A Community Exploring Its Past
While most Americans probably think of Capitol Hill as simply the site of the U.S. Capitol, those who live here know it as an old and thriving residential neighborhood, a small town within a large city. The Overbeck Project captures the history of this community by recording the recollections of its longtime residents and preserving other records of its fascinating past.
Project volunteers collect and transcribe interviews for posting on this site. We also sponsor a highly successful lecture series exploring our city's history. We urge you too to get involved in this exciting effort, sponsored by the Capitol Hill Community Foundation.
Mrs. Lorraine Reid was a young wife in 1947, new to Washington, and tasked with finding a larger apartment for herself and her graduate student husband. With so few apartments to be had in the crowded post-war city, she had time to photograph scenes she came upon, many of them near the U.S. Capitol but in such dilapidated condition that politicians bemoaned their existence adjacent to the center of power. When Mrs. Reid downsized in 2013 and moved to Findlay, OH, she searched to find a good home for her 66-year old photos. The Overbeck Project is very grateful to be the recipient of her generosity and persistence.
None of the dwellings Mrs. Reid photographed in 1947 exist today, so we've done some research to create a map with the location of each photo and our best estimate of what occupies each spot today. Each identifying number links to Mrs. Reid's photo of that location. Please contact us at info@CapitolHillHistory.org to offer additional information about these photos or alternative suggestions about the current use of that site.
Many thanks to Nancy Freeman for scanning and editing these photographs, and to Monica Servaites for linking the map to the photos. We appreciate all our volunteers!
During the 1970s, the Capitol Hill Restoration Society led an effort to gain Historic District status for the neighborhood. To support the application process, Project namesake Ruth Ann Overbeck (then Ruth Ann Perez), Hazel Kreinheder, and Suzanne Ganschinietz, of the D.C. Historic Preservation Office, interviewed long-time residents as a way to gather information about neighborhood buildings and residents.
Thanks to the efforts of Hazel Kreinheder and Paula Causey, eight more of these interviews are being formatted for sharing on this website, joining the 1974 interview with Milton Sladen, which has been posted here for several years. As they are finished, we'll add transcripts of these interviews with people born during the late 19th century; their stories extend the scope of our coverage to yet another century.
John and Elsie Yost Leukhardt. When the Leukhardts were interviewed in their home at 1002 Pennsylvania Avenue SE in 1974, Mrs. Leukhardt had lived there for 80 years. It was originally her parents' home; they, and then she, had had the same telephone number for 70 years. Her father, William Yost, built that house and the four adjoining it, as well as many others in the neighborhood. A member of the Naval Lodge, he also built the lodge building at 330 Pennsylvania Avenue SE where the Overbeck Lectures are held.
Updated November 11: Nellie May Morton. Mrs. Morton, nee Sweet, was born in 1897 and was also interviewed in 1974. She provides extensive information about the Bradburn Memorial Methodist Church, founded in 1890 in the 1300 block of L Street SE, and about many homes on I, K, and L Streets SE, between 12th and 15th Streets. (The linked file includes some photos; this version with no photos may be easier to load.)
Added November 11: Freda Murray. Many people stayed in the same area their whole lives during the first half of the 20th century. Freda Murray was born on the east side of the 700 block of Tenth Street SE around 1893, when Tyler School faced 11th Street around the block from her home. She, her children, and a grandchild all attended school in that Tyler building. By the time of her 1974 interview, she lived at 761 Tenth Street SE, on the west side of the street, and the site of her former home had become the Tyler playground when the new school was built. This short transcript contains fascinating information about that immediate area of Capitol Hill.
The Overbeck Project was founded 12 years ago to collect oral histories from longtime Capitol Hill residents and former residents. Our interests have diversified in the meantime, but that's still our primary effort.
As of August, 2013, with the addition of the following transcripts, 154 interviews are available on this website: Steve and Nicky Cymrot, who run our sponsoring organization, the Capitol Hill Community Foundation; brother and sister Charles Harris and Mary Harris Freeman, who grew up on Ninth Street SE among a large extended family with strong ties to St. Cyprian's Church; Ann Higgins, who attended Bryan School, Eliot Junior High, and Eastern High School, then returned many years later to retire in the neighborhood; Stuart Long, founder and, until 2011, owner of the Hawk and Dove on Pennsylvania Avenue SE; and Ida Prosky, who raised three sons on the Hill with her actor husband Bob and who established Capitol Hill Day School's field education program.
We hope you enjoy and learn from the widely diverse stories our interviewees have shared.
A special Black History Month event, co-sponsored by the Overbeck Project and Capitol Hill Village, was held February 23, 2013, to commemorate the 50th anniversary year of the 1963 March on Washington. Further details are available on our Recent News page, and a full description of the event, including photos, appears in Capitol Hill Village's newsletter for March, 2013.
Still Collecting Memories of the March. The Feb. 23 event is over, but the Overbeck Project's special page devoted to Memories of the March remains. We continue to welcome submission of individual memories of the 1963 March using our online form, and we invite everyone to read the memories that have been submitted. Each of those stories reflects what one individual saw and felt on August 28, 1963, when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made his "I Have a Dream" speech to an unprecedented crowd that had gathered on the Washington Mall. Relatives and friends of those who need assistance are welcome to post on the other person's behalf.
The Overbeck Project has gone into publishing, with a wonderful new book by Washington writer Mary Z. Gray describing the Capitol Hill of her 1920s childhood. Go to the Overbeck History Press page to learn more about 301 East Capitol: Tales From the Heart of the Hill.
Born in 1919, Mary Gray grew up above her family's inherited funeral home at 301 East Capitol (a building owned today by the Folger Shakespeare Library) and was a regular contributor to The Washington Post, The New York Times and other publications for over half a century. Cul de Sac cartoonist Richard Thompson calls her "one of the funniest raconteurs I know." Her book is available at local shops and at Amazon.com.
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The Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project, Washington, D.C.