MS. REBECCA SHEIR
I'm Rebecca Sheir, and welcome back to "Metro Connection." Today, we're trolling around the region as we go in search of things lost and found, from piggy bowls and pigs' heads to prosthetic legs and pizza stands. But in this next story, we're gonna hear about losing and finding an entire neighborhood, specifically, the raucous and racy neighborhood of Swampoodle. Now, if you haven't heard of Swampoodle that might be because it was destroyed more than a century ago.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Emily Friedman found her way back to the legendary, even notorious, streets of Swampoodle to learn why a community that technically no longer exists, is worth rediscovering.
MS. EMILY FRIEDMAN
The tour of Swampoodle begins at the very structure that brought it to an end. So where are we and what are we doing here?
MS. KATHLEEN LANE
We're at Union Station, which was built in 1907. At the time that it was built, it was the largest train terminal in the world.
That's Kathleen Lane, Swampoodle aficionado and for the day, my tour guide. She's a volunteer guide for Cultural Tourism DC, a nonprofit here in the city.
Before Union Station was here, there was a community of Irish immigrants called Swampoodle.
D.C. was never an immigrant magnet like New York or Philadelphia, Lane says. But when the Irish fled their country during the famine of the 1840s and '50s, the U.S. government was in the midst of a hiring spree. Immigrants who ventured further down the coast went right to work building the Capitol, the post office, and many other structures that make up today's National Mall. And because they wanted to live as close to work as possible, they patched together homes and stores nearby the Capitol.
And it was considered to be a very down at the heels slum of Irish tenements, alleys, complete with goats and people's laundry hanging, and it was really considered kind of shameful, so close to the, the Capitol building.
A reputation which, according to Lane, was certainly related to the decision to build right over it. Why is it called Swampoodle?
Swampoodle got its name from the Tiber Creek, that would overflow its banks during the rainy season. It turned this neighborhood into an area that was very swampy and puddly. The Irish residents who lived here kind of conjoined those two words with their Irish accents to Swampoodle.
As we leave Union Station, and head east to our next stop, Lane waves her hand out in front of her, as if erasing the coffee shops and row houses on the blocks ahead. None of this, she says, used to be here.
The sight of -- it's currently an elementary school at the corner of Fourth and F Street, but it was the sight of Juneman's Brewery (sp?), that not only had a brewery, it had a dance hall, it had a bowling alley.
As for the whole Irish-people-love-to-drink stereotype, Lane says the proliferation of drinking establishments here was only partially about the alcohol.
Pubs were community centers, they were kind of living rooms for the community to come together.
And when people weren't getting together in pubs, they were probably in a shop along H Street.
That was the place where everyone came together.
On H Street, you would see an Italian barbershop, a Jewish dry goods store...
Chinese laundries, of course, the Irish saloons and pubs.
As we walk down the street, Lane points to an enormous, red brick building. It used to be known as the Little Sisters of the Poor.
The Little Sisters of the Poor was pretty elaborate for a building that was meant to house the indigent elderly.
The building's detailed brickwork makes it perfectly suited to its second life, as a set of luxury condos. A block later, Lane stops to rest her hand on a purple row house.
So this is 515 H Street, which was where my Irish ancestors came, and my great-grandfather was born in this house in 1871. It looks very much the same as it would have looked in my great-grandfather's time.
The Lane family lived at 515 H Street for more than 100 years. They sold the house in the 1950s, and until recently, never came back down to the neighborhood.
There was so much crime here. It's great to be able to come back down to H Street now, to go to Bikram yoga class across the street from my great-grandfather's house.
While it's unlikely Kathleen's great-grandfather did Bikram yoga, there was one hobby they did share. They were both local historians.
He really kept a very detailed account, in perfect penmanship, of the everyday life of the community.
Lane says the ongoing revitalization of the H Street corridor is piquing curiosity about the neighborhood's past.
To remember the layers of history and people and communities that have lived here over time, to keep that fresh and to keep that part of the meaning and memory of what a community's all about.
Even if that community technically no longer exists. I'm Emily Friedman.
Kathleen Lane will take you on a tour of Swampoodle too. She's leading free tours in the coming weeks, so check out the links on our website to sign up. Just head over to metroconnection.org.
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