The community of Deanwood, arguably, has one of the most colorful histories in the Ward 7 community. The neighborhood lies just east of Capitol Hill and has a rich past that might amaze its own residents.
Some of the highlights include a park named after a DC legendary R&B artist, former site of DC’s only amusement park and a major street named after a women activist.
An official site of the Cultural Tourism of DC, the Deanwood community received its name from descendents of the Sheriff family, a major street respectively named in the area. Deanwood was once farmland that belonged to slave holding families. In 1833 slaveholder Levi Sheriff bought 330 acres of land from the nephew of another slaveholding family, the Benning family. Today Benning Road is a major street surrounding the Deanwood community. The acres were along the Watts Branch and Sheriff began to raise livestock and tobacco with the labor of some 19 enslaved people. He also raised three daughters on the land, Mary Cornelia Dean, Emmeline Sheriff and Margret Sheriff Lowrie, who went on to inherit the land in 1853.
In 1871 the Southern Maryland Railroad built a station near the old Bladensburg-Piscataway Road, now Minnesota Avenue near the Sheriff farm. The sisters had a plan to get rich and decided to transform their land into three subdivisions: Lincoln Heights, Burrville and Whittingham. Sales were low and eventually skilled laborers and craftsmen built houses in these subdivisions and nearly two years later Levi Sheriff’s grandson Julian Dean, also built homes in the subdivisions. Thus the name Deanwood arose and has remained since then.
The community saw a boost in 1890 with the Benning Racetrack opening just west of the railroad station and by 1895 the community was majority African-American. During this time banks were reluctant to offer lending to African-American’s and thus many of Deanwood’s residents built their own houses with minimal designs and bartered labor.
By the early 1900s Deanwood began to really transform its community. Between 1901 and 1902 the First Baptist Church of Deanwood was formed by a small group of believers and in 1908 the church was erected on Whittingham Place, now 45th street. The church became a staple in the community, hosting community events, concerts, field days and sporting events. Other historic churches of the community include Antioch Baptist, Beulah Baptist, Zion Baptist, Tabernacle Baptist and Mount Olive Baptist to name a few.
Around the same time of the church development, the educational foundation of the community was being laid. Deanwood Elementary opened in 1907 on 45th Street and Francis L. Cardozo, Jr. served as principal. The school was built to serve the areas African-American population with students attending from nearby Maryland suburbs. Later the school was renamed George Washington Carver to honor the black botanist and educator shortly after his death. Today the school is named Ideal Public Charter School after nearly 11 years of closure. While Deanwood Elementary laid a solid foundation for education in the community another school would prove to provide the same foundation through a woman activist, Nannie Helen Burroughs.
Today a street is named in her honor in the Deanwood community, but her humble beginning and dedication to this community serve as a key tenet in its history. An advocate of women’s rights, civil rights and religious activism, Burroughs founded the National Training School for Women and Girls in 1909. Her goal was to train her students to be independent women where she stressed her motto of the three B’s- Bible, Bath and Broom. Her lessons focused on godliness, physical cleanliness and housekeeping among other disciplines like entrepreneurship, printing and dressmaking. As the years passed the school grew and developed to train thousands from the U.S., Africa and the Caribbean.
By the 1950s the community saw its commercial corridor develop with Sheriff Road becoming a staple for the Black community to shop for everything from groceries, pharmacy to clothing and salon services. Today the community is even more developed than its humble beginnings. A neighborhood park at the corner of Minnesota and Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenues has been redeveloped and named after legendary D.C. R&B artist Marvin Gaye. The Watts Branch Park has been restored and new basketball courts are at the community center at Watts where summer tournaments can be seen on any given day.