I joined a 90-minute walk along portions of the Greater Deanwood Heritage Trail, led by Kia Chatmon and organized by Cultural Tourism DC. The Deanwood neighborhood lies in that part of Northeast east of the Anacostia River (and now the expressway and railway lines); purists will insist on the tighter boundaries of Sheriff Road and Nannie Helen Burroughs and Division Avenues. Whatever your limits, the close-knit African-American community carries a strong history of self-reliance. Up through mid-century, residents of this suburb-in-the-city had enough land to grow their own vegetables and keep small livestock.
Irving Parker, second-generation businessman and proprietor of Suburban Market, told our tour group some salty stories of clandestine horse races along Eastern Avenue that he participated in—the streets were not all paved yet, and people still kept horses even though Benning Racetrack had closed in the 1930s. Eugene Brown of the Big Chair Chess Club also spoke to the group about his organization’s emphasis on self-discipline and upholding tradition.
The heritage trail crosses the troubled waters of Watts Branch, culvertized and subject to dumping, but at least it runs clear under Minnesota Avenue. Indeed, once you step away from Minnesota Avenue and its light-industrial flavor, Deanwood still shows its leafy, suburban soul. Robins and a mockingbird made their presence known during the walk. Planetrees planted along Sheriff Road rise to impressive heights.