Restoring an 18th Century D.C. Neighborhood

A yoga group practices in front of La Colombe Coffee Roasters

By Rachel Stevens

The Blagden Alley and Naylor Court Historic District is a new hip neighborhood between 9th and 10th Streets and M and O Streets in the city’s northwest quadrant. What makes these two blocks significant are the alleys that remain almost perfectly intact in their original 1865 alignment. New restaurants and coffee shops have been slowly appearing along the historic alleyways, but this neighborhood has not always been a cool hangout spot for young people.

The area illustrates the 19th-century version of the city of Washington. The names Blagden Alley and Naylor Court come from two 19th-century property owners, Thomas Blagden and Dickerson Nailor. Blagden ran a lumberyard in the city. Dickerson Nailor (now spelled Naylor) was a grocer.

After the Civil War, many African Americans came to settle in the area during the alley dwelling craze. Alley dwellings were small houses situated on alleys behind large homes that faced the main streets. The buildings were made of mostly wood and brick. Tenants often shared the alleys with workshops, stables, and other accessory buildings. During the Civil War’s severe housing shortages, alley housing was one of the few options available to poor and working-class residents. There was a lot of overcrowding and sanitation issues. Through the 20th century, Blagden Alley and Naylor Court served as a racially mixed middle-class neighborhood. However, the flight of the middle class to the suburbs combined with the 1968 riots led to a rapid deterioration of the area.

Today, many new businesses and people are interested in restoring the neighborhood. The area also has a community group interested in fighting crime. The main draw towards Blagden Alley and Naylor Court is the beauty of the buildings combined with its close proximity to downtown D.C. The remaining dwellings were refurbished and updated with systems such as plumbing, heat and other essentials as people began to move back into the alley in the early 2000’s. Blagden Alley is now home to several coffee shops, bars, restaurants and businesses, as well as apartments and houses.

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