Brookland is a diverse, thriving community in the Northeast quadrant of Washington, DC. It's streets are lined with trees and gorgeous Victorian beauties standing tall with relaxing wrap-around porches. Sounds pretty idylic, huh? Well, in our opinion, it is! For most of it's historical existance, Brookland was farmland owned predominantly by two families, the Queens and the Middletons. In the 1820s Jehiel Brooks (the same Jehiel Brooks from the former, beloved, Colonel Brooks' Tavern) married Ann Queen and built the Brooks Mansion located on Newton Street. (The building is currently being used by the DC government, but go down and take a walk by it sometime, it is a beautiful Greek-revival style building.) In the 1880s, their son sold the family's home and land to developers who subdivided the land and created the Brookland neighborhood. And that, my friends, is the short version of how Brookland got it's name.
Brookland was once part of the defense of Washington, D.C. during the Civil War. After the outbreak of the war in 1861, it was essential for the government to set up protection for Washington, DC, especially because of it's proximity to the Confederacy, which laid just across the river in Virginia and some parts of Maryland and the Confederate capital of Richmond. The Union Army's solution to any potential threat was to construct a ring of forts surrounding the city, covering every possible access point, there was a total of 68 built. One such fort, Fort Slemmer, was established in Brookland, on land where Catholic University now sits. Originally farmland, the government seized the lot because it was the highest hill in the area. Pesky government, always doing whatever it wants... Once they cleared the trees off of it, they had a clear view to the Potomac River. Rather small, as far as forts go, it was still armed with some pretty heavy artillery for the day; a mounted 8-inch cannon and three 32 pound guns. Fort Slemmer, thankfully, never saw any action during the war (other then the drunken escapades of the artillery soldiers who served there). All that remains of the fort today are some traces of earthworks on the Catholic University campus that are virtually undiscernable to random passersby. Check out this picture to see what the fort looked like during the waning days of the war in 1865. (Sorry for the poor quality of the photo, it was not taken on an iPhone.)
One of the most prominent institutions in Brookland is the Catholic University of America. In fact, the area of Brookland in which it stands is sometimes called "Little Rome" because of the influx of Roman Catholic groups nearby. The college orginally opened as a graduate center in 1887 but began to expand into undergraduate studies in 1904 and added a law school in 1954. It is the only university founded by the US Catholic Bishops, making it truly a one-of-a-kind institution, which, by the way, also consistantly ranks among the best colleges in America. In addition to its great academic programs, the university is a beaitful campus, well worth a walk on a sunny day. Even the Pope likes to stop by! Pope John Paul II visited Catholic University in October 1979 and most recently, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI delivered a speech in April of 2008, while he was still the reigning Pope. How many other American neighborhoods can say they've been visited by not one, but two Popes?!
Brookland is also home to the tallest building in Washington, DC. Bet you didn't know that, huh? What about the Washington Monument you say? Well, yes, technically it is larger but the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is the tallest, habitable, building in DC. It's not just in DC where the shrine dwarfs other buildings. It is the largest Catholic church in the whole of the United States and the eighth largest church building of any kind in the WORLD. So yeah, it's pretty big, like it houses 70 chapels, many modern ammenities like a cafeteria, and can seat over 2,000 worshipers. Styled after Byzantine-Romanesque design, construction began in 1920 and has been ongoing, in some form, ever since. It is very difficult to describe, with justice, how beautiful the Basilica is. The architecture, the stained glass, the mosaics, the statues. It is jaw-droppingly, breath-taking-away beautiful. Do yourself a favor, go visit it. Just down the road from the Basilica is another monument to religious life in America, the Franciscan Monastery. Built in 1898, the monastery is also stunningly beautiful. Its gardens are a peaceful oasis in the middle of the city and are open year round, with tours from Spring to Autumn. The monastery is a must-visit spot, not only for religious individuals, but for anyone regardless of creed.
Brookland residents love their neighborhood, and why shouldn't they? There is plenty to love. It's an open, diverse and welcoming community. It is home to restaurants, theaters, local coffee shops (including the just opened Zeke's Coffee small batch roaster), hardware shops, salons, mechanics, boutiques, and many other amazing small businesses. There is an active Civic Association for learning about all things Brookland. A blog, Brookland Avenue, that celebrates the food, arts, history, and culture of Brookland. Another very active Brookland gem is the Greater Brookland Garden Club, which hosts plant sales, an annual house and garden tour, holiday decoration sales, parties and various other community outings. Chocolate City Brewery also calls Brookland home. (For more information on the Chocolate City Brewery, check out our blog on DC breweries here.) So, for a great snapshot of some fo the best Washington, DC has to offer, hop on the Metro and head up to beautiful Brookland. You'll like the way it looks. We guarantee it.