Swanson took this picture for DOCUMERICA, a photography program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). From 1972 to 1977, it hired over 100 photographers to “document subjects of environmental concern.” They created an archive of about 80,000 images. In addition to recording damage to the nation’s landscapes, the project captured “the era’s trends, fashions, problems, and achievements,” according to the Archives, which held an exhibit of the photos, “Searching for the Seventies,” in 2013.
These three late Italianate houses with Eastlake-style ornamental woodwork were built between 1885 and 1890 on the former formal garden of the 1832 Addolph Dill house* — a corner of which can just be seen on the left side of the picture.
Clay Street is part of the Jackson Ward Historic District. These houses still stand and still have the same beautiful woodwork. The very little street tree shown above on the right now shades more than all the space shown in the photo.
*Until 2016, it was the Richmond Black History Museum.
“Artist’s uptown residence,” New York City, ca. 1860, via Robert Dennis Collection of Stereoscopic Views, New York Public Library.
Upper Manhattan at this time was rapidly transforming from country to city — as villages and small farms became blocks of middle-class rowhouses. This backyard, with its neat latticed sitting area and then large cabbage garden, seems to encapsulate the change.
Unfortunately, we don’t have the name of the artist or the address. Is he one of the two men in top hats sitting by the door, or was she standing in front of them, balancing a small boy on the fence — or maybe taking the picture?
A repeat porch from September 2013. . .
Seven Washington, D.C., rowhouses, 1939, by David Myers, via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
The name of the neighborhood was not given in the original caption. It was only described as “one of the nicer old sections of the city.” It looks like Capitol Hill to me.
In his book, The American Porch, Michael Dolan attempts to trace the European, African, and Asian origins of our many types of porches. The front stoop — several steps and a small landing — came from the Dutch.
Down the coast [from New England], in Nieuw Amsterdam, a different entry was proliferating. Made of stone or brick, the stoep — Dutch for “step” — was a roofless link between doorway and street. Though municipal tradition required a building’s occupants to maintain the stoep, the Dutch deemed it public territory. However, in Nieuw Amsterdam, the stoop acquired a private connotation: “. . . before each door there was an elevation, to which you could ascend by some steps from the street,” an observer wrote. “It resembled a small balcony, and had some benches on both sides on which the people sat in the evening, in order to enjoy the fresh air, and have the pleasure of viewing those who passed it.”
The stoops above lack benches, but the owner of the first one has brought down a chair, and two doors down there is a park bench in the tiny garden. You can see a similar arrangement here.
The photos show cast iron stoops and steps, which were typical in many D.C. neighborhoods after the city’s building boom of the 1870s.
“Iron was strong, inexpensive to produce, manufactured quickly, and easily assembled with little on-site labor,” according to an interesting pamphlet by the Capitol Hill Restoration Society on the history and care of old cast iron and wrought iron.
“Washington had five foundries in 1870 and fifteen most years from 1895 to 1905,” according to the pamphlet. Because of the industry’s dependence on water (or rail) connections to obtain raw materials, they “were usually in Georgetown, near the canal terminus, or along Maine Avenue on the Potomac River Waterfront.”
At first, I thought that both of the photographs above were of the same two houses. Then I realized that the screen doors are different and that the brickwork over the windows is painted white in only one of the pictures.
The narrow open passageway between both sets of houses is interesting.
You can see what the corner of N and Union (now 6th) Streets, S.W., looks like today here.
In the windows of the houses with the children on the steps, you can just see the families’ Blue Star service flags (put your cursor on the slideshow to pause it). They reveal that the family on the left had one son in the war and the family on the right had two. (A gold star on a window flag would indicate that a son had been killed.)