Anacostia within the District of Columbia
Anacostia within the District of Columbia
CountryUnited States
DistrictWashington, D.C.
WardWard 8
 • CouncilmemberTrayon White

Anacostia /ænəˈkɒstiə/ is a historic neighborhood in Southeast 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.

Bounded by the Southeast Freeway to the north and northwest, the Suitland Parkway to the south and southwest as well as Fort Stanton and Ricketts Park to the east, Anacostia includes all of the Anacostia Historic District, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.[1] Often the name "Anacostia" is used to refer to the entire portion of the city that is southeast of the Anacostia River. The Anacostia Business Improvement District is responsible for the development of the area.


The name "Anacostia" comes from the anglicized name of a Nacochtank settlement along the Anacostia River.[2] Archaeological evidence indicates that American Indians settled in the Washington, D.C., area at least 4,000 years ago, close to the Anacostia River.[3] Native inhabitants within the present-day District of Columbia included the Nacotchtank, at Anacostia, who were affiliated with the Conoy.[4]

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.[5] 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.[6]

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.[6]

1892 map of Anacostia, DC

The core of what is now the Anacostia historic district was incorporated in 1854 as Uniontown and was one of the early 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 the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in Anacostia.[7]

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.[6]

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.[6] On January 27, 1886, the House of Representatives Committee on the District of Columbia voted in favor of renaming Uniontown to Anacostia.[8] After the bill passed the House of Representatives, the Senate also voted in favor of the name change.[9] The name change became effective on April 22, 1886.[10] At the time, property deeds restricted land ownership to people who were white, and therefore Anacostia had only white residents.[11]

The opening of the Pennsylvania Avenue Bridge in 1890 began to link Anacostia to the rest of the District of Columbia.[12]

Great Depression

Main article: Bonus Army

In 1932, during the Great Depression, unemployed World War I veterans from all across the country marched on Washington to demand immediate payment of a bonus promised to them. The event became known as the Bonus Army Conflict. Most of the Bonus Army camped on Anacostia Flats, a swampy, muddy area along the Anacostia River later reclaimed as Anacostia Park/Fairlawn Park. Fearing civil unrest, the President ordered the military to disperse the campers from Washington. The Army Chief of Staff General Douglas MacArthur dispersed them, but exceeded the orders of President Herbert Hoover by crossing the bridge to Anacostia and torching the veteran's encampment. MacArthur believed that the Bonus Army was composed of and led by Communists. George Patton and Dwight Eisenhower served under MacArthur during these events.[13]

Post-war years

Anacostia's population remained predominantly European-American up until the late 1950s and early 1960s, with whites comprising 87% of the population. During the 1960s, the Anacostia Freeway (I-295) was constructed. The highway imposed a barrier between the Anacostia neighborhood and the Anacostia River waterfront. Numerous public housing apartment complexes were built in the neighborhood.[14] With the flight of much of the middle class out of the neighborhood during the late 1950s and 1960s with the opportunity to move to newer housing in postwar suburbs, Anacostia's demographics changed dramatically as the neighborhood became predominantly African American. Interactions between the area's white and black residents were often contentious, as was the case in the 1949 Anacostia riot at a desegregated public pool.

Shopping, dining, and entertainment facilities throughout greater Anacostia are limited, as development slowed with a decrease in income in the area. Residents often must travel to either the suburbs or downtown Washington for these services. Anacostia, however, does have a year-round ice skating rink at Fort Dupont Park; the city police boys' club; and a tennis and learning center, combining sports with academic tutoring in Congress Heights.

St. Elizabeth's Hospital, D.C. Village and the Blue Plains sewage treatment plant[15] were long-established Anacostia developments noted in a late-1990s report. The report also cited attention to the area at that time from Hillary Clinton and Newt Gingrich.[16]

In 2005, Building Bridges Across the River opened the 110,000-square-foot (10,000 m2) Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus (THEARC) which is home to eleven nonprofit organizations, all of which share the goal of helping children and adults reach their full potential. Free summer evening jazz concerts are also given weekly in Fort Dupont Park. The annual Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Parade is a notable annual event along the Avenue bearing Dr. King's name. Starting in 2006 the annual parade date was changed from January to April. (Also see the separate article on Congress Heights). In January 2007 a new large supermarket opened to serve the neighborhood.


Anacostia downtown is located at the intersection of Good Hope Road and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue. It is the most famous neighborhood in the Southeast quadrant of Washington, located east of the Anacostia River, after which the neighborhood is named.


As of the 2010 Census, Anacostia's population is 92% African-American, 5% Non-Hispanic White, and 3% other.


The Anacostia Historic District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a historic district, and it retains much of its mid-to-late 19th-century low-scale, working-class character, as is evident in its architecture.

In 1957, an Anacostia landmark, the "world's largest chair", was installed at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and V Street SE. The chair was installed by the Curtis Brothers Furniture Company and built by Bassett Furniture. In the summer of 2005, the "Big Chair" was removed for repairs, then returned in April 2006.[17]


Notable facilities in the area include Joint Base Anacostia–Bolling (formerly Bolling Air Force Base and Naval Support Facility Anacostia).


Founded in 2000, the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative is revitalizing a 45-acre (180,000 m2) piece of the Anacostia River waterfront to promote the community. Plans include numerous parks restored of their natural wetlands and forests, canoe tie-ups, a playground, a four-acre 9/11 memorial grove, and an environmental education center. The center provides visitors with education about the history and use of the Anacostia River through a 9,000-square-foot (840 m2), two-story complex topped by a green roof/nursery center with classrooms, labs, and a multipurpose area beneath.[18] Studios Architecture was chosen to be the architect of the project,[19] while the administrating agency will be the Anacostia Waterfront Corporation.



District of Columbia Public Schools operates public schools. Anacostia High School serves Anacostia.[20] Ballou High School is in southern Anacostia. The area has a number of middle and elementary schools, and is also the location of Thurgood Marshall Academy.


Cultural reference

In the 2007 film inspired by the life of Ralph Waldo 'Petey' Greene (played by Don Cheadle), Greene's straightlaced counterpart Dewey Hughes played by Chiwetel Ejiofor surprises all with his skill at '9 ball' pool. "Grew up in the Anacostia projects ... [and] made [my] way through school hustling", he explains about himself after their game in Talk to Me. The film is set in the late 1960s.[22]


The neighborhood, served by the Anacostia Metro station, is a 10-minute ride on Washington Metro's Green Line from downtown Washington; other Metro stations on the Green and Orange lines serve other parts of Greater Anacostia.

I-295 runs through the neighborhood; it connects to DC 295 further north, and these two routes make up the entire routing of the Anacostia Freeway.


See also


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. April 15, 2008.
  2. ^ Humphrey, Robert L.; Mary Elizabeth Chambers (1977). Ancient Washington: American Indian Cultures of the Potomac Valley. George Washington University.
  3. ^ "Native Americans Were Original Residents of Nation's Capital". Voice of America News. Archived from the original on August 28, 2023.
  4. ^ McAtee, Waldo Lee (April 6, 2018). "A Sketch of the Natural History of the District of Columbia Together with an Indexed Edition of the U.S. Geological Survey's 1917 Map of Washington and Vicinity". Press of H.L. & J.B. McQueen, Incorporated. Retrieved April 6, 2018 – via Google Books.
  5. ^ McAtee, Waldo Lee (1918). A Sketch of the Natural History of the District of Columbia. H.L. & J.B. McQueen.
  6. ^ a b c d Burr, Charles (16 December 1919). "A Brief History of Anacostia, Its Name, Origin and Progress". Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Washington, D.C. 23 (1920). Historical Society of Washington, D.C.: 167–179. JSTOR 40067143.
  7. ^ "Anacostia Historic District". National Park Service. Retrieved 9 December 2014.
  8. ^ "Minor District Matters". The Washington Post. January 27, 1886. p. 2.
  9. ^ "Local Bills in Congress: Measures Which Have Been Introduced This Session". The Washington Post. July 5, 1886. p. 1.
  10. ^ Havenner, George C. "The Old and The New Anacostia". The Washington Post. January 24, 1926. p. SM3.
  11. ^ "It Is a Growing Suburb: Anacostia Is at Present Making Rapid Strides for Itself". The Washington Post. August 27, 1889. p. 7.
  12. ^ (introduction),, no date. Retrieved 2019-02-09.
  13. ^ "American Experience". PBS. Retrieved 9 December 2014.
  14. ^ "The Changing Face of Anacostia: Public Housing and Urban Renewal",, no date. Retrieved 2019-02-09.
  15. ^ Halsey, Ashley III, "D.C. Water adopts Norway’s Cambi system for turning sewage into electricity and fertilizer", Washington Post, April 5, 2014. Retrieved 2019-02-09.
  16. ^ "'No Negroes, Mulattoes, Pigs, or Soap Boiling': Race in Anacostia",, footnoted material dated 1996/1997. Retrieved 2019-02-09.
  17. ^ Schwartzman, Paul (April 16, 2006). "The Big Chair, Rebuilt to Last". The Washington Post. Retrieved 25 January 2011.
  18. ^ "Kingman Island and Heritage Island Parks". Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development. Archived from the original on July 21, 2011. Retrieved 25 January 2011.
  19. ^ "Studios Architecture". Archived from the original on 2011-02-08. Retrieved 25 January 2011.
  20. ^ "Attendance Zones for Neighborhood High Schools" (PDF). Office of the Chief Technology Officer. 8 September 2009. Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 October 2010. Retrieved 25 January 2011.
  21. ^ "Anacostia Library". District of Columbia Public Library. Retrieved on November 16, 2014.
  22. ^ Talk to Me DVD. 2007 Universal Studios. Subtitles SDH. Circa minute 28:29. Retrieved May 29, 2015.

Further reading