921 HUGHES MEWS NW
Click photo below to see full sized image.
D. Vogt, 2022
Hughes Mews - formerly known as Hughes Court - has a small collection of original picturesque alley row houses dating from the late 1800s. At one time this alley held as many people as nearby Snows Court and shared its bad reputation as being overcrowded, unsanitary, and unsafe. As with Snows Court, that reputation ignored the presence of the alley's low-income, but close-knit and vibrant community.
This corner of Hughes Mews is currently a lovely alley space with creative container gardens placed in front of the remaining row houses. In 1892, there were up to 300 people living in Hughes Court. Most of the old row houses were demolished and replaced by large apartment buildings in the mid-late 1950s. Only this group (911-923 Hughes Mews) of row houses remains. Nos. 911 and 913 were built in 1887 by Geo. E. Emmons for J.W. Payne. Nos. 915-923 were designed, built and owned by Danenhower & Sons in 1885.
In the early 20th century, Hughes Court shared Snows Court's reputation for overcrowding, disease, and crime. Housing "reformer" Rev. Wilbur V. Mallalieu wrote in 1912 that Snows Court, "a festering sore in the District of Columbia" was "almost immediately connected with Hughes Court, another interior alley. The two form one underworld community." Charles Frederick Weller in "Neglected Neighbors" (1909) (p. 246) included both alleys as part of "a large area of stagnation," noting that "[o]dors from the gas works and influences from large breweries are especially evident here."
These houses generally meet the pattern of the typical Foggy Bottom historic row house: brick, 12-16 feet wide and 26 feet deep, and two or three stories high. Most of the houses have fenced in gardens or patios in the back. From an architectural perspective, the “late Victorian” row houses generally have flat-fronts and simple ornamentation. Builders used pressed and molded brick detailing builders to make even modest houses appear distinctive.
1958 -- Benita Belden and Sara Reese
"When we moved in, all of this was a vacant lot," she said, waving her hand in the direction of several tall apartment buildings that face 25th Street. "And this was all a mud puddle in front of the houses. And over there were all the Negro shacks near 26th Street. I used to shoot craps with the little boys and they would always beat me. We didn't ever lock our doors. We all lived here together and we talked and helped each other out."
Hughes Mews Resident Benita Belden, quoted in L. Wheeler, "Alley Address Has Touch of Class" (Wash. Post Sept. 11, 1983)
FBA History Project, Foggy Bottom Historic District Walking Tour, "Hughes Mews - Foggy Bottom's Other Alley." https://theclio.com/tour/2098/7
Borchert, James, Alley Life in Washington: Family, Community, Religion, and Folklife in the City, 1850-1970, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1982, at 206-208
Williams, Kim, The DC Historic Alley Buildings Survey, 2014
Mallalieu, Wilbur V., "A Washington Alley," The Survey 28 (Oct.19,1912), at 69-71
Weller, Charles F., Neglected Neighbors: Stories of Life in the Alleys, Tenements, and Shanties of the National Capital, Philadelphia: The John C. Winston Co. 1909
Foggy Bottom News, "From the Bottom Up," by Rhea Radin, June 1959 and June 1958
Washington Post, "Alley Address Has Touch of Class", by L. Wheeler, September 11, 1983
This end rowhouse has a flagstone patio area in the front entry. (D. Vogt, Aug. 2022)