Horses and carriages outside of Woodward and Lothrop
In the early 1860’s the city blocks in Washington were loosely populated, however this was soon to change with the post civil war population and building boom. Daniel Nairn wrote elegantly about “The Physical Evolution of Blagden Alley-Naylor Court” in Greater Greater Washington. http://greatergreaterwashington.org/tag/Shaw/
The two blocks that Nairn pictured were immediately north of Shepherd Alley and are reflective of the general progression of alleys and blocks in Washington at the time. The original lots had been laid out in the 1790’s and plats of this block still exist from 1797.
It’s easy to see the interplay between commercial, civic and residential buildings in Nairn’s creative 3-D 1888 map of Blagden Alley and Naylor Court.
There are about 170 “named alleys” in Washington D.C. Just like people, some alleys became famous, some became historical footnotes and many simply disappeared from the modern urban landscape - victims of the 1934 Alley Dwelling Elimination Act.
The alleys had provided cheap housing, small stores, large warehouses and stables following the Civil War years during a great migration of diverse people for many reasons into Washington (50,000 between 1860 and 1870). The alleys became alive and vivacious communities providing cheap housing for an impoverished population that could not find housing elsewhere in the city during these boom years. Conditions were atrocious, crime was rampant and disease was everywhere. Life was difficult for those who eked a survival in the alleys. The city planning process essentially ignored alleys and treated them as hellholes, so deterioration was self fulfilling and inevitable. Yet, the alleys managed to develop a sense of personality and community, frequently reflected in their name (e.g. Blood Alley, Pig Alley, Blues Alley, Tin Pan Alley). Some were simply possessively christened after people of historic significance in the community (e.g. Blagden’s, Cady’s, Nailor’s, Shepherd’s).
An afternoon walk through the Cady’s Alley and Blues Alley in Georgetown should reassure even hardened alley abolitionists of the great potential that alleys hold for synergistic development. The responsibility for the intelligent planning and nurturing of alleys should be a high priority in any city’s Office of Planning and Historic Preservation Office. I’m sure that Jane Jacobs would have agreed!