Monday, September 22, 2008

Alley Archeology in DC Behind the Times

"Alley housing in Washington is not very well documented. For example, because no city building permits were required before 1877, there is little documentary information on the buildings themselves. Census and city directories did not record alleys until 1858, when the City Directly listed 49 alleys with 348 heads of household. Earlier alleys and those too small to be recorded in directories as well as the conditions of alley life, require archaeological documentation." (page 58)

"A grant from the Department of the Interior funded a survey for potential nomination of the Blagden Alley Neighborhood as an historic district. This survey included researching the historic and archaeological resources within the project area. The historic resources survey involved the investigation of the architectural, social and cultural history of the area encompassing Blagden and Naylor Alleys. Archival research included reviewing tax books, primary and secondary sources, city directories, newspaper accounts, biographical sources, historic photographs and oral histories.

Squares 367 and 368 in which Blagden and Naylor Alleys are located retain a mixture of residential and commercial buildings that illustrate the historic evolution of land use in the City of Washington, particularly the independent development of property facing the public streets versus property facing the alleys."

"Only since the early 1980’s has there been any systematic archaeological work on the development of the city. …. As should be evident, archaeology of alley life in the city has barely begun, but it should have a powerful future. We are particularly hopeful that archaeology be done in the Blagden Alley and Naylor Court neighborhood with the interest and participation of the local community. As Theresa Singleton writes, “African-American archaeology should be seen primarily as a way of framing questions pertinent fo the African experience in the Americas. It is not necessary to restrict such questions to sites with an identifiable or discrete black provenience, but to any site that can illuminate aspects of African-American history and culture.” We believe that historical archaeology can help us uncover the silences of both documents and artifacts and offer a vehicle in which to examine our history and preconceptions of that history. (page 65)"

"In 1880, only 8 percent of the adult males in Borchert’s sample of alley dwellers were skilled. Most of these men were carpenters, barbers, shoemakers, blacksmiths, plasterers or brick masons. Fewer than 7 percent were white collar, proprietors or professional and of these 17 percent were “rag picker”, “rag gatherer”, “rag dealer”, “junk dealer” and 33 percent were “peddler”, jobber”, huckster and horse trader” (page 62)

"Blagden alley was one of the earliest alleys to be developed and was occupied until the 1940’s."


(Opportunities to explore DC Alley history and preserve 1860's buildings are being bulldozed by developers - e.g. 1316 rear 9th Street where two historic buildings have been razed this summer- ed)

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