Longtime Coming: Regional Development in the DC Metro Area

Today’s post is written by M Marie Maxwell, an archives specialist who works at Archives I.  Due to the unique relationship between the Federal government and the District of Columbia the National Archives holds a number of records relating to the development of the city of Washington. This not only useful for local historians but also researchers interested in urban development.

When it comes to the history of the development of the Washington DC Metro area Record Group 328, Records of the National Capital Planning Commission, 1900-2000, is an excellent resource. This record group includes maps, reports, analysis, transcripts and other materials of the 20th century examining issues of transportation and development for the local region covering Northern Virginia, Southern Maryland and the District of Columbia. Development or building projects where the Federal government is an interested party make their appearance in “Development Proposals Project Files, 1970-2000” (ARC 2765725).

Two years ago when I was processing this series a large development proposal caught my eye. It was for project number 0424 Port America (Smoot Bay) then later renamed National Harbor, located in Prince George’s County, Maryland. At the time I was processing this accession in 2009, National Harbor had recently opened. The files for project 0424 begin in 1977. There are well over 20 years of proposals, studies, public commentary and correspondence for this one project alone. Researchers can see how a project can change from its initial vision to one shaped by various factors.

One of the largest projects in the series is project number 2584 Monumental Core, is not so much a project as it is a large scale study. This project group covers areas in and around the Mall and Potomac River area in Washington, DC and Northern Virginia examining tourism, traffic, economics, and development. Found within this project’s files are surveys with feedback from area visitors and residents.

There are also many proposals of things that were developed in a shorter time span. However whether or not a project was successfully completed or met its stated goals isn’t always found in the series itself. It is the researcher who brings that outside knowledge of ‘what happened’ when looking and making assessments about the series.

Unlike some of the older material at the Archives there are restrictions with this series and if a researcher is interested in reviewing the records for him or herself, it would be helpful to contact the Archives before visiting. Some files contain building details and may require screening by Archives staff.  Screening may take several hours or days depending on the volume and nature of the records requested. Also because some proposal material was created by third parties, such as private architectural or design firms, there are copyright restricted materials in the series as well.