Life on Pennsylvania Avenue




October 1, 2022-March 25, 2023

Take a walk down Pennsylvania Avenue through photographs, prints and artifacts from the Albert H. Small Washingtoniana Collection. From the White House to the Capitol, this exhibition explored the federal buildings and businesses that lined America’s Main Street during the 19th century.

About the Exhibition

Often called "America's Main Street" and L'Enfant's "Grand Avenue," Pennsylvania Avenue cuts diagonally across Washington, D.C., from Georgetown to Maryland. Life on Pennsylvania Avenue explores the street’s historic and ceremonial heart — a mile-long stretch between the White House and Capitol — during the 19th century.

The stretch of road was an integral part of the city from the very beginning. Peter (Pierre) L’Enfant envisioned it as a symbolic and physical connection between buildings representing two of the branches of government. It was also the widest street in the city, designed to easily host parades and processions. By the end of the 19th century, it was lined with poplar trees, gaslights and two sets of tram tracks.

This exhibition highlighted some of the buildings, parks and businesses that shaped Pennsylvania Avenue during this period. An eye-catching advertisement promotes Hamburger & Sons, a men’s clothing store run by German immigrants. An 1889 photograph captures crowds gathering outside National Hotel to witness the aftermath of record flooding downtown. Artifacts on display also told the story of the National Hotel’s main competitor, Willard’s Hotel, and its founder Henry Augustus Willard.

This exhibition was organized by the Albert H. Small Center for National Capital Area Studies with support from the Albert and Shirley Small Family Foundation.

Print showing the White House with dirt road and carriages in front

August Köllner, President’s House (detail), Goupil, Vibert & Co., c. 1850, AS 46.

Print of Capitol building with carriages out front

Edward Sachse, View of Washington City (detail), Casimir Bohn, c. 1860, AS 421. 


Cutout shaped like a barrel with roses on the front

Hamburger & Sons, c. 1890, AS 845. 


Newspaper clipping with illustration of grand building

L. E. Walker (photographer), The Young Men’s Christian Association Building, Washington, D.C., Harper’s Weekly, May 8, 1869, AS 362-B.

Architectural bird's-eye view drawing of a park with winding pathways

Lafayette Square, Commissioners of the District of Columbia, 1886, AS 606.


Sepia photograph showing flooded city street

Untitled, flood on Pennsylvania Avenue, 1889, AS 418.


Video Tour