Library Court

Library Court

When riding around the Capitol Hill neighborhood east of the U.S. Capitol Building, you can find some of D.C.’s most famous (or notorious) alleys.  Alleys were built into Pierre L’Enfant’s original design plan for the Capitol city as a way to provide tradesmen with backdoor access to substantial homes and mansions.  The alleys at that time also frequently contained stables and carriage houses.

Later, after the end of the Civil War, the population of D.C. increased considerably as both soldiers and freed slaves flocked to the city.  Within a decade after the War, the population of D.C. grew from 60,000 to over 110,000.  During this time, many alleys became festering slums where freed slaves and others squatted and worked under substandard conditions.  For generations, these D.C. alley dwellers lived off the grid and behind the scenes.  This led Congress to pass the Alley Dwelling Elimination Act of 1934.  Subsequently, many of the enclaves of converted stables and alley homes were demolished.

Only a few pockets of these homes survived, but many of the remaining ones have now been gentrified and turned into smart mews homes for the affluent. These homes are not located on any street, and can only be reached through an alley. One of the best examples is what is now known as “Library Court,” which can be found by entering the alley across from the Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church at 201 Independence Avenue in Southeast D.C. (MAP).  Another example on Capitol Hill is Rumsey Court (below, left), reachable by an alley in the 100 block of C Street (MAP) in southeast D.C.  A third alley enclave on Capitol Hill is known as Miller’s Court (below, right), and is located in the alley across from the Frederick Douglass house at 320 A Street in northeast D.C.  (MAP), just behind the Library of Congress’ Adams Building.

There are a few other groupings of mews houses in D.C., but the number is extremely limited.  For those that do exist, given the fact that they are located within the center of a city block and only accessible through alleys, it was only recently that these communities started to be listed on any public maps.  And getting there using a GPS can be almost impossible.  But they remain very popular and sought after, usually selling within the first few days when one comes up for sale.

RumseyCourt01     MillersCourt01
[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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