If traveling towards Silver Spring, Md. from the National Archives via Georgia Avenue, one will inevitably pass through Petworth–D.C.’s northernmost neighborhood nestled right on the border between Maryland and the District of Columbia.
Located in the northwest quadrant of Washington, Petworth has been referred to as “a place of porches” by Washingtonians on account of the layouts of its homes, scenic street side views and cordiality of its residents. Drew Schneider, a Petworthian for more than 10 years and creator of the popular blog “Petworth News” described it as an area that fosters a sense of community.
“[Petworth has] people hanging out, people waving to each other, talking to neighbors,” he said in an interview with the New York Times last year.
A Noble History
Before it was a bustling neighborhood with new restaurants, stores, salons and a growing population, Petworth was a large area of farmland belonging to the wealthy Tayloe family as a post-Civil War acquisition. It was not until the 1808 construction of what is now Georgia Avenue and subsequent sale of more than 130 acres of land to area families in 1887 that the area began to urbanize.
By the early 20th Century the name Petworth was synonymous with streetcars and rapid development. The 1920’s saw an influx of Jewish and white populations to the area–in fact, a number of its iconic brick row houses were built by the famed Jewish philanthropist and builder Morris Cafritz. This owes in large part to the area’s majority residential aspects. It also laid the groundwork for the construction of the community staple, St. Gabriel’s Church and School.
Another notable historic site in Petworth is President Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldier’s Home, located close to Rock Creek Park and constructed in 1842. The Lincoln family used the cottage, located on top of a hill, to escape the sweltering D.C. heat in the summer. It is believed that Lincoln drafted late versions of the Emancipation Proclamation there.
In 1992, the Washington Metro Transit Authority instituted the Georgia Avenue/Petworth Station, which resulted in an increase of traffic in the area and, perhaps most notably, ushered in a wave of gentrification to the area.
Like most D.C. neighborhoods, Petworth is rapidly changing. This comes as a result of the combination of national trends and local politics. A major sign of these changes comes in the form of two new middle schools that are slated to be built and opened in the area by the year 2019. However, as the neighborhood continues to change along racial and socio-economic lines, a number of residents fear their school-aged children still may not have access to the resources they need.
“We’re not asking for yoga classes; we’re not asking for sushi; we’re just asking for a safe environment for our children,” said Jasmine Riley, co-president of the Parent Teacher Association for Shepherd Elementary, a Petworth school.
Another point of contention among residents has to do with the Metro’s newest trains that have seemed to cause a lot of disruption.
“I can sit at the kitchen table and feel every time a train goes through,” said Petworth resident David Somini in an interview with the Washington Post. “It’s obvious. It’s pronounced.”
Most recently, Petworth residents have organized for changes in the area’s humane practices after the story of Momma, a bulldog left outside in freezing temperatures, gained international attention.
Demographics – Logistics
Recent demographic reports from the ANC classify Petworth as a largely blue and white collar area, compromised mostly of black and Latino residents (however, in recent years racial demographics have changed). According to D.C.’s planning website, a majority of the households in the neighborhood are occupied by single families.
The Petworth neighborhood has a population of about 60,000 people. Average household incomes range from $60,000-$70,000 per year.
Petworth is not serviced by a single police department. Residents have access to the Metropolitan Police Department on Park Road. [phone: (202) 576-8222]
- Roosevelt High School
Theodore Roosevelt Senior High School enrolls students in 9th through 12th grade. The school offers its students two options upon graduation season: they may receive their high school diploma or a vocational school certificate through its S.T.A.Y. program, which provides students the opportunity to receive technical training while in high school. It is currently undergoing renovative reconstruction.
- Truesdell Education Campus
Truesdell enrolls students in sixth through eighth grade. It aims for mastery of ALL subjects with its students and celebrates its diverse school population comprised of black, white, Latino, Asian and multiracial students.
- Powell Elementary School
Powell Elementary School is a bilingual school that enrolls students in Pre-K through fifth grade. It gained a fair amount of fame in 2014 when President Obama paid it a visit. Since 2016, the school has been slated to receive a full $42 million renovation.
Petworth is also home to five different charter schools: Breakthrough Montessori Public Charter School, Bridges Public Charter School, Center City Public Charter School, E.L. Haynes Public Charter School and Washington Latin Public Charter School.
The rapid and diverse changes in Petworth are perhaps most evidenced by its businesses–hangout spots like the Scandinavian Domku Bar & Cafe, French Chez Billy and Qualia coffee are popular examples of this. However, it is probably more common to see a usual array of Ethiopian and Salvadorian and Caribbean restaurants in the array, especially along Georgia Avenue.
Petworth’s culture fosters a number of local, grassroots activities. Arts & Crafts fairs and small music festivals are the norm throughout the year in this neighborhood. Activities like the Petworth community market allows residents to buy and sell produce from one another on weekends. Additionally, the Petworth Jazz Project offers a series of concerts each Spring that are free to the public.
Other popular aspects of the neighborhood include the newly-renovated Petworth Library on Upshur Street, which attracts a large number of residents, namely children.
From 1993 to 2011 the D.C. Caribbean Festival was held in Petworth, along Georgia Avenue en route to Howard University.
Key People & Places
Petworth is currently represented by Ward 4 commissioner Brandon Todd on the Council of the District of Columbia. Muriel Bowser once held this position before becoming mayor of D.C. in 2015. The Council of the District of Columbia meets every last Tuesday of each month. They are open to the public.
Petworth is also a member of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission, with representation from ten area residents. They host public meetings every second Wednesday of each month.
Like its D.C. counterparts, Petworth is slated to continue to change. In the coming years residents can expect the neighborhood to continue to grow as more families move in to take advantage of the area’s proximity to downtown and relatively low housing prices.
Upon considering its history, challenges and culture of adaptation one may infer that the future of Petworth is bright. The influx of people and families to the area has earned it a top real estate rating and even higher praise from actual residents.
“I’m of the mindset we’re on the right trajectory,” said a Mr. Mandle, a founding member of the Petworth Farmer’s Market in an interview with the New York Times. Paul Ruppert, a Petworth business owner, echoed his sentiments.
“Growth has come to Petworth,” he said.