Posts Tagged ‘Woodward & Lothrop’

Bluestone Sidewalk Along Seventeenth Street

During today’s lunchtime bike ride I stopped to rest on a bench on 17th Street, near President’s Park, just south of the White House. As I sat there for a few moments watching the tourists go by, I noticed that the sidewalk seemed different than what I usually see. In fact, I didn’t recall seeing anything similar here in D.C. Sidewalks throughout the city are typically formed walkways made out of cement. But the sidewalks where I was sitting were made of stone. So when I had a chance later I looked into it, and my research confirmed that they are both unique and historic.

The sidewalk is significant as the last remaining segment of an original streetscape feature used throughout President’s Park. While President’s Park South was filled and completed in the late 1870s, the side of the park along 17th Street was a low, badly drained area until new fill was added to bring it up to grade in the early 1880s. Then beginning in 1887, bluestone flag sidewalks were constructed along the front of the park bordering B Street, since renamed Constitution Avenue. While no date of construction can be firmly ascertained for the bluestone flag sidewalk on Seventeenth Street, it likely dates from this period or soon afterwards. A grassy strip between the sidewalk and the street was later added in the 1920s.

Most of the bluestone sidewalk surrounding President’s Park was eventually replaced with ones constructed with cement forms. As the stones cracked or fell into disrepair, it was decided that it would be cheaper to simply replace them with the same type of sidewalk that is present throughout the rest of the city. This was done everywhere except, for some reason, along 17th Street.

What stone sidewalk remains consists of rectangular bluestone slate flags, six-feet square, and extends along the east side of 17th Street from opposite C Street to opposite E Street (MAP). The sidewalk is separated from the granite curb by what was once a three-foot wide grassy strip, which is now filled in with granite pavers.

The sidewalk is not a tourist attraction. In fact, I doubt anyone walking on it even noticed it was different, let alone had any idea of its history. But I enjoyed seeing it, and thinking back about the way things were at the time when the bluestone sidewalks were constructed. The Civil War had been over for not all that long, and Grover Cleveland was the President.  The Washington Monument was almost completed and would open the following year.  The Catholic University of America was founded, and the first Woodward & Lothrop department store was built. Alexander Graham Bell built his Volta Laboratory in Georgetown. There were no automobiles, so the streets were used by horses and carriages. And form and quality were considerations in public building projects, not just price and practicality.

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

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