With a graduate degree in historic preservation, Williams has an inclination to find the history of a property. As blogger for WashingtonHistory.com and author of several books on local history from Arcadia Publishing, including Greater U Street, Cleveland Park, Capitol Hill and Woodley Park, he wanted a home with an eclectic past. As a result, he ended up looking at homes in Logan Circle region in particular.
It doesn't take a degree from Cornell (though Williams has one) to find out the history of a home. Williams says it's easy if you start with the Washingtoniana Room of the Martin Luther King Library.
The Washingtoniana Room houses residency records from 1822 that include occupation of each homeowner and place of employment; individuals and families associated with a property can also be researched from 1790 in the HeritageQuest database by Census year. The library also files information on permits to build homes and additions from 1877 through 1949 (permits to build after 1949 are at the D.C. Archives). If you're really interested in going as far back as before the home was built, there's information associated with the city block and parcel of land that can be found in the Assessment Directory kept at the reference desk.
Speaking on his own neighborhood, Williams noted the treasures of the past he has discovered. "What I think is fascinating is the transition of Logan Circle and U Street from white to black-owned." Williams searched census records to discover the transition of home ownership in the neighborhood started in 1900 and continued through the '20's, during which time rowhouses were snapped up by middle class African Americans when whites moved to Dupont Circle and along Massachusetts Avenue where new homes were being built.
"Who was the architect, the original owner, how thick the walls are, the original cost, what the foundation and roof is made of, it's all there," says Williams. "Aside from adding to the story of your home, this information can be valuable if you're considering renovations."
If you're looking for information on an old home on Capitol Hill, Georgetown, Logan or U Street, there's a good chance it was built between the 1870's through the 1890's, during the first wave of building in D.C. An expanding government after the Civil War brought an influx of laborers and and a development boom.
Many homes in the area had been designed by one of three architects: Diller Groff who had built Williams' home, and Thomas Franklin Schneider was also prolific, having designed nearly 2000 buildings in the area between 1880 and 1900, including The Cairo as well as the 1700 block of Q Street, NW. George Cooper is the third most noteworthy architect of the era, having designed the Bond Building at New York Ave. and much of 14th Street, among others.
And as for Georgetown? "The funny thing is, many people think that the houses in Georgetown were among the most coveted," says Williams. "But unless they were the big mansions, they housed the butchers and the bakers in the 1870's and 1880's."
Washington DC real estate news