GEORGETOWN HISTORY

Beyond Georgetown’s trendy shops, celebrated restaurants, and lively nightlife, lies a historic port city with deep roots and old-fashioned charm.

Georgetown, founded in 1751, predates Washington. In fact, D.C.’s oldest neighborhood was established 40 years before Washington as a tobacco port town in Maryland. Georgetown also housed a lumber yard, a cement works, and the Washington Flour Mill. Two of Washington’s oldest buildings, the Old Stone House and the City Tavern Club are Georgetown landmarks. The neighborhood, famous for its quaint cobblestone streets and 18th and 19th century architecture, has served as home to a long list of famous residents including former U.S. presidents Thomas Jefferson and John F. Kennedy.

Georgetown Architecture

Georgetown is renowned for federalist architecture, historic brick and frame row houses, cobblestone streets and grand estates dating back as early as the mid-1700s. Many of these historic places offer guided tours of their beautiful sites, estates, and gardens, including:

Dumbarton House – a Georgetown landmark for nearly two centuries, the Federal period house showcases household furnishings, art, and décor from the early years of the republic.

Tudor Place – this 1816 National Historic Landmark estate, built by Martha Washington’s granddaughter Martha Custis Peter, is home to the extensive Mt. Vernon collection and historic 5½ acre garden, allowing visitors to explore 180 years of American history.

Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection – The Federal-style house built in 1801 features the former owners’ Byzantine and Pre-Columbian art collections. It is the former home of John C. Calhoun, U.S. vice president, and where the United Nations charter was outlined in 1944.The property also contains a remarkable garden boasting 10 acres of trees, including Washington’s famed cherry blossoms, as well as flowers, garden furniture and other ornamental garden fixtures.

The Old Stone House – the oldest standing building in Washington, built in 1765, is an example of vernacular architecture. It was built using locally available resources and renovated by the National Park Service in the 1950s.

Chesapeake & Ohio Canal

Georgetown is an origination point for the historic C&O Canal, a National Park which runs 185 miles into Cumberland, MD. In 1828 ground was broken on the C&O Canal, a project that would bring to life George Washington’s vision to open up the country to the west. The Canal connected the port town to goods and materials that supported a local industrial economy unique to the region. Today, the Canal’s Towpath is a popular spot for runners and cyclists and provides respite from the commercial area’s hustle and bustle.

The Kennedys

John and Jacqueline Kennedy, one of America’s most iconic couples, loved and lived in Georgetown. Embark on a Self-Guided Kennedy Walking Tour retracing the Kennedys’ journeys through their happiest and most tragic times.

African American History

African Americans have lived and worked in Georgetown since its beginning. Follow the African American Heritage Trail to see the institutions and homes of Herring Hill, a 15-block area of eastern-most Georgetown that was a magnet for families migrating to Washington after the Civil War.

Georgetown University honors this remarkable community in a documentary video titled "Black Georgetown Remembered." Through the recollections of the members of the Georgetown black community, some of whom still reside in Georgetown, the documentary pays tribute to a community that thrived amidst slavery, Jim Crow laws, and economic inequity to emerge with a rare strength and identity. It features the remembrances of the decades of the 1940s to the 1950s when the population of Georgetown changed markedly. This video complements the book "Black Georgetown Remembered" originally published in 1991.  

 

Universities

Georgetown is home to world-renowned Georgetown University, the oldest Catholic and Jesuit university in the U.S. Georgetown is also within a 15-minute walk to The George Washington University, bringing a combined student population of more than 40,000 to the area.

History in Entertainment

In addition to Georgetown’s political and social history, the neighborhood has quite a history in entertainment. Blues Alley, the oldest, continuously-operated jazz supper club in America, is both a locally recognized landmark and an international jazz icon. The venue has hosted every major jazz artist from Ella Fitzgerald to Count Basie to Dizzy Gillespie, Tony Bennett and Wynton Marsalis. For movie buffs, Georgetown will take you to the movies with the self-guided Celebrity Film Sites Tour, featuring popular sites such as the iconic stairs from The Exorcist and the bar and restaurant featured in St. Elmo’s Fire.

Historic District

In 1967, Georgetown was designated a National Historic Landmark and is included in the Inventory of Historic Places as well as the National Register of Historic Places. To learn more about Georgetown History, visit the Georgetown Library’s Peabody Room, which houses historical and current materials related to the history, culture and economy of Georgetown.