Anacostia is a historic neighborhood in Washington, D.C. Its downtown is located at the intersection of Good Hope Road and Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue. It is located east of the Anacostia River, after which the neighborhood is named. Like the other quadrants of Washington, D.C., Southeast encompasses a large number of named neighborhoods, of which Anacostia and Capitol Hill are the most well known. Anacostia includes all of the Anacostia Historic District that was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. Often the name Anacostia is incorrectly used to refer to the entire portion of the city that is southeast of the Anacostia River. The name “Anacostia” comes from the anglicized name of a Nacochtank Native Americans settlement along the Anacostia River. Captain John Smith explored the area in 1608, traveling up the “Eastern Branch”—later the Anacostia River—mistaking it for the main body of the Potomac River, and met Anacostans. Before the arrival of whites, the Nacostine villages in this area were a lively center of trade visited by Native Americans such as the Iroquois of New York. Even after the founding of Maryland, Leonard Calvert, in a letter to a merchant in London, described “Anacostan” as one of the three best places in the colony for trading with natives.
Around the year 1668, native peoples previously living south of Anacostia were forced northward by war. Anacostine Island, which first appeared on a 1670 map drawn by Augustine Herman, was settled by the Anacostans around this time. The core of what is now the Anacostia historic district was incorporated in 1854 as Uniontown and was one of the first suburbs in the District of Columbia. It was designed to be affordable for Washington’s working class, many of whom were employed across the river at the Navy Yard; its (then) location outside of and isolated from the city made its real estate inexpensive. The initial subdivision of 1854 carried restrictive covenants prohibiting the sale, rental or lease of property to anyone of African or Irish descent. Abolitionist Frederick Douglass, often called “the sage of Anacostia,” bought Cedar Hill, the estate belonging to the developer of Uniontown, in 1877 and lived there until he died in 1895. The home is still maintained as a historical site in Anacostia.
During the Civil War, Anacostia was protected by a series of forts upon the hills southwest of the city. Following the conclusion of the war, the forts were dismantled and the land returned to its original owners. Anacostia, always part of the District of Columbia, became a part of the city of Washington when the city and District became coterminous in 1878.
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