A Thriving Commercial District
Eighth Street, SE, also known as Barracks Row, was the first commercial center in Washington, DC. In 1799, the Navy Yard located next to natural harbor in the Anacostia River named St. Thomas Bay. In 1801, Thomas Jefferson selected the site of 8th and I Streets, SE as the first post for the Marine Corps to protect the Navy Yard and U.S. Capitol. The neighborhood flourished for years as Washington developed, a street of successful markets and restaurants, particularly oyster houses.
Twentieth Century Changes
After WWII, jobs were lost in the Navy Yard as ammunition production ceased and suburban flight began to erode many neighborhoods throughout the District of Columbia, including Barracks Row. The construction of the SE Freeway over 8th Street bisected Washington’s oldest commercial corridor in 1962. The riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968 caused damage to several buildings on Barracks Row. Widespread looting caused many shop owners to close, never to return.
Early Revitalization Efforts
While proposals to revitalize Barracks Row had been made for decades, it wasn’t until the early 1990’s that progress was seen on 8th Street, SE. Local merchants founded the Barracks Row Business Alliance to revitalize the area, and some progress was made through the business association. In 1998, the Shakespeare Theater bought the abandoned Oddfellows Building, the tallest structure on Barracks Row, restored the exterior and renovated the interior to establish administrative offices and a classical acting academy.
Founding Barracks Row Main Street
The Barracks Row Business Alliance and community members founded Barracks Row Main Street through the National Main Street Center in 1999. Three years later, DC Main Streets was formed by the District of Columbia’s Office of Economic Development, and BRMS was selected as one of the first five official DC Main Streets programs. Barracks Row Main Street is the oldest of all of the DC Main Street programs, turning 20 years old in 2019.