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