HUGHES MEWS (COURT) OVERVIEW
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. The alley currently features a large mural hand-painted by artist Elizabeth Graeber, "Garden," featured in the 2014 Arts in Foggy Bottom bi-annual exhibition.
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."
There is a folktale concerning a notorious resident of Hughes Court named Sam McKeever. He worked as rag merchant by day. But by night, he was a grave robber and body-snatcher, who sold the bodies to medical schools. The story is one night in 1918, he came upon a woman in a park, jumped her from behind, threw a bag over her, knocked her on the head, and sold her to a medical school. When he got home to Hughes Court, his wife was missing and he realized what he had done, but it was too late.
The few remaining Hughes Mews houses were renovated in 1955. In 1968, a resident petitioned to change the name from Hughes Court and the city agreed.
"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, "Hughes Mews - Foggy Bottom's Other Alley." Clio: Your Guide to History. August 25, 2022. Accessed December 15, 2022. https://theclio.com/tour/2098/7
L. Wheeler, "Alley Address Has Touch of Class" (Wash. Post Sept. 11, 1983) [note Hughes Mews section]
The rear facade of the alley house with the "Garden" mural by Elizabeth Graeber painted in 2014. (D. Vogt, Dec. 2022)
A peek inside the color mews rows area. The red brick house (right) features artwork by the owner. (D. Vogt, Dec. 2022)
A view of Queen Annes Lane (entrance on the left) shows a modern side of the Mews. (D. Vogt, Dec. 2022)
The owners of the narrow rowhouses in Hughes Mews invite all to their festive get-togethers. (D. Vogt, Dec. 2022)