Unarguably, Georgetown is one of the most recognized places on the planet. It’s the section of the city that draws Washingtonians who dine at Georgetown’s fine establishments, to students who kick back at M Street bars, from foreign tourists with guidebooks in hand, to Hollywood film crews with sound booms and rolling cameras. All experience and soak up the area’s charm. Most are surprised to discover that Georgetown was not officially part of Washington, D.C. until July 1, 1871, nearly three-quarters of a century after the founding of the City of Washington. It was this date that Congress revoked Georgetown’s charter and transferred power of governance to the District of Columbia. Prior to that, while Georgetown fell into the perimeters of the District, it functioned as its own independent city and boasted an address of “Georgetown, D.C.” This city-within-a-city has a past that is both rich and long.
Grand houses started lining the streets and more residents moved into the area. Mansions of wealthy shipowners, merchants and land speculators were built on Prospect and N streets. Hotels, taverns and commercial buildings occupied the area of M Street to the waterfront. Georgetown, which had been actively developing for several decades, lay in sharp contrast to the new capital city. At the turn of the 19th century, the District had yet barely anything to offer and Georgetown became the center of business, culture and society. It hasn’t stopped since and has retained its traditional flavor.
The buildings are not the only non-mutable element of Georgetown. Its energy and character also remain the same. The neighborhood is still one of the most dynamic, popular and successful neighborhoods of Washington, D.C. All one has to do is walk down a quiet neighborhood street to find its appeal, or conversely, window-shop on Wisconsin to feel the frenetic energy of the area.
Location in Georgetown is largely defined by whether you live east of Wisconsin Avenue in the so-called East Village, or west of Wisconsin Avenue in the West Village. The cobblestone and streetcar rail-lined streets of the West Village are sometimes the deciding factor when a buyer can’t decide between the two sections of the neighborhood. Both areas are primarily dominated by Federal row houses, and narrow ones at that. Many of these homes are more than 200 years old and have been well maintained or restored. They vary in size and style ranging from turreted Victorians to low, boxy Colonials. There are a few condo developments scattered around the neighborhood. Near the Potomac River is 3303 Water Street, a modern building that was developed in 2004, and Wormley Row, a converted schoolhouse on Prospect Street, will soon start the townhouse phase of its project that will be complete next summer.
Top-notch restaurants are far too many in number to count as are the vast amount of shops and boutiques that envelope the area. Nearly everything can be found in Georgetown. Home furnishing, clothing, shoes, stationery, antique, bath and body products stores (both national and local) line the streets in a parade of commercial delights. Drugstores, markets, cafes, shoe repair shops, optometrists, hair salons and doctor’s offices crowd the sidewalk spaces. Restaurants, bars, pubs and fast-food outlets swell with their numerous patrons. Georgetown is one of Washington’s favorite neighborhoods and this fact is visibly noticed every day of the week by the sheer number who gather here.
Pleasant walks along the C&O as a crisp autumn breeze rustles the gold, orange and red leaves bring about autumn delights. M Street and Wisconsin Avenue shops decorated for the holiday season is a Winter treat. Spring flowers that pop up in flowerboxes release a fresh awakening. And, relaxing on the harbor, watching the boats slowly glide by on the Potomac is a perennial Summer favorite. Georgetown, the former city-within-a-city is always adored.
Georgetown is bounded by the Potomac River, Rock Creek Parkway, the northern edges of Montrose and Dunbarton Oaks parks, 35th Street, Reservoir Road, and the western border of Georgetown University.