Title: On This Spot: Pinpointing the Past in Washington, D.C.
Authors: Douglas E. Evelyn and Paul Dickson
Release Date: January 1992
Publisher: Farragut Publishing Company
Genre: Historical guide
Source: Personal collection
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
This guide to the historical landmarks of D.C. succeeds in presenting a thoroughly unique viewpoint of the city and its long and colorful history.
Through an entertaining combination of anecdotes about and images of historical sites — both existing and long gone — each destination has its own story, ranging from the political to the criminal. Dividing the city by neighborhood, rather than into walking paths, this portable little book is indispensable for anyone interested in the history behind the geography.
From stories about the lack of plumbing in the White House to descriptions of Murder Bay, the red-light district and slum that became Federal Triangle in the 1920s, this account entertains and educates in snippets any resident or tourist can handle. I perused the first edition, published in 1992, but the most recent edition was released in 2008.
As a D.C. bibliophile, it should be no surprise that the entries that caught my attention were literary in nature. I am including a list of some of my favorites, but don’t just listen to me — check this book out for yourself!
In 1801, one of the first bookstores in D.C. was opened by Daniel Rapine at Jersey and Independence Aves., SE. The Aurora Bookstore, another early establishment in operation from 1801–7, was operated by William Duane, a newspaper editor, at Pennsylvania Ave. and 6th St., NW.
The first library in D.C. was established in 1812 on Pennsylvania Ave. and 13th St., NW, where the International Trade Center building currently resides. It was open for two hours on two days of the week, for shareholders only. The city’s main public library from 1903 to the late 1960s, given by Andrew Carnegie, was housed in a building located on New York Avenue, between 6th and 9th Sts., NW.
In 1847, The National Era abolitionist newspaper was established near 7th St. and F St., NW. The press serialized a story by Harriet Beecher Stowe that later appeared as the book Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
While working as a Civil War nurse, Walt Whitman lived in various boarding houses in the District, particularly in Northwest at addresses such as at M St., L St., and 15th St.
One of the nation’s most popular and quoted stories in the late nineteenth century, “Man without a Country,” was penned by Edward Everett Hale at the Tabard Inn, on 1739 N St., NW.
Sinclair Lewis lived at 1814 16th St., NW, from 1919 to 1920, while he completed Main Street.
E.D.E.N. Southworth, a popular romance novelist, lived at 13th and C Sts., SW, before moving to 36th and Prospect Sts., NW — later the location of the 1973 movie “The Exorcist.”
Paul Dickson is a full-time freelance writer living in Garrett Park, Maryland. He has written or co-authored more than forty-five books, including two recent books on American history both set primarily in Washington, D.C.: Sputnik: The Shock of the Century and The Bonus Army: An American Epic (with Thomas B. Allen).
Douglas E. Evelyn retired in 2005 after nearly four decades at the Smithsonian. He is currently a museum consultant and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Historical Society of Washington, D.C.