the government arrived on Capitol Hill in 1800, she said. The Marine barracks were built in the same area in 1801 to protect Congress, she said.

Levey said aspects of Barracks Row’s history are true elsewhere in D.C. She cited the “waves of populations” as an example.

The neighborhood “has had everybody” of all races and backgrounds, Levey said. She added that free blacks founded the first private school for blacks in the Barracks Row area.

Stops on the trail include the birthplace and training ground of John Philip Sousa, the “March King”; the home of the first female White House correspondent, Emily Edson Briggs; and the Navy Yard, the city’s largest industrial plant for 150 years.

The trail starts at the Eastern Market Metrorail plaza at Seventh Street and Pennsylvania Avenue Southeast. The 90-minute tour proceeds down Eighth Street, loops through the residential neighborhood and ends at Eastern Market.

Cultural Tourism D.C. is a nonprofit coalition dedicated to helping residents and visitors experience the diverse heritage and culture of the entire city of Washington, D.C.

With Barracks Row Main Street and the Capitol Hill Restoration Society, Cultural Tourism D.C. has been working on the trail for three years, Levey said.

Barracks Row Main Street aims “to revitalize Eighth Street Southeast as a vibrant commercial corridor reconnecting Capitol Hill to the Anacostia waterfront.”

Bill McLeod, executive director of Barracks Row Main Street, said the trail is “another piece in the puzzle to revitalizing this neighborhood.”

“The trail calls new attention to Barracks Row,” McLeod said. “People will come to the neighborhood for the trail, and they will come back to shop or have lunch or dinner.”

The Capitol Hill Restoration Society is a nonprofit preservation group that works to maintain the integrity, history and appeal of Capitol Hill.

Nancy Metzger, chairwoman of the Restoration Society’s Historic Preservation Committee, said the trail “highlights the very rich history of Capitol Hill.” The trail is a “way to reconnect people to the Navy Yard and its importance to not only Capitol Hill’s history but to Washington’s history,” she said.

The trail serves the Restoration Society’s goal to “educate Capitol Hill residents about the history of their neighborhood,” Metzger said.

“There are stories that people aren’t aware of,” she said. “People need to know about and be fascinated by all these stories.”

Metzger said she hopes the trail eventually will expand to include more of Capitol Hill. “There are so many more wonderful stories out there,” she said.

Levey said that in January, Cultural Tourism D.C. will unveil “River Farms to Urban Towers: Southwest Heritage Trail.” The organization is working on three more trails.

“Civil War to Civil Rights: Downtown Heritage Tour,” the group’s first heritage trail, was completed in July 2001 and was followed by “City Within a City: Greater U Street Heritage Trail.”

“People really like the trails,” Levey said. “The challenge is to make sure that tourists know they’re there.”

Cultural Tourism D.C. aims to “help tourists find the historical neighborhoods of Washington and to build community pride,” Levey said. “We think the heritage trail system serves both. It’s just as appealing to a tourist as to a person who lives there.”

Trail booklets are available at local merchants and organizations. For more information, e-mail Trail@CulturalTourismDC.org or call (202) 661-7581.