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John William Tuohy lives in Washington DC

Washington DC's Irish Ghetto




Swampoodle (It was actually called swamp-puddle and became swamp-poodle and is now written as a one word) was a small section of the city that was mostly behind the Union Station along the H Street neighborhood in Northeast D.C. and was home, in the 1850s, to mostly famine Irish immigrants fleeing.

The actual borders would have been K Street to the north, G Street to the south, 1st Street NW to the west, and 2nd Street NE to the east. Its center was just east of North Capitol Street, where a large branch of the Tiber Creek ran, creating the low swampy ground from which the area took its name.  The name appeared in print when a reporter covering the dedication of St. Aloysius Church in 159, (Then at North Capitol and I streets) noted that the area around the church was dotted with "swamps and puddles

At the very far end of the neighborhood was Schott’s Alley which was in back of where the new Russell Senate Office Building is today. The alley was home to 220 people, most of them fruit vendors. On the walls of one shack that housed a restaurant, the owner regularly painted his thoughts about current events on the outside walls.

Swampoodle, its main street was a place called Jackson's alley, which was actually a large wide street, was little more than a rough, shanty town that housed the city’s poorest day laborers. Street gangs were a problem, with the Irish gang being led by a fellow named Doggie McGraw.  Most of the homes were dilapidated brick or wood dwellings built in a hurry to house emancipated slaves after the Civil War. Almost all of the houses had dirt floors, no water, heat or lights and sewers didn’t run into that part of the city. Usually two or families shared a house that was no more than four rooms. 

A local doctor who took congressmen on tours of the alleys in effort to clean the area up. Along the way, he flung open an outhouse door and said "Gentlemen, these flies are the same ones that come in your open window and land on your sandwich while you're having lunch on Capitol Hill"

It was said to be a hot-bed of Secessionist sentiment during the civil war and it probably didn’t help that the federal government took their church.

Swampoodle was one of the city’s precincts, the others were The Navy Yard, Capitol Hill, the Northern Liberties and an area called The Islands. Swam poodle’s resident political boss was a man named TC Murray.

On September 9, 1862, three years after St. Aloysius was built on the edge of Swampoodle, the District of Columbia’s military governor made a requisition to use the church as a military hospital. The pastor in charge, a Father Wiget offered to build a hospital on K Street just north of the church. The 250-bed hospital was constructed by parishioners in only eight days.  In appreciation, the hospital was named St. Aloysius to honor the Church.

 Swampoodle was the home of the Swampoodle Grounds, (or Swampoodle park or Capital Park Grounds) home of the Washington Statesmen’s baseball club from 1886 to 1889. (The team folded that year, they finished last place three times in four seasons) The park could hold up to 6,000 spectators and had a tower in the outfield that was about 20 feet high.  The team was part of the National League.  

The right field and the infield are now part of Union Station and the far left field is now under the Main Post Office and Columbus Circle.

When it was built, 1907, Union train station covered more ground than any other building in the United States and was the largest train station in the world. The Union Station proposal was part of a bill to expand the Capitol grounds by purchasing the six blocks between the Capitol and the station. That move more or less ended the live of Swampoodle. Oddly enough the Lincoln Memorial was almost built there before another location was found for it. 

In 1869, Irish immigrant Thomas Allen lived in a wood-frame house at 316 H St. NE, which he built of wood. (Wood-frame structures were banned in 1874 in the District to make way for sturdier, metal frame and brick structures.)  The chairman of the Stanton Park Historical Preservation Society said "Timothy Allen was one of those immigrants, who built his home at 316 H Street, first as a residence and later using the lower level as a grocery store while continuing to live upstairs"

Some of the boys from Swampoodle did well for themselves. There was the writers Bob Considine and Vincent Flathery and Thomas Aquinas Flannery, who served for more than 30 years as a U.S. District Court judge in Washington. He was appointed to the bench in 1971 by President Richard M. Nixon and over saw several major cases. A Gonzaga graduate (He grew up less than a block away from the school) the son of a carpenter graduated in 1940 from Columbus University Law School, now part of Catholic University.

Gonzaga College High School, (The nearby church, St. Aloysius and the school are named for St. Aloysius Gonzaga.) a legacy of the areas Irish settlers It was chartered by Congress in 1858, as a college empowered to confer degrees in the arts and sciences. (Its real name is Gonzaga College, Gonzaga no longer confers degrees, other than honorary doctoral degrees presented to commencement speakers) The school moved into the Swampoodle area, where it stands today, in 1871.  Gonzaga benefited from Irish who lived in the dozens upon dozens of row houses in Swampoodle. Gonzaga is the oldest educational facility in the original federal city of Washington.


For twenty years, the school was led by Father Bernard J. Dooley who helped it rebound after the 1968 riots almost closed the school down.  Dooley, a chain smoking, urbane Jesuit was assigned to the school in 1974, when enrollment had dropped to less than 400 and the school was in danger of closing. Three years later, he had built a gymnasium, the first construction in the neighborhood near Union Station since the 1968 riots. In 1988, he brought Nobel Peace Prize winner Mother Teresa to the school's graduation ceremony, where she gave out the diplomas.

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