Washington DC History Resources

Matthew B. Gilmore

“Here to feast on historic places” — First Stirrings of Historic Preservation in Washington

For full article click: http://intowner.com/2016/12/25/here-to-feast-on-historic-places-first-stirrings-of-historic-preservation-in-washington/

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By Matthew B. Gilmore*

On May 18, 1932, “appropriate exercises” accompanied the placing of a bronze tablet on the original (1856) Government Printing Office building at North Capitol and H Streets. Not surprisingly, several hundred people attended, given that the GPO had been a major employer in the city for many years. The event was organized by the Permanent Committee on Marking Points of Historic Interest, made up of eminent Washingtonians.


John Clagett Proctor addressed the assembled crowd on the historical importance of the location. Writer of the history feature column for the Evening Star, Proctor was well-known in Washington, DC social circles and its local history community. His stem-winders often had a convincing true-to-life vividness.

An example was his description of President Jefferson crossing the flooded Tiber Creek on his horse to get to the Capitol in 1803 — the horse was almost swept away by the volume of the stream — which  had an eye-witness quality that caused other old-timers to ask, “Were you there, John?” [1]

Proctor had worked for the Government Printing Office for 50 years; it was a family affair —  his mother, brother, sister, and two uncles had also been employed there. Proctor took the opportunity to wax nostalgic in his address and rambled back to his childhood days, concluding with the following:

“But, Mr. Chairman, I am not unmindful that I am down on the program to present this tablet to the Honorable the Public Printer, which I take pleasure in doing at this time, on behalf of the Commissioners of the District of Columbia and its Committee on Marking Historic Sites. And in hoping it may endure forever, may I but add, Mr. Carter, that though fully realizing that you have had a number of worthy predecessors, yet I do believe that in days to come, when your term of office is written up by the future conservative historian, that it will fill only pages of meritorious acts and results equal to, if not exceeding, those of any of the distinguished men who have preceded you.” [2]

This occasion would be one of the last of the committee’s three decades’ effort to mark historic sites in Washington. The GPO building itself was demolished and replaced only a few years later (1938-1940). The bronze tablet had already disappeared.

Washington lacks an official historic marker program such as London’s blue plaques. This year celebrating its program’s 150-year anniversary, London’s markers were instituted in 1866 to identify buildings where the famous had lived. There are well over 900 markers (a not surprising number considering the size and history of London).  The New York Times recently featured the history of the blue plaques which also included a map.

Continues here:  http://intowner.com/2016/12/25/here-to-feast-on-historic-places-first-stirrings-of-historic-preservation-in-washington/

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