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Funkstown No 2. Why Funkstown? The German Days of Foggy Bottom

Updated: Mar 26, 2023



Prior to the Civil War, Foggy Bottom, like much of what is now Washington DC, was sparsely occupied. The area was originally peopled by Native Americans perhaps more than 3,000 years ago, as demonstrated by excavations near the Whitehurst Freeway that uncovered artifacts of early habitation. The area became part of the Colony and then State of Maryland and was occupied by a few plantations. To the west, Georgetown was founded in 1751 and became a prosperous port town.


In 1763 (or 1765), Jacob Funk (or Funck), who lived near Frederick, Maryland, purchased 130 acres ranging from the Potomac north to present day G or H street, and from 19th to 24th Street. He subdivided the land into about 250 building lots, and included places for wharves along the River, a market square, a church, and residences. He called his incorporated town Hamburgh (or Hamburg), but it was more commonly referred to as Funkstown. Funk was born in Lancaster, Pa., to parents of German-Swiss ancestry.


Funk built a house for himself, which included brick imported from Holland. The house was located between 22nd and 23rd Streets, around D Street, although he may never have actually lived there. Funk sold some of the lots to speculators, but a few owners actually settled in Hamburgh. In 1791, Hamburgh and nearby plantations, Robert Peter’s “Mexico” and James Lingan’s “Widow’s Mite,” were incorporated into the new federal City of Washington. In that year Funk assigned his holdings in Hamburgh to others and those lots were generally sold to speculators. At one point Thomas Jefferson wanted to locate the Capitol building in Funkstown, but it was placed on Jenkin's Hill instead.


And so Hamburg disappeared, but the German presence in the Foggy Bottom remained. In the 1850s, German workers came to work at the glass, brewery, and other manufacturing facilities that developed along the Potomac. In 1895, D.C.’s greatest brewer Christian Heurich built a new large brewery in Foggy Bottom, where it operated until 1956. Before the brewery was demolished, it was home to The Arena Stage’s “Old Vat” theatre. In 1961 demolition made room for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The land Funk originally intended for a church saw construction of the Concordia German Evangelical Church at 20th and G streets in 1834. The second church, built in 1891, incorporating Concordia and now known as The United Church still stands on the site today. It continues to offer services in German.


Sources include: Sherwood, Suzanne Berry, “Foggy Bottom 1800-1975: A Study in the Uses of an Urban Neighborhood,” GW Washington Studies, No. 7, Center for Washington Area Studies, The George Washington University, 1974; The United Church: German Roots In Washington,” https://www.goethe.de/ins/us/en/kul/sup/deu/was/uch.html; Foggy Bottom Historic District Brochure, https://planning.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/op/publication/attachments/Fo ggy_Bottom_Brochure_0.pdf.v

(Updated March 26, 2023)

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