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America on the Move
Collection Exhibition Themes
Transportation in America before 1876 Community Dreams: Santa Cruz, California, 1876 Delivering the Goods: Watsonville, California, 1895 People on the Move The Connected City: New York, New York, 1920s Crossing the Country: Somewhere in Wyoming, 1903 Americans Adopt the Auto Lives on the Railroad: Salisbury, North Carolina, 1927 The People's Highway: Route 66, 1930s-1940s Roadside Communities: Ring's Rest, Muirkirk, Maryland, 1930s Family Camping: York Beach, Maine, 1930s On the School Bus: Martinsburg, Indiana, 1939 Suburban Strip: Sandy Boulevard, Portland, Oregon, 1949 City and Suburb: Chicago and Park Forest, Illinois, 1950s On the Interstate: I-10, 1956-1990 Transforming the Waterfront: San Francisco and Oakland, California, 1960-1970 Going Global: Los Angeles Introduction Center Market The New Market System Farm to Market City Streetscapes Fares, Please! Growth of the Capital's Suburbs
4: A  Streetcar City: Washington, D.C., 1900

Growth of the Capital’s Suburbs

In the 19th century, some Americans began to live in a new kind of community, suburbs, where they enjoyed pastoral surroundings but could commute to the city for jobs and shopping. Suburbs were made possible by railroads, horsecars, cable cars, and electric streetcars. Some suburbanites left the city to get away from poor immigrants and migrants. Others believed that a quiet, less-congested area was better for health and family. In 19th-century cities, people of different races and incomes lived in close proximity. With the rise of suburbs, communities became more sharply divided by race, wealth, and ethnicity.

'Map of the District of Columbia and Vicinity,' 1892
"Map of the District of Columbia and Vicinity," 1892
Houses on Valley Street, Anacostia, about 1885.
Houses on Valley Street, Anacostia, about 1885.
Joseph Marvin house, Le Droit Park, 1879
Joseph Marvin house, Le Droit Park, 1879
Dr. Bliss house, Takoma Park, about 1886
Dr. Bliss house, Takoma Park, about 1886
Charles A. Cugle house, Chevy Chase, built about 1900
Charles A. Cugle house, Chevy Chase, built about 1900

Early Washington Suburbs

Suburban development began slowly in the 1850s around the City of Washington. Land speculators established suburban sites like Uniontown (later known as Anacostia), Mount Pleasant, Le Droit Park, and Takoma Park near roads, street rail lines, and railroads that led into the city.

Mathew Brady photograph of Navy Yard Bridge, 1862
Mathew Brady photograph of Navy Yard Bridge, 1862

Uniontown was laid out across the Anacostia River from Washington in 1854. The developer hoped to attract Navy Yard employees who could walk across this bridge to work.

Street scene created to promote Le Droit Park, 1877

In 1873, speculators turned farmland into Le Droit Park, an exclusive, fenced-in subdivision located near a horse-drawn streetcar line that carried residents downtown.

Street scene created to promote Le Droit Park, 1877
Grandfather and grandson raise a fence in the mostly undeveloped suburb of North Columbia Heights, about 1904
Grandfather and grandson raise a fence in the mostly undeveloped suburb of North Columbia Heights, about 1904

Moving to the suburbs changed people's lifestyles. Homeowners now had the responsibility of maintaining the home and a yard. And women were more isolated from the once easy walk to the market, shops, and friends.

Electric Streetcar Suburb: Chevy Chase, 1890s

Sensing profit in the public’s need for transit and housing, businessmen established streetcar lines to open up new areas for development. The Chevy Chase Land Company developed more than 1,700 acres that straddled the Maryland-District line. The Rock Creek Railway connected Chevy Chase to the city. Chevy Chase grew slowly until World War I, when the automobile made suburban living more and more convenient.

Chevy Chase promotional plat map, Thos. J. Fisher & Co., 1892
Chevy Chase promotional plat map, Thos. J. Fisher & Co., 1892
Trolley passing a real-estate billboard on a developing section of Connecticut Avenue, about 1903.
Trolley passing a real-estate billboard on a developing section of Connecticut Avenue, about 1903.

To get potential buyers to Chevy Chase, the development company extended Connecticut Avenue and built bridges, an electric streetcar line, and an amusement park. In 1900, a streetcar ride from Chevy Chase to downtown Washington took 35 minutes.

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