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Riverdale: 1923

Washington, D.C., circa 1923. "View of Naval Observatory and Washington from Massachusetts Avenue hill." Harris & Ewing glass negative. View full size.

Washington, D.C., circa 1923. "View of Naval Observatory and Washington from Massachusetts Avenue hill." Harris & Ewing glass negative. View full size.


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Staying Power

It looks like several of these structures are still around in 2018.

In 1913, the building at 3600 Calvert Street NW was 11 years old and served as the schoolhouse for an orphanage and reformatory called the Industrial Home School. In the 1950s, the residents of the school were moved to Laurel, Maryland. The main building was torn down. The schoolhouse became the Guy Mason Recreation Center.

Capital Traction

If you look down toward Georgetown, you can make out the twin stacks of the Capital Traction power plant (built 1910-11). The incinerator that sat across the street and had a tall stack had not yet been constructed when this photo was taken, as it went up around 1932. The other stacks are, I believe, industries located along the C&O Canal, one of which, a shop that ran along Grace Street, is still extant -- even the smokestack!

Confused by Virginia

The Virginia side is pretty hilly around the cemetery, and rises over towards Crystal City. Everything on the Virginia side looks flat. Does anyone see Arlington House?

[The hilly parts along the river are north of Rosslyn, out of frame to the right. Where today's Memorial Bridge crosses into Arlington, it's flat. Below, a Google Earth screen grab. Arlington House is the red dot. - Dave]

Confusing Perspective

This is a really confusing perspective. It would appear that these are the Wisconsin Avenue streetcar tracks and that the shot was taken from somewhere near the intersection of Wisconsin and Massachusetts Avenues. You can see the Lincoln Memorial in this picture, which was completed in 1922, but not the Memorial Bridge, which didn't begin construction until 1926. What I'm having a hard time understanding is where is Arlington National Cemetery in this picture?

[The Potomac as seen in this view is C-shaped and loops from top right to the left, then back to middle right. Virginia is on the right, between the arms of the C. Click the handy locator map below. - Dave]

Amazing Photo

Shows just how small Washington was back then. And why Cleveland Heights was considered a good place to go to escape the "City." Love to see a photo from the same spot today. I'd guess the Alban Towers wasn't even a dream yet.


I think it must be the juxtaposition of familiar still extant landmarks with bits of forest and anytown USA houses that makes this look like the best Model Train layout ever to me. My reaction is completely different than it has been to many other circa 1923 pictures on Shorpy!

This is, for me, a view of my childhood somehow perfectly blended with the world of my grandparents, rather than a straight picture of the distant past.


Dave, I didn't remember the Naval Observatory, but something that high wouldn't have been near the railroad. The Naval Obs. is southwest of Riverdale, on the opposite side of center city. It's just a bit north of Georgetown; that's not considered Riverdale, is it? Harris & Ewing certainly should have known where they were. This view is looking towards Arlington/Rosslyn, Va. across the river.

What I said about Riverdale is quite true. As for the Georgetown neighborhood, I've run a few trains down there as well, on the long-gone Georgetown-Silver Spring branch.

["Riverdale" is a pop-culture reference. - Dave]

Been there

I've driven through the outskirts a few times; I've pulled a LOT of freight trains through there; I've even piloted a few MARC commuter jobs through Riverdale, but I never saw it look as appealing as it does in this old photo. (That heavy humidity looking like smoke, is still there in season.)

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