A Self-Reliant People
—Greater Deanwood Heritage Trail —
Largely ignored by city officials
and isolated from downtown DC, Deanwood remained semi-rural until around World War II (1941-1945).
Lifelong residents who grew up in the 1930s and '40s remember outsiders telling them that they lived in "the country." And in many ways they did, with gardens and laying hens in the yards of their handcrafted homes. Some residents rode horseback (often on animals purchased from Benning Racetrack) alongside the cars on Deanwood's dusty dirt roads. At least one residents continued boarding horses that competed at Laurel, Bowie, and Pimlico racetracks into the 1970s.
While most found peaceful Deanwood endearing, they also yearned for modern indoor plumbing and electricity. IN the 1940s and '50s, the Northeast Boundary Civic Association and others finally persuaded city officials to build fully modern apartment complexes.
Suburban Gardens Apartments was one of those modernizing efforts. Begun in 1941, this 203-unit project to your right on the Jay Street ridge was designed by Harvey Warwick, an architect responsible for dozens of garden apartment complexes in the DC Metropolitan Area. The layout of the 13 two-story buildings included landscaped courtyards. These apartments opened during a severe citywide housing shortage that began when thousands
came to help end the Great Depression and prepare for what became World War II. The development attracted middle-class, African American war workers. Former DC Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon's parents, Mildred and Carlisle Pratt, were among them.
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.