From the Collection: Last year on Memorial Day weekend, descendants and friends of the Walter Pierce Park Cemeteries gathered to commemorate the people who are buried in this busy urban park in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, DC. The Museum’s photographer was on hand to observe and document the ceremony.
The park’s history is not widely known. Long before it acquired a dog park, soccer field, basketball court and children’s play area, the land served as the city’s only Quaker cemetery, the Friends Burying Ground (active 1807-1890), and a large African American cemetery, Mt. Pleasant Plains Cemetery (active from 1870-1890).
In the early 2000s, neighbors were concerned about development plans that risked disturbing the burials. They joined forces with Howard University anthropologists and spearheaded efforts to document the park’s historical significance. Over the course of three years, the Walter Pierce Park Archaeological Team documented the artifacts and remains of over 8,000 people buried in Mt. Pleasant Plains Cemetery and the Friends Burying Ground. In 2015, the National Park Service named the Mt. Pleasant Plains Cemetery at Walter Pierce Park a National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Site.
Local resident Mary Belcher has been active in organizing The Walter Pierce Park Cemeteries Organization and commemorating the park. Last year, on Memorial Day weekend, participants recited the names of those buried in the park, and some told the stories of their interred ancestors. African American Civil War Memorial Founder Frank Smith and Patricia Tyson of FREED (Female Re-Enactors of Distinction) sat close together as a light rain cloistered the groups. Descendants T.J. Thomas and the Reverend Joanne Braxton addressed the crowd and told of their respective interred ancestors’ stories, and how they discovered their relationship to the ground. It is estimated that around a million people have ancestors in the Walter Pierce Park Cemeteries.
The Walter Pierce Park Cemeteries Organization will be hosting the commemoration this Memorial Day weekend on Saturday May 26, 2018 at 11 am at Walter Pierce Park.
But now you don’t care if your neighbor looks at ye. She might have fifty watches and she’ll not give you the time . . . ” – Byker by Sirrka-Liisa Konttinen
Published in 1985, and representing over 12 years of work by Finnish photographer Sirrka-Liisa Konttinen, who lived in this working-class community in Newcastle for 7 years, Byker depicts the last days of this public housing development before it was razed in the 1970s to make room for a world-famous architect’s design, the Byker Wall Estate by Ralph Erskine and home to 9,500 people.
Here in Washington, D.C.’s Ward 8, the community of Barry Farm is facing similar issues of relocation and development and there are a few local photographers working in those communities producing work, but none of whom I am aware actually live there while engaging in such a dedicated documentation of this community specificity as exemplified in Byker. Her focus and persistence in following this now very different community is remarkable.
The Anacostia Community Museum is lucky to own a second-hand copy annotated by an original Byker resident. How wonderful it is to see his/her inscriptions under some of the photographs confirming the veracity of Ms. Konttinen’s portrayal of the Byker spirit.
Perhaps most significantly for us, Byker serves as a cautionary tale in the breaking up and restructuring a community. Much as the Barry Farm Community was bifurcated by the building of Suitland Parkway in the 1940’s, and then further overwhelmed by the relocation of the majority of public housing to east of the Anacostia River in the 1960s, so is the United Kingdom facing a second wave of public housing redevelopment, though Byker Wall is being spared this time, as the original Byker was not in the 1970s.
Despite the authorities best efforts at engaging the community and encouraging participation – architect Erskine famously set up shop in a defunct funeral parlor in the Byker community hosting open hours for residents – less than 20 percent of the original Byker residents returned after the new Byker Wall had been erected.
“Over 17,000 people lived in Byker at the start of the redevelopment. Fewer than 20% of them were living in the New Byker in 1976. One is only left to speculate what would have happened had the policy not been to retain the community, ” Peter Malpass wrote in a commission by the Department of the Environment quoted in the afterword in Byker.
Through Ms. Konttinen’s work in Byker we can see the effects of the forces of neighborhood change and renewal on one specific populace. In the photographer’s follow-up work in Byker Revisited, the viewer gets more of a sense that isolation and dislocation have taken hold over Byker, even as the subjects of her camera’s gaze become more multicultural and diverse.
To see this book in person as well as browse other titles in our growing urban community photography book collection, you can come to the Anacostia Museum Library (let us know that you are coming and we will pull the book for you), more information on how to contact us and hours is available here.
Show me what you eat and I will tell you who you are.
– Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, an 18th century French writer, is credited with being one of the founders of the gastronomic essay. As the Thanksgiving holiday is upon us it is worthwhile to think about our own food culture. A prominent symbol of the season is the cornucopia, the horn of plenty, which manifests the wealth of the harvest.
However, in many areas of this country, like D.C.’s wards located east of the Anacostia River, food insecurity is confronted on a daily basis. One of our most basic human needs, access to healthy, nutritional foods is a foundational ingredient towards total well-being. Yet, food hardship is a daily reality for many Americans.
We took a brief tour of the east of the Anacostia breadbasket: the takeout restaurants (and a couple sit-down ones too) that have defined eating in Wards 7 & 8.
Wards 7 & 8 do have some sit-down restaurants. Busboys & Poets is moving into historic Anacostia. Uniontown Bar & Grill has survived an ignominious beginning, to become an engaging spot in the community. Cheers offers some of the best crabmeat-smothered french fries this side of the Chesapeake Bay. Yet wider access to decent grocery stores and healthy food offerings remains elusive for many residents in D.C.’s most economically challenged neighborhoods.
Local archivist and historian Jerry A. McCoy has collected a few relics from the days when a sit-down restaurant east of the Anacostia was perhaps more commonplace:
The Hong Kong Restaurant operated on Nichols Avenue S.E., what is known today as Martin Luther King Jr. Ave S.E. in Congress Heights, just down the street from the Hong Kong carryout featured in the video. Tucker’s Restaurant, advertisement below, was located just across the Souza Bridge from Capitol Hill.
Foodways change as cultural mores do. As we break bread this Thanksgiving, we might take a moment to reflect on something many of us take for granted, that access to healthy foods in one of the richest countries in the world is not a privilege to be taken lightly.
The Anacostia Community Museum seeks to be a gathering place for important conversations pertaining to urban communities. We devise our public programming and community forums with this goal in mind. This Sunday, September 18, we were pleased to present the work of two local photographers, Becky Harlan and Gabriela Bulisova, both members of the 501C3 non-profit, Women Photojournalists of Washington. Harlan and Bulisova have both been working for many years on the projects they presented.
Harlan’s project “D.C.’s Anacostia River” looks at the history of the Anacostia, from fertile native American fishing ground, to its status as a polluted river, the river keepers who take it upon themselves to maintain a better tributary, and the communities that have formed around the river. Below is a frame taken from her project, more work can be seen on her website here:
Gabriela Bulisova’s work Inside Outside and Convictions examines the lives of returning citizens, the formerly incarcerated, and the families left behind. According to the International Center for Prison Studies, the United States has the largest percentage of incarcerated people in its population in the world. Bulisova spent time getting to know returning citizen groups and the families of the incarcerated, making still photographs and short movies to record their experiences. She shared with us several short films which are accessible below and by going to Bulisova’s website here.
The discussion following the presentations was informed by the presence of several of the returning citizens with whom Bulisova has worked on her projects. They spoke to the administrative limbo many incarcerated DC citizens find themselves in because they are beholden to the laws of the federal system, even as in many states, sentences for many crimes, especially non-violent ones are being commuted or cut short. Because DC is not a state, prisoners find themselves trapped in a federal purgatory where they are literally stateless citizens.
The opportunity to hear an artist discuss her work will always further your understanding of the project. We are pleased at the Anacostia Community Museum to bring these conversations to you and hope you will join us in adding your voice to our community.
For over 130 years, a formidable farmhouse stood at the corner of Stanton Road SE and Suitland Parkway, watching the comings and goings of countless people inside and out before being abandoned at the end of the last decade. When an application for a raze permit came across the desks of officials in the DC Historic Preservation Office (HPO), they realized that it was one of the last standing structures associated with the historic Barry Farm subdivision, settled after the Civil War by formerly enslaved individuals under the aegis of the Freedmen’s Bureau.
I first became aware of the property and its history while working as a volunteer in the office, and was invited to take on initial research and cataloging of a collection of objects pulled from the house’s attic. A team from the HPO presented the collection to the Anacostia Community Museum, which recognized its significance and agreed that further research should be done. To that end, the Museum applied for and was awarded a DC Community Heritage Project Grant, and I was brought on to continue work on the collection. During my time at the Museum, I worked with Collections Manager Josh Gorman to research and catalog the items in the collection, in the process helping tell a story that otherwise would have been lost to the effects of development.
As an archaeologist by training, I’ve occasionally come across interesting finds down in the dirt, but I don’t always see the rest of an artifact’s “life cycle.” Once an artifact is removed from its original context, it’s generally shunted off to a lab for cleaning, analysis, and storage, which are often done by someone other than the original finder. Over the course of the Stanton Road project, I had the opportunity to carry out some of the steps that I don’t usually get to be a part of.
The Stanton Road collection isn’t archaeological, but archaeological artifacts and the objects from the attic of Stanton Road are both examples of material culture. Material culture is any tangible evidence of how people led their lives, whether in the past or present. In this case, the lives in question are those of of Annie and Olivia Taliaferro, a mother and daughter who lived in the Stanton Road house for more than six decades.
The Taliaferros were an African American family who moved to the Hillsdale (now Barry Farm) community in the latter part of the the 19th century. Based on U.S. Census records, we know that Annie and her children were all born in Virginia, and can guess from Annie’s age that she was likely born into slavery (she was born in 1852 or 1853). D.C. property records show that Annie herself purchased the Stanton Road property in 1885. She lived in the house until her death in 1935, as did her daughter Olivia until her death in 1947. The Stanton Road collection is a glimpse into the lives of two women who made comfortable lives for themselves and were deeply connected to their community.
Working at the Anacostia Community Museum allowed me to have experiences that any budding material culture researcher would dream of. Being allowed into the collections area of a Smithsonian museum, for example, is almost a holy experience. You feel like you should hold your breath and say a little prayer as you walk through the heavy doors into the rows of cabinets and crates, lest you disturb the collections in their slumber. It was exciting for me to think that some of the objects I would be researching would have a home there.
As a lifelong book nerd and former library worker, my favorite perk of working for the Smithsonian was access to the library system. I took advantage of it to visit an obscure but fascinating collection: the Trade Literature Collection at the National Museum of American History. The term “trade literature” refers to publications that describe or promote products for sale – catalogs, technical manuals, and advertising brochures, to name just a few examples. These can be invaluable resources for information such prices, fashion trends, and marketing techniques.
I was hoping to find some of the items in my collection, or at least comparable examples, in turn-of-the-century Montgomery Ward and Sears, Roebuck & Company catalogs. These two mail order companies reached consumers in every corner of the United States and sold everything you could ever hope to buy, from the tiniest pins and needles all the way up to farming equipment and entire houses. If anything was going to give me a decent snapshot of common material culture during the early 20th century, it would be these catalogs.
While I didn’t find exact matches, looking at the catalogs did help me get an idea of what some of the items would of cost, and place the Taliaferros in a solidly middle-class socioeconomic stratum. It also affirmed my belief that Annie and Olivia tended to “shop local,” preferring to purchase from local businesses rather than from mail-order catalogs (this may also have had something to do with living in a city, where goods were more readily accessible).
A number of the bottles we took from the attic were marked with names and addresses that indicated they had been purchased locally – Bury’s Pharmacy at 300 Monroe Street in Anacostia, or Mackall Brothers Druggists at the corner of 9th and H Streets NE, to name a couple. I used these names and addresses to sift through D.C. city directories on microfilm in the Washingtonia archives at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library, and emerged with not only solid dates of operation for these businesses, but also a sense that the Taliaferros were quite mobile, travelling to all four quadrants of the city to make purchases.
Lest you think that my work was all diving into archives and drawing thrilling conclusions, I’ll point out that other parts of my work were more mundane. Writing tags for the objects and entering data (dates, dimensions, and descriptions) into the collection management software are less glamorous tasks, but they’re equally as important as the research. Without these steps, collections staff wouldn’t be able to track the location of the objects or have any knowledge of their contexts. And without that, the research wouldn’t have much point!
Getting a crash course in curation and registration has helped me think more profoundly about the lives of objects in museum collections, and appreciate a small piece of all the work that goes unseen when you walk into a museum exhibit. Now that the collection has been cataloged, I hope that it can continue to provide insight into the lives of Annie and Olivia, and other African American families living in Barry Farm and Washington, DC. In particular, we know that Olivia was a midwife, and I think looking into how the collection reflects her work would be a very rich line of pursuit indeed. I hope that the story of Annie and Olivia and the Stanton Road collection will continue to inspire curiosity and appreciation in those who hear it, and help make residents of Washington and the Barry Farm area proud to call those places home.
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.
“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.
Ruth and Novell bought the home of the owner of the former Columbia Iron Works on 22nd St SE near Fairlawn Avenue and the Anacostia River, a gorgeous Italianate Revival that sits at the end of a colorful one-way street filled with mixed heritage single-family homes in the Fairlawn neighborhood of Anacostia. This post features audio as well as still images. So please feel free to fix a cup of tea, standby to adjust your volume levels, and enjoy!
To see more of our archives collections featured in this video, please click on these links:
Spring 2015 Internships with the Anacostia Community Museum!
Below are the internship opportunities for the Research and Collections Departments. All internships are unpaid. Contact information for each supervisor is included in the description. Start and end dates are flexible. We are looking forward to working with you!
Transportation: Free round trip shuttle service to the Anacostia Community Museum can be provided from the National Mall or L’Enfant Plaza Metro Station Monday-Friday for all interns.
Museum Mission: The mission of the Anacostia Community Museum is to enhance understanding of contemporary urban experiences and strengthen community bonds by conserving the past, documenting the present, and serving as a catalyst for shaping the future. More information on the Museum: http://anacostia.si.edu
Curatorial intern (Panama project)
Intern will work directly with Dr. Ariana Curtis, curator of Latino Studies and gain valuable, on-site experience in curatorial processes and exhibition preparation. Intern will assist in planning public programming and creating tangible resources for upcoming exhibition Bridging the Americas: Community and Belonging from Panama to Washington, D.C. Familiarity with Panama preferred but not required. Research experience required. One position available. Contact: CurtisA@si.edu
Curatorial intern(s) Museum interactives (Latino Studies general)
Intern will work with the curatorial staff under the direction of Dr. Ariana Curtis, curator of Latino studies and gain valuable on site experience in curatorial processes and exhibition preparation. Intern will visit various museums in the immediate DC area to research and document multilingual and interactive exhibition elements in various exhibitions. This position is unpaid. Multiple positions available. Contact: CurtisA@si.edu
Research intern(s) Census and Latino Community Change
Interns will work directly with Dr. Ariana Curtis, curator of Latino Studies and gain valuable research experience on identification, representation, and government reporting. Intern(s) will assist in research with US census data, American Community Survey data, changing racial/ethnic categories over time, and the identification of Latino populations. Project entails reviewing old census forms and data, reading/synthesizing secondary source data, and following current debates about Latino racialization and racial identification. Previous experience using census data not required. Strong writing skills preferred. Multiple positions available. Contact: CurtisA@si.edu
Research intern(s) Neighborhood Change
Opportunity to work at the Smithsonian Institution, Anacostia Community Museum doing research on two topics related to neighborhood change in Washington, D.C.:
*How the building of the Suitland Parkway during the Second World II impacted the surrounding SE community
*The transformation of the African-American St. Philip’s Hill community in NW Washington, D.C. into the affluent mostly white University Terrace community in the 1950s and 60s
Research will include working with materials at the National Archives, the Washingtoniana Collection of the D.C. Public Library, and the Archives of the Anacostia Community Museum among others. Research will also include participating in the oral interviewing of individuals who might have information on the areas being studied and the transcription of these interviews. The research will be undertaken under the supervision of Mrs. Alcione M. Amos, Museum Curator. For questions please contact Alcione Amos email@example.com
Archival Collections Processing intern(s)
Interns will gain focused experience in arrangement, description, and preservation of archival collections and knowledge of descriptive standards including DACS (Describing Archives: A Content Standard). The internship entails conducting research on collection subject and context, creating EAD formatted finding aids using Archivists Toolkit, and sharing information about processed collections through social media. Interns work under the guidance of the museum’s archivist. Strong writing and organizational skills preferred. This position is unpaid. Interested students may contact Jennifer Morris: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Interns will assist with cataloging item level and series descriptions in the Horizon database system for the Smithsonian’s online database (www.siris.si.edu). The intern will conduct research on the archival items, create MARC-based records, and disseminate information about newly cataloged materials through social media. Interns work under the guidance of the museum’s archivist. The ideal candidate has working knowledge of MARC and DACS. Attention to detail and strong organizational skills preferred. Intern will gain insight into the application of MARC in an archival setting. This position is unpaid. For questions contact Jennifer Morris: email@example.com.
Interns will help make collections more accessible by digitizing documents for transcribing by the general public for the Smithsonian Transcription Center (https://transcription.si.edu/). Interns will also apply embedded metadata to digitized assets, write summaries utilizing collections, and review transcribed text. Attention to detail and strong writing skills preferred. This position is unpaid. For questions contact Jennifer Morris: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Object Collections Care and Cataloguing Support
In support of ACM’s goal of providing the highest quality housing for, description of and access to its permanent collection, this Internship will include general collections management projects including:
– rehousing of object collections prioritizing access, physical support and conservation-grade materials
– promoting intellectual access to collections through digitization as a component of the cycle of care
– facilitating discovery and access through lexicon and authority based cataloguing
– facilitating discovery and access by connecting collections for distribution to online databases
Under the direction of the Collections, we are currently organizing our permanent collection with the goal of delivering a complete catalogue with digital surrogates to collections.si.edu by the end of 2014. Projects within the Collections department would seek to expand the reach of these digital collections through description, research and topical cataloguing of museum collections.
Interns can also expect to receive training in the handling and care of collections in support of projects advancing the preservation priorities of the museum. Educational goals for this internship will focus on best practices in handling and care as well as innovative methods for online description and access. Internships will entail handling, processing and rehousing of coherent collections providing opportunities for demonstrating and documenting mastery. The ACM will provide guidance and access to necessary readings, resources and institutional expertise in support of these deliverables. This internship will provide an opportunity to become familiar with collections management processes and standards within a community museum. Contact: Josh Gorman at GormanJ@si.edu