History & Culture

The neighborhood that is now called Capitol Hill, straddles two quadrants of the city, Southeast and Northeast.

To the east of Capital Hill lies the Anacostia River, to the north is the H Street corridor and to the south is the Southeast/Southwest Freeway and the Washington Navy Yard.

In 1790 the Capitol Hill area was called Jenkins Hill or Jenkins Heights. Development began when the government began work at two locations, the U.S. Capitol and the Washington Navy Yard.

When Pierre L'Enfant submitted his design for the Capital City of Washington to George Washington in 1790, he developed grand avenues, public buildings and grounds. Many of the parks, medians, circles, squares and triangles of Capitol Hill Parks evolved from L'Enfant's original plans.

In the early years, few Congressmen wished to establish permanent residence in the city. Instead, most Congressmen preferred to live in boarding houses within walking distance of the Capitol. In recent years, Capitol Hill newspapers suggest as many as a third of all members of Congress lived on Capitol Hill while in Washington.

In 1799 the Washington Navy Yard was established on the banks of the Anacostia River, and provided jobs to craftsman who built and repaired ships. Many of the craftsmen who were employed both at the Navy Yard and in the construction of the Capitol chose to live within walking distance of their jobs to the east of the Capitol and the north of the Navy Yard. These workers became the original residential population of the Capitol Hill.

By 1810, shops, goldsmiths, blacksmiths, and churches were flourishing in the area. The main non-residential corridor of Capitol Hill is Pennsylvania Avenue, a lively commercial street with shops, restaurants and bars. The center median and most of the triangles created at intersections with the square-grid streets, are units of Capitol Hill Parks. Eastern Market, a public market, where venders sell fresh meat and produce in indoor stalls and at outdoor farmer’s stands. An outdoor flea market is held there every weekend. The Capitol Hill market area is one of the city’s oldest commercial corridors, dating to the late 18th century.

In addition to being a prestigious address, Capitol Hill is a diverse community known for its historic African American population. In 1976, the Capitol Hill Historic District was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is one of the larges historic districts in the United States.

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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National Capital Parks-East
1900 Anacostia Drive SE

Washington, DC 20020


(202) 359-1717
The Capitol Hill Parks are a part of the portfolio of parkland and historic sites of National Capital Parks-East.

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