A black United Methodist Church is restoring an old two-room cottage in the heart of Georgetown that it says is the last black community house in the area not renovated into the high-cost housing of urban renewal.
"We could have sold it for a lot of money to a developer," Carter Bowman, trustee of the Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in Georgetown, said of the 1 1/2-story cottage. "But we decided to turn it into a museum and meeting house to show that blacks were this community and are still a part of this community.
"I can remember old dance halls and meeting places in Georgetown," he said. "They all have been turned into houses now. This is the only one left."
Since it was bought by the church in 1920, the two-room cottage, at 2906 O St. NW, has been used as a community center. It housed the first black library in the District during the 1920s and 30s, Bowman said. During later years it was used as a classroom and a Boy Scout troop's headquarters, and for the last 20 years it has been abandoned and in disrepair, he said.
The English-style brick cottage is being restored with the aid of private donations, grants from the United Methodist Church and a $75,000 historic preservation matching grant from the District. The money also will be used to renovate part of the Mt. Zion Church, which is around the corner from the cottage at 1334 29th St. NW.
Renovation work on the church, a 100-year-old building on the National Register of Historic Places, will include a new choir loft and roof repairs. The church also will be made accessible to the handicapped.
The cottage was built in 1811 as a one-room house and probably was originally used as slave quarters, said Janet L. Capasso, construction supervisor for Georgetown Building Co., the general contractor that is renovating the building.
The house has only 450 square feet of space and a small attic, where a heater will be installed, Capasso said. It is built of brick on a dirt foundation.
She said the contractors first removed a stucco facade from the building and then began rebuilding the walls brick by brick because the original mortar had disintegrated and the exposed walls threatened to cave in. "Still, for an old house it was built to last," she said.
Renovation of the house is scheduled to be completed by the end of September. The renovation work on the church will be finished in three years. When completed, the cottage will house manuscripts from the church and old photographs and artifacts from Georgetown when it was a black community, Bowman said. It will be open to the public -- one of the conditions of the grants received for the project.
"It will be one last little bit of black history," said Bowman, noting that most families belonging to the church commute from homes they moved to when Georgetown underwent urban renewal. "It will be from a time when the blacks lived right next door."