Hi, and welcome to another edition of Where We Live. This week, we’ll be looking at a DC neighborhood that is older than DC– Georgetown! Home to beautiful architecture, a thriving commercial district, and a major university, Georgetown probably draws more out-of-towners than any other DC neighborhood (except maybe Adams Morgan on Saturday nights). Read on to find out what real Georgetown residents think of their neighborhood.
History: Lots of history to cover here. Way back in 1632, an English fur trader documented a Native American settlement called Tohoga where Georgetown currently is, and he established trade there. Fast forward to 1751 when the town was incorporated as part of Maryland (interestingly enough, it’s not named after George Washington as I had erroneously assumed– it’s either named after King George II or its founders, George Gordon and George Beall). Because of its geographic location as the furthest point up on the Potomac River that boats could reach, it became a big port, and warehouses and buildings grew around the tobacco trade (and sadly, the slave trade too).
When Congress created the District of Columbia in 1791, Georgetown was included in the outline of the 10-mile square. Georgetown continued to grow, with Georgetown University founded in 1789, and much of the area developed with commercial buildings near the water and residential buildings further north on higher ground. Georgetown retained its identity for quite a while– that is, until its town charter was revoked in 1871, and when it was finally ordered in 1880 to conform with DC’s street naming structure.
Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, Georgetown was a diverse community– not the homogeneous neighborhood that it is seen as now. But in the 1930s more government staffers moved to the area, and when Georgetown resident John F. Kennedy was elected president the area was the most fashionable in the District. Since then, Georgetown has been among the most affluent neighborhoods in the city, and home to some of DC’s VIPs. For more on the neighborhood’s history, check out Georgetown Real Estate’s post on history factoids or the National Register page on Georgetown.
Neighborhood Character: Now here’s a neighborhood that has just about everything you could want. In addition to the gorgeous million-dollar rowhouses in Georgetown and Burleith, there’s a major commercial corridor right on M Street. Topher Mathews, Georgetown resident of six years and author of The Georgetown Metropolitan, says his favorite part of living in the area is “the amazing amount of stuff that fits into just one square mile. It’s easy to see Georgetown as just an outdoor mall, with national chains and a few expensive restaurants. But the more you dig, the more you realize how varied and and abundant the neighborhood is. There are nearly 500 stores in Georgetown. 500! We’ve got all the ones you know about, but then we’ve got stuff like three used book stores, a professional photo lab, and the best gelato place in town.” The buildings in the area are historic in nature and won’t be changing anytime soon– if you remember the Apple Store saga from last winter, preservationists are there to make sure that the urban design character of the area is preserved in any future development.
Transportation: Georgetown doesn’t have a Metro station (and not because they fought to keep the poor people out), but it still has a lot of great transportation options. Driving along M Street is almost always stressful and aggravating, but Georgetown is great for pedestrians! Brick sidewalks, benches, and hanging flowers from lampposts– it’s really a beautiful place to walk. The residential streets north of Georgetown are also a pain to drive, with stop signs at every. single. intersection. So walking, biking, or taking transit are highly recommended when heading to Georgetown.
Despite the lack of a Metro station, there are a bunch of transit options in the area: the DC Circulator, which connects Georgetown with Union Station; the 38B bus (“The Orange Line with a View!”) that connects Farragut Square and Ballston; the G2 bus that connects Georgetown University with Howard University; the D2 and D6 that link to downtown; and the 31/32/36 that head across town. There are also non-Metro options, such as the Georgetown Metro Connection shuttle that connects the area with Dupont Circle and Rosslyn, and the Georgetown University GUTS bus that links the campus with various destinations in the area.
What to See: There is SO much to see in this neighborhood, that this section alone could fill several posts. But here’s a selection of the greatest that Georgetown has to offer:
- Check out the historic nature of the area. The Old Stone House is the oldest remaining building in Washington, Dumbarton House is a Federal period historic structure from 1798, and Tudor Place was built by Martha Washington’s descendants in 1816. These are all beautiful structures that are open to the public and preserved as museums.
- Georgetown University is also beautiful and historic and worth a tour. Check out campus activities and community events, or pop over for a basketball game.
- The 1973 horror movie The Exorcist was filmed in Georgetown, so I’d be remiss not to mention the Exorcist Steps. St. Elmo’s Fire and All the President’s Men are also set in Georgetown.
- So after checking out all the great historic and pop-culture sites in the neighborhood, you’ll probably be hungry. Lucky for you, Georgetown is not lacking in restaurants: Topher recommends Bistrot Lepic for great French food and a wine bar, or Griffin Market’s gourmet take-home options. Other neighborhood favorites include Bourbon Steak, Mendocino wine bar, and Cafe Tu-O-Tu (get it? it’s our area code!) for reasonable Mediterranean fare.
- Reconnect with nature. Escape the hustle and bustle of M Street and enjoy the proximity to Montrose Park, the newly renovated Georgetown Waterfront Park, or nearby Glover-Archibold Park.
- I’ve just scratched the surface of what to do in Georgetown, so please share your favorite places to go and things to do in the comments!
Neighborhood Links: Here are some Georgetown resources to check out:
- The Georgetown Metropolitan is a go-to place for information on neighborhood events, recent development, and beautiful pictures of the area. There’s a Morning Metropolitan post every morning that rounds up local news, too.
- Vox Populi is the blog of the Georgetown Voice, a Georgetown University weekly news magazine. It’s a great resource for university-related news and events. You can also follow them on Twitter @GtownVoxPop.
- On the print side of things, the Georgetowner and the Georgetown Current both cover neighborhood news and events.
- Check out the Post’s local directory of bloggers in the area, too.
Why We Love Georgetown: There’s just so much here– Georgetown has just about anything you could possibly want or need in a neighborhood. From beautiful historic architecture to a thriving commercial corridor to a revitalized waterfront area, Georgetown has so much to offer. It’s got one of the busiest streets in DC, but it’s also just a short walk from several huge parks. It’s home to the newest and best retail offerings in the District, but they’re housed in gorgeous historic buildings. And the selection of restaurants and shopping absolutely can’t be beat. Topher puts it best, “Recently developer Anthony Lanier said he wanted it to be true that the only reason for residents to leave Georgetown is to go to the airport. I don’t think we’re there yet but the more you know about Georgetown, the more you realize that we’re closer to Lanier’s dream than many would think.”