Inside a Barry Farm home with ACM Research & Collections Department

The life of a museum professional can be varied.  One day might call for researching and writing an academic paper for a professional conference, and the next might see the same person excavating a demolished building site in search of historical artifacts.  Such was the case one Spring morning in Anacostia, when Anacostia Community Museum Collections Manager Josh Gorman  and myself met representatives from the DC Historical office at a local home near the intersection of Stanton Road and Suitland Parkway in the area that was once part of a greater neighborhood known as Barry Farm.

As curator Alcione Amos points out in a previous post, Barry Farm is a neighborhood in Southeast Washington, DC which distinguished itself as a significant post-Civil-War settlement of free Blacks.  The abandoned home we investigated has been bought by a developer and is scheduled to be razed and replaced with a multi-family home.

The home scheduled to be demolished on Stanton Road SE is thought to be from the phase 2 of Barry Farm development.

The home scheduled to be demolished on Stanton Road SE is thought to be from the phase 2 of Barry Farm development. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

Barry Farm was initially a large homestead, stretching all the way to 13th Street on the east, Poplar Point on the West, and the present-day Morris Road SE on the north. Railroad tracks laid around 1913 cut off Barry Farm from the Poplar Point area. Reportedly most devastating to the original community, during World War II the city built the Suitland Parkway, bifurcating and isolating the neighborhood between busy traffic arteries while connecting Andrews and Bolling Air Force bases.

Today, most people familiar with Barry Farm and SE Washington think of the public housing complex built in 1943 which is also scheduled to be razed and redeveloped.  The Smithsonian Institution has a significant connection with Barry Farm.  Solomon G. Brown was the first African American employee at the Smithsonian Institution, serving for fifty-four years from 1852 to 1906 and was a resident of the Barry Farm community. His name was given to the local Salvation Army Community Center, the Solomon G. Brown Corps Community Center on Martin Luther King Ave in SE.

- An archaeological excavation of a trash pit found at 3038 Stanton Road SE which is being razed for a multi-family development. The home is thought to be a phase 2 Barry Farm home. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

– An archaeological excavation of a trash pit found at 3038 Stanton Road SE which is being razed for a multi-family development. The home is thought to be a phase 2 Barry Farm home.
Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

This particular Stanton Road home is not thought to be one of the original post-Civil-War dwellings, but a later second phase development.  The DC government is excavating a trash-pit found on the site for valuable historical artifacts.  Inside the house, squatters and neglect had taken over the abandoned site.  Broken antiques mingled with discarded refuse and books. Graffiti on the wall offered a fractured a portrait of former residents.

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A later addition of cinderblock added to the original footprint of the home. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

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The dining room in Stanton Road. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

The kitchen in Stanton Road. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

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Most likely the original fireplace mantel remained in the home. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

Graffiti left behind offers enigmatic clues about the former residents.  Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

Graffiti left behind offers enigmatic clues about the former residents. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

We at the Anacostia Community Museum do not fear dirt and grime in the pursuit of cultural heritage work:

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Collections Manager Josh Gorman examines the attic of the Barry Farm home on Stanton Road, which was rumored to be the former home of a bootlegger during prohibition. In the attic, numerous bottles were found. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

As I mention in the caption above, the home was rumored to be occupied by a bootlegger during prohibition. Among the more interesting artifacts found were many period bottles in the attic (pictured below).

Bottles found in the attic. by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

Bottles found in the attic. by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

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Collections Manager Josh Gorman examines some of the period artifacts in the Barry Farm Stanton Road Home. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

Serving the local community and beyond through the preservation of cultural history and artifacts, public programming, research and education is a great aspect of working for the Anacostia Community Museum.

To listen to an interview with a contemporary Barry Farm resident, please click to hear Carolyn Richardson on the CDI blog here.

Historic Barry Farm: A Place of Pride and Achievement

“We decided to expand the research in order to … change the image of crime and destruction, at present, to one of pride and achievement [in the past]” Ella B. Pearis, 1974.

When Mrs. Pearis made this statement, more than a hundred years after the creation of Historic Barry Farm, she was talking from experience. Her family, the Howards, had been early settlers on a stretch of Elvans Avenue (later Elvans Road) which had been home to a long list of luminaries. Her grandfather Mr. James Thomas Howard had been a minister in Macedonia Baptist Church, the first Baptist Church in Barry Farm. A close neighbor on Elvans Avenue, Solomon G. Brown, had been the first African-American employee of the Smithsonian Institution. Another resident Miss Francis Hall, a white teacher who had come from New York to teach newly freed African-Americans in Barry Farm and had stayed for life, was just a few houses away.

Mrs. Pearis had heard the stories of these and other residents of Barry Farm as she grew up. These early settlers had bet on a new experiment, a “new town” created by the Freedmen’s Bureau on rural land just across the Eastern Branch (the name used for the Anacostia Rover in the 19th century), and had built their houses with their own hands and in the process created a stable and nurturing community.

Mrs. Pearis had also seen the slow disintegration of the dream, and thus her desire to “… change the image of crime and destruction” that was prevalent when she diligently worked with the Anacostia Museum to record the history of Historic Barry Farm.

Historic Barry Farm had been created by the Freedmen’s Bureau as a remedy for the appalling housing conditions in which many immigrant African-Americans lived in Washington at the end of the Civil War. The new endeavor had provided financing for the acquisition of one acre lots and the opportunity to buy materials for the construction of a modest 14ft x 24ft two room house. These houses would be later described by government officials in the 20th century as “cheap little houses.” Yet, they were mostly built by the owners themselves and had become the place of residence for generations of some of the original families.

One resident of Barry Farm, Rev. Millard F. Newman stated very eloquently in 1944 that although his residential area was easily described as “blighted” by the government officials, what was being ignored was “this more profound and deeper thing of people who owned a home they had built.”

Perhaps that is the key to the early success of Barry Farm, the fact that the houses, which then turned into homes, were built by their owners.  Those long stretches of one acre lots cultivated by the hands of the owners to provide sustenance to the family and as a source of income by the sale of the surplus, and which could also be comfortably subdivided to make room for family members to build their homes, were sources  of economic stability.

Perhaps the pride of ownership was the source of the community providing “education and support for the children’s spiritual growth and physical well-being” as stated by James G. Banks who had been born and raised in Barry Farm, in 2004.

By 1968, one hundred years after the auspicious creation of such a community, “the area which had been sparsely populated was suddenly becoming a high density urban area…” with haphazard and uncontrolled growth. The decline would be swift and sad.

It is utopic to think that there were no problems in Barry Farm or that this large expanse of land, which had retained its rural flavor, would remain untouched in the 20th century. But perhaps the story would have been different if the African American owners who had “struggled through the years to maintain a healthy, wholesome social attitude…” had been given the support to repair and improve their homes instead of having them replaced by multi-family unit buildings.

Today the name Barry Farm lives in the development built in 1943 as housing for African-Americans working for the war effort. Ironically we might pinpoint the beginning of the community’s decay on the building of this housing development and the opening of the Suitland Parkway, also in 1943, to connect Bolling Air Force Base to Camp Springs (today Andrews Air Force Base.)

In 2015 Historic Barry Farm has receded from the memory of local residents. Nevertheless, it remains an example of a successful African-American community, created right after the Civil War, by sheer force of the individual effort of its early settlers.

 

 

 

 

A Fallen Hero-Fire Fighter Lt. Kevin McRae

excerpt from ‘How the Civil War Changed Washington, D.C.’

“On May 19, 1864, the city decided to establish a paid Fire Department, which was organized on July 1, 1864. Only four companies were paid at first, with a chief engineer and five commissioners appointed for the new organization dubbed the Washington City Fire Department. This was effectively the beginning of professional fire fighting in Washington, D.C.”

Just over 150 years later, the District buried it’s 100th fire fighter who died while in the line of duty. Lieutenant Kevin Andre McRae was laid to rest after a large public ceremony honoring his service to District. He suffered a heart attack while fighting a two-alarm in an apartment building in NW DC on May 6th.

Lt. McRae joined the long line of fire fighters nearly 25 years ago. He left behind a wife, three sons and a daughter. He was 44 years old.

His public viewing was held at the Armory in Northeast, D.C. It was likely one of the few places that would hold the hundreds attendees would came to pay their respects to this man. Many were fire fighters from companies, not only from the District, but from all over the country. Congresswoman Norton, Mayor Bowser, Chairman Mendelson all spoke at his service. He was laid to rest at Lincoln Cemetery. Witnesses said the procession was the longest they had ever seen.

That seems fitting for a  fallen city hero.

Rest in Peace Lieutenant McRae

Mourners Entering the Services

Mourners Entering the Services

 

ire Company Waiting to Enter the Services

ire Company Waiting to Enter the Services

 

Lt. McRae's Company Fire Engine

Lt. McRae’s Company Fire Engine

 

Inside the Program

Inside the Program

 

Memorial Services Program

Memorial Services Program

 

Exterior of the Armory

Exterior of the Armory

 

The services

The services

 

Lt McRae Fire truck

 

How do we measure the social value of our work?

From April 26-29 I, and thousands of museum workers, attended the American Alliance of Museums annual meeting in Atlanta, Georgia. The theme of this year’s conference was: The social value of museums: Inspiring change.

I attended many insightful sessions about immigration, telling American Stories, museums as conveners, museums as sites of activism, and measuring/evaluating social change. Of the many things I left pondering, one of the most significant is: How do or how should I measure the social value and impact of MY work activity?

In a session addressing museum evaluation, Deborah Schwartz of the Brooklyn Historical Society invited us all to

Engage. LISTEN. Exchange

I have been sitting with this advice for almost two weeks now, still wondering how one measures this.   In order to think about the social value and impact of our work activity, we must look at HOW we work and not just WHAT work we do. A better question than measure might be: how to do we know if we are being successful in engaging, listening and exchanging?

I don’t have a complete answer yet, but:

1. People now tell me about any Panamanian in their life. I find this amusing and wonderful.  I love that those around me feel comfortable talking to me.  These declarations of Panamanian association usually lead to questions about food, music, immigration, language. Really though, the conversations can lead through any number of interactive activities. Engagement, listening, and exchange.

2. I have noted that about 10 people have emailed me about the premier of the Panama Canal Stories/ Historias del Canal at the Inter-American Development Bank tonight. Some asked if I am going. Some emailed just as an FYI in case I hadn’t seen it. Some knew I would be there and asked if I wanted to meet.   Bridging the Americas: Community and Belonging from Panama to Washington, D.C.  may be a small show, but the community participation and exchange of ideas have created a network well beyond the exhibition’s square footage.

Forwarding an email message may seem like a trivial act not worthy of note or measure. I disagree.

We all know how easy it is to delete emails, read or unread.  The fact that people not only thought of me when they heard of this film and read their email message, but further, took the extra minute to send me the information knowing I would be receptive gives me hope.   I am helping create an engaged network concerned not only with her/his own activity but also the knowledge and activity of US.  While I am not yet certain how to measure  or report my impact or activity, the social value of my work is exponentially increased by engaging with, listening to, and exchanging with the communities I serve, in big and small ways.  

Community Forum on Community Change

Moderator Andrew Lightman addresses panelists (l-r) Arrington Dixon, Anacostia Coordinating Council, Shareema Houston, Historic Anacostia Preservation Society,  author and journalist John  Muller,  Christina Stacy, Urban Institute, Graylin W. Presbury, Fairlawn Citizens Association, and Courtney Snowden, DC Deputy Mayor for Greater Economic  Opportunity

Moderator Andrew Lightman addresses panelists (l-r) Arrington Dixon, Anacostia Coordinating Council, Shareema Houston, Historic Anacostia Preservation Society, author and journalist John Muller, Christina Stacy, Urban Institute, Graylin W. Presbury, Fairlawn Citizens Association, and Courtney Snowden, DC Deputy Mayor for Greater Economic Opportunity

On Saturday May 9, 2015, Andrew Lightman, Managing Editor of Capital Community News led a discussion of the socio-economic changes facing neighborhoods east of the River with Arrington Dixon, Chairman of the Anacostia Coordinating Council; Shareema Houston, Chair of Historic Anacostia Preservation Society; author and journalist, John Muller; Graylin W. Presbury, President of Fairlawn’s Citizens Association; the city’s new Deputy Mayor for Greater Economic Opportunity, Courtney Snowden and Christina Plerhoples Stacy of the Urban Institute.

The discussion began with various definitions of “gentrification” which many on the panel agreed is one of several terms used to describe the shift in a community’s population from a lower socio-economic group to a higher one that often, but not always, falls along racial lines.  Panelist definitions also acknowledged the multiple layers that form a part of the process. Gentrifiers and community members are not always separated by race. Additionally, the built environment of various neighborhoods, varying rates of home ownership, and the rationale behind city policies all play a role in determining the “winners” and “losers” in community change.

The transformation of a community usually involves the conflicting visons of many. Historic Anacostia Preservation Society Chair Shareema Houston pointed out that visions of transformation can fall along racial and socio-economic lines that do not take into account the spirit of communities already present. Arrington Dixon asserted engaging the community is essential in providing residents with the tools and education needed to make decisions that will benefit them in the face of community transformation.  Courtney Snowden echoed his assertion by pointing out, “Having $220,000.00 dangled in front of you can be a dangerous thing. Communities need to be educated on what they’re being asked to decide upon.”

 

Community Change BArrington Dixon’s emphasis on the creation of an educated, engaged community whose residents are ready to tap into their capacity, knowledge and experience to make the decisions that will best benefit them is only a part of an approach that can mitigate the possible negative effects of gentrification. If the community is to be at the table with developers and respected when decisions are made about its future, Houston stressed, city officials should help it achieve its goals. Such a role on the part of city government would call for a change in the tendency, according to Andrew Lightman, of the city to “give away” property to developers.  Deputy Mayor Snowden saw room for a new approach.  As a city, DC is ready to negotiate from a place of strength, and developers and communities need to be in accord.  The next steps will involve galvanizing all the resources available in communities in order to be more innovative and not falling into the trap of not realizing some of the current problems stem from solutions from the past. Dixon was also optimistic, highlighting the importance of being on time.  For him, the community is ready.  The critical step is to harness its potential, utilizing its historic value and the Anacostia River and park as a source of pride and spirit which can be transformed into job opportunities which will, in turn, create more options and economic ladders, allowing residents to make decisions that will best impact them and the fabric of the larger community.

The audience was made up of a large contingent of  ward 7 and 8 residents whose questions reflected a concern regarding the city government’s role in seemingly giving away not only property but also control over the futures of neighborhoods and an apparent lack of concern in regards to derelict city property.  Other residents pointed to the Anacostia River as an important resource that can be used as an economic and unifying source for city residents. Finally, some residents were curious about any current or pending comprehensive plans for development in wards 7 and 8.   Resident enquiries echoed many panelists concerns involving the need for more community engagement and stronger willingness on the part of city officials to advocate on behalf of residents in negotiations with developers.

 

 

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