A look into Georgetown’s Past

The first Americans called it Tohoga – “sweet land of sassafras.” This settlement may have changed its trails and huts, but Georgetown remains the meeting place for the District and its nation.

When walking along M Street – once called Bridge Street, and later referred to as “The Miracle Mile” – we should be mindful that these same steps were once trod by the likes of George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Other notables followed: Francis Scott Key, William Marbury, Benjamin Stoddert, William Corcoran and J.C. Calhoun. Georgetown, formerly of Maryland, was the first (and for a while the only) complete business community and village in the new nation’s capital.

The Old Stone House (residential, 1765) and the City Tavern Club building (business, 1796), both on M Street, are the oldest structures in Washington. The beginnings of IBM occurred on 31st Street. Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone switching station was next to the C&O Canal, where such a telecommunications structure still remains today. Georgetown University is the oldest Catholic institution of higher learning in the country. President Abraham Lincoln frequented Oak Hill Cemetery, where his son Willie was once interred.

Then in the late 19th century, Georgetown suffered an economic downturn as a result of progressively worse flooding and river silting. Becoming almost a slum, the city was essentially frozen in time.

That freeze later melted when those with government jobs sought housing here during and after World War II. The antique, authentic aesthetic has attracted smart, affluent Americans and foreigners alike ever since. It is said that by leaving their homes untouched, the poor saved Georgetown.

Fifty years ago this month, in 1960, Georgetown became the fashionable place again when an N Street resident by the name of John F. Kennedy ran for president. Today, we are intimately familiar with the senators and government officials, foreign dignitaries, journalists, authors, artists and businesspersons all living or working here. Together we are helping this old town continue to tell new stories. You see, history is not only the past in Georgetown. It is present all around you.

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