Where We Live: Capitol Hill

Photo courtesy of
‘The Shape of Colors in DC’
courtesy of ‘Gen Jones (Gen-esis Photography)’

This week we’ll be looking at the Capitol Hill neighborhood. This neighborhood could probably be called the largest in DC, since essentially anything east of the Capitol, north/west of the Anacostia River, and south of Union Station is generally known as Capitol Hill.  The area is home to so many great places, from Eastern Market to Barracks Row to Union Station, and it also has some of the best historic architecture in the city.

History: The hill that the Capitol sits on was originally called Jenkins Hill (or was it?).  Pierre L’Enfant decided that it would be a good location for the “Congress House”, and before you knew it, it became the center of residential development in our fair city.  Because it was so close to the Capitol, congressmen lived in Capitol Hill boarding houses, and because it was so close to the Navy Yard, it was also home to craftsmen and laborers.  The neighborhood continued to grow throughout the nineteenth century, and many historic rowhouses in the area date from this era.  It was mostly a mixed-income neighborhood for the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  However, the fringes of Capitol Hill were hit hard by drugs in the 1980s, and as recently as 2000 crime was out of control in Hill East (if you get a chance, check out Jim Myers’ description of that time in The Atlantic).  Most of the area has bounced back, and Capitol Hill is now the city’s largest historic district and one of the city’s greatest neighborhoods.

Neighborhood Character:  The neighborhood is certainly one of the District’s most diverse.  You’ve got empty-nesters, long-time residents, recent college grads, families with small children, and Hill staffers all mixed together in a few square miles.  Hill East resident Shaun says, “My fiance and I live in a condo that’s home to Georgetown law students, Hill staffers and a retired woman who’s lived at our intersection for so long, she remembers when the new condo around the corner was a crack house.” Historic rowhouses make up the majority of the housing in the area, with a few apartment buildings and condominiums throughout the area.  Commercial development is mostly located along Pennsylvania Avenue, 8th Street SE (Barracks Row), and around Metro stations.  The area is quite pleasant to walk around, with brick sidewalks and mature trees and beautiful views of the Capitol.

Photo courtesy of
‘Day 80: Capitol Hill Sunset’
courtesy of ‘InspirationDC’

Transportation: Since so much of southeast and parts of northeast can be called Capitol Hill, the area includes five Metro stations: Union Station on the red line, and Capitol South, Eastern Market, Potomac Avenue, and Stadium/Armory on the orange and blue lines.  Zipcars are abundant and SmartBike is coming soon.  Buses connect along Pennsylvania Avenue to just about everywhere in the city, and a new Circulator route connects the baseball stadium to Union Station by way of Eastern Market.  But even though there are great transportation options, the neighborhood is somewhat cut off by giant freeways that cut through southeast.  Former resident Davis says, “It is a village unto itself–  separate from the rest of the city by major roadways and monuments.  This gives it a great community feel, but can also make it fairly isolating for those who live on the Hill for a significant amount of time.”

What to See: There’s so much to see in this area.  Aside from the federal buildings that define the area, you can really spend a whole weekend just taking it all in.

  • You really have to check out Eastern Market for people watching, fresh local produce, meats and cheeses, and a flea market with jewelry and crafts.  After the fire in April 2007, the main market building will reopen on June 26.  And contrary to popular belief, the indoor market is open every day– not just on weekends.
  • Barracks Row on 8th Street SE is the District’s oldest commercial corridor and is home to a number of shops and restaurants (including 15 outdoor cafes!).  Some favorites include Belga Cafe (great brunch and a fantastic beer selection) and Levi’s Port Cafe (delicious sweet tea, North Carolina BBQ, and southern style cooking).
  • Take advantage of the recreation opportunities in Capitol Hill.  There are 59 parks in the area and a fantastic swimming pool right at Eastern Market that is free for District residents.
  • There are so many great shops in Capitol Hill.  Hill’s Kitchen is a favorite for culinary supplies and cooking classes, and Shaun has this to say about Groovy DC and Groovyland, “Two great little shops that mean I don’t have to buy my gift cards from the drugstore and that I can get a thoughtful last minute gift rather than a gift certificate to Starbucks.”  Gotta love local businesses!

Neighborhood Links: Capitol Hill residents are known for how involved they are in their community.  Check out some of what’s going on here:

Photo courtesy of
‘Banana Cafe’
courtesy of ‘Mr. T in DC’

Why We Love Capitol Hill: It’s an amazing combination of beautiful historic homes, thriving commercial strips, and vibrant parks and spaces.  Aside from the incredible wealth of federal resources (the Library of Congress, the Capitol, etc), there’s a strong, historic residential character in the area.  It’s one of the few parts of the city that has good transit access but hasn’t been overtaken by nondescript apartment buildings.  Some areas of Capitol Hill feel like small towns, and residents can get to know their neighbors and frequent locally-owned small businesses.

Shannon grew up in the greater DC area/Maryland suburbs, went to Virginia for college and grad school (go Hoos!), and settled in DC in 2006. She’s an urban planner who loves transit (why yes, that is her dressed as a Metro pylon for Halloween), cities, and all things DC. Email her at Shannon (at) WeLoveDC.com!

7 thoughts on “Where We Live: Capitol Hill

  1. God I miss the hill! Lived there for my first 5 years in DC before I got priced out. My old place is back on the market for $875K — it sold for $150K when I was renting my apartment there. No way I’m ever going to be able to afford to move back.

    :( sigh

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  3. Thanks for the link to the Myers piece… I hadn’t read that before. It’s pretty sobering, and while I’m glad that the killings don’t happen quite to that extent today, it’s sad to think that it still goes on.

  4. Great write up about the hill! It reminds me of why I love living there so much! Also thanks for all the neighborhood links, I had no idea there were so many online communities within capitol hill!

  5. I love Eastern Market. I have found some really unique stuff at the flea market there. A word of warning, however, is that most of the produce sold at Eastern Market IS NOT local. The first time I went to EM was in February of 2008 and I was looking for some great local produce only to find produce that had been shipped from places as far away as Mexico! There is some local food (there’s one vendor who sells some really kick-ass local honey) but really pay attention. Are the foods your buying even in season? If not, I assure you they aren’t local.

    If you looking for really great local food you should check out one of the numerous farmers markets around DC. The Dupont Circle market (located right outside the Q St. metro exit) is open year round on Sundays and is absolutely amazing. There’s also a Market on Wednesdays on I St. and one at Penn Quarter on Thursdays.

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