My Historic Washington: Brookland

Posted on: January 7th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 5 Comments
A small town in a big city, Brookland is a place where people still wave, which is perfect for a big city guy with small town tendencies.

Brookland's charming 12th Street, where mom and pop shops still rule.

I’m a big city guy with small town tendencies. Sounds strange I know, but that’s the only way I can describe it.

I grew up in a speck on the Louisiana map called Sulphur, a two-exit town I spent many years trying to escape for bigger and brighter lights, but now appreciate because of its warmth and simplicity.

It’s the kind of place where people swing on their porches every evening when it’s warm enough (which is most evenings when you live on a swamp) and wave to friends and total strangers. Houses are referred to by family names (“Across the way are the Thibodeauxs and next to them are the Bergerons.”), and plates of food covered in tin foil pass between neighbors after dinner, sometimes as nice gestures but usually just because there are leftovers. Come Sunday, the streets are dotted with ladies in big heels (and sometimes big hats) leaving church, tripping occasionally on sidewalks that have been rendered into jagged glaciers by roots that dig deep and spread wide.

These days I call the District of Columbia home, a place that Google says is 1,278 miles away (literally and figuratively) from what I was used to growing up, but that I’ve really come to enjoy. After years of pumping ourselves up by watching the DIY Network, my partner and I finally decided to buy our first house in the area in 2007. We ultimately settled on a neighborhood called Brookland, partly because the price was right and partly because - even from the window of our realtor’s SUV - we could tell that there was something different about it.

Much like Sulphur, Brookland is the kind of place where people still wave and the center of afternoon social activity is still the front porch. Our signature bungalow houses are detached (an anomaly in Washington), the yards are generously portioned, and our small streets are lined with towering trees. We have a fledgling Main Street anchored by a hardware store that I swear might have beat George Washington here, and during the winter when all the leaves are gone, the bells of the nearby National Basilica echo peacefully through the neighborhood.

My fondest memory so far was actually hand delivered to me by my mailman on one of our first Saturday afternoons in our house. Instead of quickly depositing our mail in our mailbox that day, he knocked on our front door. I answered not knowing what to expect, and boy was I right. In addition to my T-Mobile bill and the newest issue of Rachael Ray’s magazine (a guilty pleasure), I was handed a warm plate of sweet potato pie wrapped in tin foil. He explained that it was from Mrs. Dixon, an elderly woman who lives alone across the street. Earlier that week, she had seen my partner and I hauling tools and construction materials into our house for a big bathroom remodel. She called us over to her porch and asked if we could help her with a few odd jobs around her house. We did, and the homemade pie was our thank you.

For this reason and so many more, historic Brookland is my Washington. If you make your way to D.C. for the inauguration, I invite you to come explore why it's the best of both worlds for this big city guy with small town tendencies.

-Jason Clement

Jason Clement is an online content provider for the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Washington, D.C. Check out his Brookland photo album for more neighborhood pictures, and stay tuned over the weeks leading up to the inauguration as more Trust staffers share their stories about the greater D.C. area. Coming to town for the historic event? Be sure to visit our new Preservationist’s Guide to Washington.

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National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

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5 Responses

  1. Erica L. Stewart

    January 8, 2009

    I’m a fellow employee of the National Trust for Historic Preservation who is happy to call Brookland home. My favorite quintessential Brookland moment came this December when we took my young children along on an evening tour of the neighborhood Christmas light displays. We squeezed in an old-time trolley among young and old to revel in all the mechanical reindeer, inflatable Santas and illuminated toy trains our neighbors had to offer. When we reached a particularly impressive display we would exhort our puckish tour guide (wearing a scarf and top hat in a vaguely Dickensian manner) to ring the homeowners’ door bell. He gladly obliged, sprinting up the walk, summoning the unsuspecting residents and then signaling us, the chorus, to belt out a favorite Christmas carol to show our appreciation for their display. Slightly off-key? Most definitely. But the simple pleasures offered by the evening: song, laughter, and hot cider with neighbors on a chilly evening sounded perfect to me.

  2. Firoze Rao

    January 9, 2009

    Brookland is indeed one of the best kept secrets in DC. We have lived here for over ten year, relative new comers and love it. Here is what Brookland means to us.

    Suburbia in the city.
    Brookland lets you enjoy city living at its best, 10 years ago on WAMU, a realtor described it as one of DC’s ‘Best Kept Secrets’. Drove over that same weekend and found it to be true. By virtue of its location – NE DC. We can get to Capitol Hill and K street under 14 minutes, far away Georgetown is a 20 minutes drive or hop on of the two easy access Metro stations. On your doorstep are: 395 South, 50 East or 95 North are all less than 10 minutes, putting Richmond, Annapolis, Baltimore and Philadelphia less than 100 minutes away. Allowing Brooklanders easy access that other city residents can only be envious of.

    The homes in Brookland are spacious, well built and have larger gardens. The housing stock is comprised of Victorian cottages, ranchers, center hall colonials and McMansions. With very low home turnover ratios, but by far the best of Brookland is the people. Brookland neighbors know each other, look out for each other and have the best block parties in the summer.

    Brookland has hospitals, universities, schools, churches, monasteries, parks, a new recreation center, coffee shops, two super markets, two hardware stores, libraries and tons of charm.

    Brookland is home, where the city breathes, where the homes are not squished together and the people are a community.

  3. BrooklandNE

    January 9, 2009

    One of the best places to get a feel for Brookland is Colonel Brooks’ Tavern (901 Monroe Street, NE). Not only is there good beer on tap, but there is always a great representation of the diversity that makes our community so interesting. You have the students from Catholic sitting and talking about sports or what’s on the news with neighborhood newcomers and the people who have lived in the area for their entire lives. Everyone is welcome at the bar and in the community.

  4. PreservationNation » Blog Archive » My Historic Washington: Capitol Hill

    January 9, 2009

    [...] « My Historic Washington: Brookland Is this St. Elizabeths Hospital’s Last Hour? [...]

  5. Jim Mercurio

    January 11, 2009

    One day during our house hunt, our friend and realtor called us and said we had to see this house. I was hesitant, but she pleaded, so we agreed to look at it.

    Coming off the train, I noticed the stately trees and old Brooks Mansion. I
    was charmed by the diversity in both the people and the architecture.
    Nowhere else in the city had I seen such a tapestry of cultures living in
    such harmony.

    As I walked up Monroe Street, my partner was walking toward me with a look that made me realize he had already fallen in love with the house. The house was and is perfect for us — truly our dream home. I was still
    ambivalent and wanted to be rational — this was a business decision, an
    investment. We decided to think it over and went to the nearby Colonel
    Brooks Tavern. It was there that we met those we would later call neighbors and friends. And there where we decided Brookland was perfect for us.

    I was taken at the true sense of community of Brookland. Immediately, we met our neighbors and spoke at length and became friends with them. They welcomed us to the neighborhood with open arms. Since that day, I have never regretted moving into Brookland. Rather, I feel a sense of
    responsibility to live up to the level of hospitality that welcomed us. I
    love Brookland because of the strong community here.