River East -- those areas of Washington DC that are located East of the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers -- are seldom visited by tourists. Many people who are unfamiliar with the city's geography consider the entire area east of the rivers, Anacostia, but there are actually about 30 neighborhoods here, with the largest being Anacostia, Capitol Heights, Benning, and Deanwood. This area, like other parts of DC, also includes numerous parks including Kenilworth Gardens, Fort Dupont Park, Fort Stanton Park, and Anacostia Park. The area also has several major city and federal offices such as Bolling Air Force Base, Anacostia Naval Station, the Naval Research Labs, the city sewage treatment plant, and St. Elizabeth's Hospital.
The Anacostia neighborhood of DC has a terrible reputation as the city's most crime-ridden area, but it does have a historic district, as well as several historic sites and parks. This neighborhood was established in the 1850s as an inexpensive working-class residential area. Until the 1950s its inhabitants were mostly white, but since then the balance has shifted making this area predominantly black. Since the 1980s Anacostia helped make DC the "Murder Capital of the World" as this neighborhood accounted for about half of the city's murders. Anacostia is home to Frederick Douglass's former home, which is a National Historic Park.
On the plus sides, the River East neighborhoods are getting wealthier. A report in 2007 showed the three River East zip codes all had 20 to 30 percent increases in the average value of homes sold compared to the previous year while the rest of the city was mostly static in home values.
Forgive me for doing a "drive by" of a national monument with my camera. I will be back when I'm with a few others to actually explore the place, but by yourself in Anacostia is not where you want to be unless you want to see a real drive by.
The historic site was the home Frederick Douglass, purchased in 1877, and named Cedar Hill. Frederick Douglass was a great American, an escaped slave, an abolitionist and proponent for emancipation and later civil rights, and even a Vice Presidential Candidate.
As you could expect by the grandeur of the mansion, Douglass lived at this house later in his life after he had become famous. During his time at Cedar Hill, Douglass was appointed a United States Marshal in 1877, he became Recorder of Deeds for the District of Columbia in 1881, and his wife, Anna Murray Douglas, died in 1882. Later he married a white woman named Helen Pitts then in the 1888 Republican National Convention Douglass received the first delegate vote for president ever given to a black man.
Douglass died in Washington, DC in 1895 at the age of 77.
Anacostia Park, operated by the National Park System, stretches five miles along the eastern bank of the Anacostia River and contains 1,200 acres. Among this huge park, one of DC's largest, you will find Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens, Kenilworth Marsh, hundreds of acres of ballfields and playgrounds, a huge skating pavilion, three marinas, four boat clubs, and a public boat ramp.
This park was one a flood-prone part of the city, but today is a natural barrier to the flood waters as well as a haven for wildlife, including the once-endangered bald eagle.
This park is also home to the National Park Police's helicopter unit and the National Capital Parks - East police headquarters, so crime might be less of a problem here than in the neighboring urban areas.
For tourists? Not really; Anacostia Park is a little rough around the edges for the average DC tourist. It really is more of a playground for the locals of Anacostia.
The major routes through River East include I-295, the Anacostia Freeway, and Suitland Parkway. This area is also served by the Metro's Green, Blue and Orange Lines.
Interstate 295 - I-295 runs just 8 miles from the Beltway at the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, along the east bank of the Potomac, then into downtown Washington DC (where it is called the Southeast Freeway, or even Interstate 695 for 1.5 miles) before it merges with I-395. If you continue north on I-295 rather then heading into downtown DC, this route becomes Anacostia Freeway / Kenilworth Ave then the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.
Anacostia Freeway / Kenilworth Ave / Baltimore-Washington Parkway (DC & MD 295) - The non-interstate portion of I-295. It runs from I-295's end point all the way to Baltimore (via MD 295), mostly along the east side of the Anacostia River.
The Metro's Green, Blue and Orange Lines all cross the Anacostia. On the Green line, Anacostia Station and Congress Heights Station are in this part of town, on the Blue line you will find Benning Road Station and Capitol Heights Station, and the the Orange Line is accessible from Minnesota Avenue Station and Deanwood Station.