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Swampoodle, D.C.'s hidden neighborhood

Once filled with Irish laborers, now instead car commuters

Photo of First Street NE taken August 22, 1904
Photo of First Street NE taken August 22, 1904
Photo via Wikimedia Commons/Washington Times

North of Union Station and south of NoMa, there lies a hidden neighborhood with a name most residents and tourists alike won’t recognize: Swampoodle.

In the 1800s, Swampoodle was a neighborhood filled mostly by the working-class Irish, who began immigrating to Washington, D.C. since the colonial days. After the Potato Famine, D.C. experienced its main wave of Irish immigration. The area housed some of the poorest laborers of the city as well as street gangs.

At the time, Swampoodle was still a marshy area of Capitol Hill as well as a bit of a shanty town. Due to the neighborhood being constructed atop the Tiber River, it also often had puddles, which led to the area being named Swampoodle. According to the Historic DC blog, the name was supposedly coined by a reporter covering the construction of St. Aloysius Catholic Church in 1857.

For the boundaries of the neighborhood, see below.

In the 1870s, the creeks were covered, resulting in improved conditions. The working-class neighborhood was largely filtered out by the construction of Union Station. Once Union Station opened in 1907, the railway cut the neighborhood in half, destroying many of the area's modest homes.

Two historic Irish sites that still stand today in the neighborhood are the St. Aloysius Gonzaga Church and Gonzaga College High School. In 2012, the church closed due to a shrinking Jesuit population and merged with the Holy Redeemer Parish. The school continues to be the oldest educational institution in the old Federal City of Washington.

Today, the neighborhood is host to a myriad of architectural styles, from elaborate Victorian townhomes to small Craftsman properties to modest flat front residences. Each range from the late 1800s to the early 1900s.

According to The Washington Post, the area is also dense with city and federal government buildings, car commuters, and landmarks like the National Guard Memorial Museum and Library and National Postal Museum.


, Washington, D.C.