Sunday, July 20, 2008

How Washington views the history of Blagden Alley and Naylor Court

Blagden Alley is an historic district defined by middle-class residences, churches and small apartment buildings that display a rich variety of Victorian architectural styles dating from the 1860s to the 1890s. In the interior of many blocks are alley dwellings, such as; working class residences, stables, and commercial buildings that are hidden behind the facing the streets. The area illustrates how different classes, races, and services were physically organized in the 19th-century city of Washington.

The names Blagden Alley and Naylor Court were derived from two 19th-century property owners, Thomas Blagden and Dickerson Nailor. Blagden owned property in the area and ran a lumberyard in the city. Dickerson Nailor (now spelled Naylor) also owned property and was a grocer. After the Civil War, Washington's downtown became increasingly commercial and residential development grew north to the Blagden Alley area in the 1870s as well as attracted several prestigious and affluent residents.

The elegant townhouse, the Blanche K. Bruce House (NHL) at 909 M Street, was constructed in 1873. Bruce was the first African American to serve as a senator in Congress (R-Miss, 1875-1881). To the south was a house built by Alexander "Boss" Shepard, the chief of the Board of Public Works during the 1870s. Streetcar lines connected 9th and 7th Streets with downtown in 1873, and these streets served as the main commercial corridors.

After the Civil War, many African Americans migrated to Washington and came to live in the alley dwellings. They were small and poorly constructed buildings, mainly of wood and brick. The living conditions were overcrowded and unsanitary. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, there were concentrated efforts to have the alley dwellings demolished. Blagden Alley and Naylor Court are two of only a handful of alleys that still exist.

The Blagden Alley neighborhood continued to serve as a closely-knit racially mixed middle and working class neighborhood into the 20th century. However, the widening of 9th Street with its subsequent loss of street trees and yards, the flight of the middle class to the suburbs, the increase of absentee landlords, and the 1968 riots led to deterioration of the area.

Today, renovating and restoring homes is widespread and the area has an active community group, the Blagden Alley Neighborhood Association, interested in fighting crime. New residents have been attracted to the area by the charm of the buildings and the proximity to downtown.

Blagden Alley-Naylor Court is bounded by 9th, 10th, M and O Streets, N.W. All of the buildings mentioned are private and not open to the public. Metro stop: Mt. Vernon Sq-UDC.

From: Jack Evans Website -

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