Shepherd Park History

This neighborhood was founded in the late 19th century when the District's territorial governor, Alexander "Boss" Shepherd, built his summer and weekend mansion here.  The mansion was named Bleak House because the family was reading at that time a novel by Charles Dickens.   Bleak House was built of stone with a mansard-style second floor with arched windows and was located on the fourth-highest point in DC. The house sat on 300 acres bounded on the east by  Georgia  Avenue and running down to Rock Creek (there was no  16th  Street in those days) and from today’s  Hemlock  Street south through the grounds of Walter Reed.  The property included a stone carriage house, a  building that has survived since the building of  Bleak House in  1873.  

Bleak_House.png           Carriage_House.png  Map_of_Bleak_House.png

In 1909, the U.S. Army acquired land at 16th Street and Alaska Avenue to construct Walter Reed Medical Center. The hospital brought an influx of people and gave rise to a middle-class, suburban neighborhood.

View over the Walter Reed General Hospital grounds. Alden family papers. 1918. CHS 11075 AL3.59. Historical Society of Washington, D.C.

In the 1910s and early 1920s, builder L.E. Breuninger established a small development which he called “Shepherd Park”. These homes, like the one in this photo, were large, single-family homes intended for middle- to upper-class white families who sought a suburban lifestyle in an urban neighborhood.

“Breuninger’s Shepherd Park,” Washington Post, 19 February 1928.

The Shepherd Park Community has several notable places such as Marvin Caplan Park. It is also home to many families whose children attend our excellent local school, Shepherd Elementary, as well as families whose children attend one of the local private schools. We also have a vibrant variety of local houses of worship.


American University Graduate Students Documented Shepherd Park's History.  As part of their public history practicum, three American University Students, Sara Pitcairn, Emily Rheault, and Haley Steinhilber immersed themselves into Shepherd Park's historical documents, oral histories, and numerous other sources to create the first in-depth history of our community.

The result was a project binder of their findings and observations. As their project brings out, history is not fixed and is open-ended. If you have material to donate to the DC Library or to make an oral history, contact SPCA at [email protected].  This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Shepherd Park was a featured community in the WETA Neighborhoods video series on TV 26. The director of those segments, Walter Gottlieb grew up in Shepherd Park; he also produced a 30-minute video entitled Shepherd Park: Past and Present, a celebration of one of Washington, DC's most unique neighborhoods.

See also:

History of Neighbors Inc.

McGraw, Eliza. “Neighborhood Profile: Shepherd Park.” Washington Post, 26 Oct. 2012.

Feinberg, Robbie and Hines, John. "Door To Door: Shepherd Park, D.C. and Northridge, Va.", 7 June 2013.

Davis, Lester. "In D.C.’s Shepherd Park, residents are close to downtown — and each other." Washington Post, 13 April 2017.