1892 snapshot of a vanished Washington

Ever hear of the Washington’s Tenallytown Electric Railroad? How about Fort Kearney, Battery Kingsbury or Battery Meade?

The neighborhoods of Montello, Avalon or Potomac City ring a bell?

These names, perhaps unfamiliar to some, show up on an old Washington map that retired Army Col. Mike Berger of Vienna got out this week after The Post ran a story about a Library of Congress conference on the history of mapping the capital.

Berger, who e-mailed us a copy, says it’s a rare 1892 map done by the D.C. National Guard to show, as the map states, “principal points of interest including the present condition of the defenses of Washington.”

Defenses of Washington?

This was not quite 30 years after the Civil War, when Washington had been one of the most fortified cities in the world, and there still were vestiges of the 161 forts and batteries built to protect the District during the war.

Some survive in name only. Most are long gone. But Berger’s 120-year-old map shows vanished sites such as Fort Kearney, Battery Meade and Battery Kingsbury in Northwest Washington between Connecticut Avenue and what is today Georgia Avenue.

The map also shows the Tenallytown Electric Railroad running from Georgetown through “Cleveland Heights” and “Fairview Heights” to what is today Tenleytown. The route goes along what looks like the future path of Wisconsin Avenue, and part of Metro’s Red Line.

Communities such as Montello and Avalon appear in Northeast Washington along the B&O Railroad, southeast of Brookland.

Potomac City is southwest of Anacostia, north of the Old Cavalry Depot, where the Anacostia River meets the Potomac.

And University Heights is no doubt named for the nearby “Methodist University,” today’s American University.

The map is remarkable in showing the growth of the city, but also the village-like enclaves of Petworth, Wesley Heights and Anacostia, and all the open land in between.

Berger, 73, does not remember where he got the map. But he’s had it for 20 years at least. The map, on extremely thin paper, was folded inside an old guide to Washington he found.

“In 1892 you could still visit some of the fortifications,” Berger said by phone from his home Tuesday. “You could still walk into some of the buildings that were created. ... But remember, they were all temporary. And the ones that exist today exist only by luck.”

The guide itself is fascinating. Berger scanned and e-mailed the pages. They list points of interest along with visiting tips.

Under the heading “The White House,” the entry reads: “Best visited about 1 o’clock, as then the president informally shakes hands with all visitors in the East Room.” The president then was Benjamin Harrison.

Ford’s Theatre, the site of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, was no longer a theater, and had yet to become the historic site it is today. In 1892 it had been turned into offices for the Record and Pension of the War Department. (A year later, the crowded interior would collapse, killing 22 people and injuring 60.)

The “Congressional Library” was just being erected across from the Capitol, the guide said. Today it’s the Library of Congress’s ornate Jefferson Building.

As for the forts, they were well worth a visit.

“People who live in Washington should shape their country rambles and drives to pass near these forts,” the guide advised.

To help, the booklet included rates for taxis — one-horse fare, 25 cents for one passenger for 15 blocks; two-horse fare, 50 cents for one or two passengers, for 15 blocks. “Disputes may be settled at the nearest police station,” it noted.

Mike is a general assignment reporter who also covers Washington institutions and historical topics.
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