There are some neighborhoods in the District that residents just love. Southwest Waterfront has a very strong sense of community, Bloomingdale residents love nothing more than sitting on their stoops and talking to neighbors, and now we’ve got another addition to the super-passionate neighbors list: Brightwood. I sent out a call for Brightwood residents to tell me about their neighborhood, and when I got an e-mail with the subject line “WHY I LOVE BRIGHTWOOD!” I knew this neighborhood was special.
History: There are two important themes to Brightwood’s history: African American culture and the Civil War. The neighborhood got its start in the 1820s as free African Americans settled in the area, then known as Vinegar Hill, and it became Washington’s first African American settlement. Groups of former slaves moved to the area during the Civil War era, and many became homeowners there. The Military Road School opened in 1864 in response to the needs of freed slaves who lived in the area.
Brightwood played an important role in the Civil War, being home to Fort Stevens and the Battleground National Cemetery. Back then, the 7th Street Pike (now Georgia Avenue) was the main throughfare into the District, and Fort Stevens was built to protect the city. On July 12, 1864, President Lincoln came under fire at Fort Stevens (notable as the only time a sitting President has come under fire), an event that is commemorated annually at Fort Stevens Day.
Neighborhood Character: Brightwood is ‘quaint’, says Rebecca (aka The Brightwoodian), who bought her house there earlier this year. It’s a neighborhood full of rowhouses with great front porches, small neighborhood businesses, and lots of nearby parks. And it is quite the neighborly neighborhood. Rebecca says, “I’ve never lived in a small town, but I can imagine that Brightwood is pretty close to what a small town might feel like. People are friendly, and neighbors look out for each other… but not so much that people are all up in each others’ business. It’s a nice place to live.”
Kamili, the President of the Brightwood Community Association and resident of 13 years, adds this: “Brightwood includes a rich diversity of cultural and ethnic groups who seek in common a relaxing, quiet place to live and get away from all the concrete, traffic, parking hassles, and hype of other parts of the city while remaining in proximity to their workplaces without having to bust their budgets to afford a nice home or apartment.”
Transportation: Brightwood doesn’t have a Metro stop of its own, but the Takoma station is less than a mile from parts of Brightwood and the Fort Totten station is about 1.5 miles away. And it does have great bus service, with the 70 and 71 buses along Georgia Avenue and the express 79 bus getting you to downtown pretty quickly. It is also extremely walkable and bikeable. Rebecca says, “If you use a bike to get around, like I do, you’ve got it made…the neighborhood is wonderfully bikeable, and access to other parts of the city by bike is easy too. And riding up the hill to get home (since Brightwood is situated on one of the highest points in the District) is a great workout!”
What to See: Brightwood might not be much of a destination neighborhood yet, but there are some great things to check out in the area:
- Want to escape the Smithsonian museum craziness on the Mall? Head up to the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Brightwood. The museum has several cool exhibits on battlefield injuries now.
- Parks, parks, parks! Rebecca lists her favorites: “Aside from our proximity to Rock Creek Park, there’s the Fort Stevens Recreation Center, the grounds of historic Fort Stevens itself, the Emery Recreation Center, Fort Slocum Park, the Takoma Recreation Center, the track and fields at Coolidge High School, a couple of huge community gardens… I could go on, but you get the idea.”
- Hungry? Kamili says Brightwood Bistro “never disappoints in the food quality and presentation areas, and the owners share a real commitment to and roots in the neighborhood. It’s also a great break from the fast-food and carryouts that predominate in our area.” There are also outposts of Julia’s Empanadas, Taqueria Distrito Federal, and Haydee’s in the neighborhood. And the nearby Senbeb Natural Foods Co-op gets major points from Rebecca for their
veggie burritosblack bean burgers.
- Support local businesses. The Georgia Avenue Thrift Store is a hidden gem with a great selection of used clothing, and Missouri Avenue Market’s owners are dedicated to the community.
What’s Nearby: Brightwood is north of Petworth, south of Takoma, and east of Rock Creek Park.
Why We Love Brightwood: What’s not to love? Kamili says it best: “I like my own block, which offers a wealth of kind and friendly neighbors who are really like a family: we watch out for each other, help each other, and speak to each other. Quite simply, I feel more comfortable, cared about, and safer in Brightwood than I have in any other area of this city, where I have lived now for nearly 40 years. I am proud of my neighbors, my neighborhood, and proud to call Brightwood home. It ain’t perfect, but I think it stacks up well against any other neighborhood in the District for livability, affordability, and so many other intangible aspects.”