A Self-Reliant People
—Greater Deanwood Heritage Trail —
Deanwood once was farmland
belonging to slave-holding families. Some of their names—Sherriff, Lowrie, and Benning—still mark local roads.
In 1833 Levi Sherriff purchased several hundred acres along Watts Branch from William Benning's nephew. With the labor of some 19 enslaved people, Sheriff raised livestock and tobacco. Upon his death in 1853, Sheriff's three daughters—Mary Cornelia, Emmeline, and Margaret—inherited the family farm.
Sheriff bequeathed his house, which once stood near today's 5000 block of Jay Street to Mary Cornelia, who married John Dean. The last Sheriff descendant to live there was Reverend Dr. Randolph W. Lowrie, Margaret's son, who died in 1913. A surviving family home at 4421 Jay Street was adapted later for church use.
In 1871 the Southern Maryland Railroad built a station near the old Bladensburg-Piscataway Road (Minnesota Avenue) bordering the Sheriff farm. The enterprising Sheriff sisters carved their farmland into lots for sale in three subdivisions: Whittingham, Lincoln Heights, and Burrville. They didn't become rich, though. Eventually—after the sisters passed on—a mix of black and white working-class skilled laborers and craftsmen built houses there. After 1895 what was now called Deanwood had a majority black population. Residents took
the train to work, often at the Navy Yard weapons factories.
On August 4, 1965, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., addressed a rally on the open land across from this sign. Sargent Memorial Church, pastored by Reverend Everett A. Hewlett, hosted him in Deanwood. The following day, Dr. King met with President Lyndon B. Johnson to receive assurances that Johnson supported home rule for DC residents.
Long a Country Town at the edge
of Washington DC's urban center, Deanwood was forged out of former slave plantations during decades following the Civil War. It became one of Washington's earliest predominantly African American Communities.
Greater Deanwood today emcompasses the historic neighborhoods of Deanwood, Burrville, Lincoln Heights, and Whittingham.
In the 1800s, much of Washington's development followed decisions made by city leaders and investors, who favored areas northwest of Anacostia. Land here remained relatively untouched, and many streets were unpaved into the 1960s. Because builders chose not to apply racial restrictions on who could buy here, African American migrants found Deanwood welcoming, affordable, and convenient. The pioneering National Training School for Women and Girls, founded by Nannie Helen Burroughs (whose portrait appears on each Deanwood Heritage Trail sign), attracted educators
to the neighborhood. New residents often built their own homes and created communities where for years no one locked their doors, adults treated all children as their own, and children behaved accordingly. On this trail you will see rich parkland, handcrafted dwellings, and religious and social gathering places that have made Deanwood an oasis of dignity and self-determination for generations.