What is a Swampoodle? No, it is not a wet dog as the name implies. Rather, it is the location of an Irish community that once resided where Union Station now stands. 

Swampoodle was the name given to an area of several blocks around the intersection of North Capitol and K Street which was settled by Irish immigrants in the early 1800s. Its population swelled during the second half of the 19th century, when Irish immigrants escaping the Great Famine of Ireland moved into the region. The district was known for overcrowding and its frequent outbreaks of malaria, typhoid and dysentery. It didn’t help that Tiber Creek (or Tyber Creek) originally named Goose Creek, and a tributary of the Potomac River, flowed through its center serving mostly as an open-air sewer.

To add to its bad reputation, Swampoodle was a crime ridden neighborhood filled with a variety of illegal activities including drunkenness and prostitution. Gang violence was a common occurrence as groups of young men known as "poodles" ran the territory, committing a variety of offences and creating an atmosphere of violence.

However, Swampoodle was also a thriving community with a central business district which ran along Jackson Alley (part of which is now located under the Government Publishing Office building between G and H Streets) where "tinkers" or "tinners" (tin workers) plied their trades. Additionally, Swampoodle’s population of primarily Irish construction workers was employed to build several significant structures in Washington, D.C., including, ironically, Union Station whose construction required the razing of the workers’ very own homes thus displacing most of these men and their families. The workers were also hired to build two structures in the center of Swampoodle:  Gonzaga College High School and St Aloysius Roman Catholic Church. The origin of the name "Swampoodle" is believed to come from a newspaper reporter covering the 1857 ground-breaking of St. Aloysius Church, who referred to the land on the site of the intersection of North Capitol and I Street as containing numerous swamps and “poodles” (puddles) that often occurred when Tiber Creek overflowed its banks.

Section of the Tiber River flowing through Swampoodle between North Capitol and First Street NE prior to 1876.  The buildings face H Street.

Street map of Swampoodle circa 1873 of the paved areas (Stone-blue, Concrete-red and beige) and Tiber Creek.

St Aloysius Roman Catholic Church on I Street built by inhabitants of the former Swampoodle neighborhood.

As Swampoodle was then on the edge of the city, many of the residents kept goats, cows and other livestock in pens in the alleys between their houses, most of which were nothing but rough-hewn shanties made with wood scraps. The overall shabby appearance of this run-down shanty town was too close for comfort to the US Capitol building and helped push the end of this community when Union Station was built on its location.

Swampoodle was also the home of the Swampoodle Grounds, (or Swampoodle Park or Capital Park Grounds) home of the Washington Statesmen (precursor to the Washington Nationals) baseball club from 1886 to 1889. The baseball park could hold up to 6,000 spectators and had a tower in the outfield that was about 20 feet high. The park was razed for the construction of Union Station and other buildings. The right field and the infield are now part of Union Station and the left field is now under the Main Post Office and Columbus Circle.

Capitol Grounds Park 1886-1889, home of the Washington Statesmen

The demise of Swampoodle as a community and neighborhood began with the 1907 construction of Union Station, the largest train station in the world at that time. The plan involved the demolition of over 10 blocks of residential area in the core of Swampoodle. Over 100 houses were demolished to make way for the massive station and rail yard. As part of the plan, the remainder of Tiber Creek was enclosed and became part of the massive Washington DC tunnel system and the surrounding low-lying land in the area was filled in. The section of Delaware Avenue between Florida Avenue (previously known as Boundary Road) and Massachusetts Avenue was buried under the railway tracks, with the exception of a small section between L Street and M Street NE. The gigantic site of the rail station and adjacent yards physically bisected Swampoodle, displacing roughly 1,600 residents to other parts of the city, and caused the rezoning of the residential area into commercial development leading to increased heavy industry in the area, making it unattractive for residential use.

Above map depicts displaced area of Swampoodle by Union Station below.

Today, the area is part of the NoMa (North of Massachusetts Ave) neighborhood and is occupied primarily by office complexes, rail yards serving Union Station and the Government Publishing Office. It is surrounded by some of the original dwellings, particularly in the Near Northeast section to the east of Delaware Avenue. Jackson Alley is no longer: On the west side of North Capitol, it is under the Government Publishing Office building. On the east side of North Capitol, it is now known as G Place NE. Two historic Irish sites that still stand today in the neighborhood are the St. Aloysius Roman Catholic Church and Gonzaga College High School. In 2012, the church closed due to a shrinking Jesuit population and merged with the Holy Redeemer Parish. The school continues to serve as the oldest educational institution in the old Federal City of Washington and is a reminder of the former, once-lively Swampoodle community.

Present day view of I Street in NOMA. St Aloysius is on the left across the street from Gonzaga College High School.