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