Brookland, a Northeast Washington neighborhood, may be best known for its “Little Rome” moniker, a fitting description, because it houses the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America and runs adjacent to the Catholic University of America campus. But Robert Malesky has traced the roots of the neighborhood much deeper — all the way back to namesake Jehiel Brooks, a U.S. Army colonel and Louisiana “Indian agent” who moved to the District in 1835 to begin developing the approximately 200 acres of farmland his wife owned there.
The story of Brooks — and the neighborhood that bears his name — is told in meticulous detail, complete with photos and source documents, on Bygone Brookland, a visually sumptuous blog run by Malesky, 72, who started it in 2014, a few years after wrapping up a 34-year career at NPR. He was inspired to start digging into local history, he said, while taking long walks around the campus of Catholic University, his alma mater.
“I felt that this part of the District, the Northeast quadrant, was normally ignored,” he said. “I thought there was an interesting history here. … It’s an integrated neighborhood, and the neighbors do care about each other in a way I’ve not seen in other neighborhoods.”
Other labors of love begun by locals include the blog Brookland Bridge, which informs neighbors about community events and local politics, and the two-year blog project Bipeds of Brookland, which includes profiles of residents compiled by real estate agents Jake Abbott and Shemaya Klar.
Sara Lucas was an early star of Bipeds. Lucas, 73, has lived in Brookland for 49 years and has run her locally beloved flower shop, Petals Ribbons & Beyond, on 12th Street NE since 2005.
“It’s sort of like an institution, I’ve been there so long,” she said.
When neighborhood newcomers visit her shop, she said, she often gives them a copy of “Brookland (Images of America),” a tribute to the neighborhood’s rich history written by longtime residents John J. Feeley Jr. and Rosie Dempsey.
Despite the neighborhood’s prime urban location, bordered by the Metro’s Red Line to the west and Rhode Island Avenue to the south, Lucas said she feels as if she’s in a small town inside Brookland’s boundaries. Even as the neighborhood has developed over the years, adding restaurants and some apartment buildings, the feeling persists. Residents greet each other by name, she said, and regulars stop inside the shop to say hello.
“I cannot envision living anywhere else in this city except here,” she said.
Abbott, who’s with the Abbott Klar Real Estate Group, arrived in the neighborhood in 2001 as an AmeriCorps volunteer to work with Mary House, an organization providing resources to immigrants and refugees. He said he likes the neighborhood’s activist bent. Local clergy members demonstrate against war or in favor of immigration, for example, and Brookland-based nonprofit Casey Trees lobbies and educates to protect D.C.’s tree canopy. That passion is built into the neighborhood’s history, too.
“When [Interstate 395] was supposed to come through Brookland [in the late 1960s], the whole community got together and they fought,” Abbott said. “It has a long history of being a tight neighborhood.”
Neighbors praise the Brookland Neighborhood Civic Association, a version of which was founded in 1880, for keeping the community informed and connected. The association organizes a neighborhood-wide yard sale and several community cleanup days each year. Other popular events include a weekly farmers market and an annual “Brookland Day” picnic.
Although Brookland used to have few retail and dining offerings, 12th Street NE now boasts a number of independent eateries, including the locally themed Brookland’s Finest Bar & Kitchen; bistro and wine bar Primrose; and Indian restaurant Masala Story.
Another favorite local institution is the Greater Brookland Garden Club, which organizes a popular annual house and garden tour. Brookland resident Rex Nutting, who has been with the club for most of its 24-year history, said he has found great joy in the hard work and continuous learning that the practice of growing affords.
“It’s been a very nice thing to get involved with, to try to make the community a little bit more beautiful, a little bit more friendly,” said Nutting, 68. “I find that people really like to talk about plants. They like to see what you’re doing, and they love to commiserate about their failures and celebrate successes. You know, we all live in the same environment.”
Living there: The Brookland Neighborhood Civic Association defines the boundaries as Buchanan Street NE, South Dakota Avenue NE and Michigan Avenue NE to the north; 18th Street NE to the east; Rhode Island Avenue NE to the south; and the Metro tracks to the west.
Although home values are climbing in D.C., as they are everywhere, Abbott said homes in Brookland tend to be a little more affordable than in better-known neighborhoods. Common architecture includes bungalows and center-hall Colonials and Victorians, and there are a few farmhouses that recall the neighborhood’s beginnings. He said 134 detached houses and rowhouses sold in the past year, ranging from $483,000 for a three-bedroom fixer-upper to $1.529 million for a 3,000-square-foot, six-bedroom Craftsman-style house. The average home sale price is around $860,000, and 18 single-family houses are on the market.
Schools: Noyes Elementary, Brookland Middle, Dunbar High.
Transit: The Metro’s Red Line runs along the western border of Brookland, stopping at Brookland-CUA, as well as Rhode Island Avenue-Brentwood in the southwestern corner. Multiple Metro buses also serve the neighborhood.
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