Matthew B. Gilmore
By Matthew B. Gilmore*
On February 11, 1895 Congress enacted “An Act changing the name of Georgetown, in the District of Columbia, and for other purposes.” It ordered that Georgetown “shall be known as and shall constitute part of the city of Washington, the Federal Capital”; all Georgetown general laws, ordinances, and regulations were repealed and the streets and squares would be renamed and squares renumbered. Its status as a port of entry remained unchanged.
Since 1894 the legislation had been working its way through Congress in consultation with District government; that which led to this abolition began as far back at 1790.
Georgetown’s independent existence began in 1752, with the founding of the town on lands acquired from George Gordon and George Beall. Controversy dogged Georgetown from the start.
In 1871 the governance of the District of Columbia was revolutionized. Congress abolished all three bodies and created a territorial government for the entire District, with a Presidentially-appointed governor and bicameral legislature.
This was the first move to abolish Georgetown — its city charter was revoked. The District was now divided into 22 election districts, two of them comprising much of Georgetown. But, curiously, the act of Congress of February 21, 1871, which directed “that portion of said District included within the limits of the city of Georgetown shall continue to be known as the city of Georgetown.” The laws and ordinances of each of the respective jurisdictions remained in effect also, leading to confusion and lawsuits in the years to come.
Act to provide a government for the District of Columbia, February 21, 1871.
How About—“West Washington”?
Retaining or changing the name of Georgetown itself provoked discussion and controversy. The Star on August 27, 1873, weighed various issues and concerns regarding the name “Georgetown.” When travelling Georgetowners would often indicate they were from Washington, Georgetown having no special significance abroad. The editorial suggested that the mooted “West Washington” designation might be a fine replacement but public consent was needed. Even though it had no legal existence, “Georgetown” persisted, and persisted to the chagrin of some, it seems. In the Star‘s September 4, 1873 edition “A Georgetown Old Fogy” opined —
“Drop the name, Mr. Editor: As Georgetown has no charter and is to all intents and purposes a part of Washington city, it ought to lose its name entirely…if it is desirable to continue the post office in Georgetown, let it be called West Washington, as others have suggested.”