In 1904, Washington, D.C., was growing by leaps and bounds. The overcrowding and the improved public transportation made the idea of living on the outskirts increasingly appealing to people looking for housing. Recognizing the opportunity, Baltimore resident Otway B. Zantzinger acquired 400 hilly acres just beyond the eastern corner of the District of Columbia. He divided the tract into 4,000 lots and began to sell them at prices ranging from $20 to $150 each. He advertised a picturesque view of Washington, D.C., a proposed electric railway, drinking water from crystal-clear springs, nothing down and a dollar a month, no interest, no landlords, and in the custom and vernacular of the times, “no colored people.” Many buyers bought two lots in this haven that was to become Capitol Heights.
While awaiting their “proposed electric railway,” commuters to the city could walk about a mile (often through mud) to the District Line station at what is now Seat Pleasant and board a rail car into Washington, DC.
The absence of paved roads, sidewalks, street lights, and other public services -including the electric railway-began to cast a pall over Mr. Zantzinger’s vision of bliss. In 1910, approximately 200 householders voted to incorporate their community as Capitol Heights. Over the next 50 years, the Town made strides in improving its infrastructure and services. It established its own fire department and public works department and built facilities to house them and other elements of the government. By the 1970s, when its population had reached about 3,800, the Town’s center-core business district had started to decline.
A rebuilt Central Avenue had diverted lucrative traffic around the Town, and parking facilities were inadequate for what traffic there was. Rising instances of crime and modest incomes of the residents were cited as other reasons for the Town’s ailing economy. The Town established its own police department and pinned its hopes on the planning reports of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
In 1980, that long-ago promised “electric railway” finally arrived. Capitol Heights got its own station on the Washington Metro line, providing easy access to the entire metropolitan region and national transportation facilities. The land around the station has been declared an Enterprise Zone, which the Town is promoting as one of its paths to restoring prosperity.
Current Capitol Heights Demographics
Today, 90% of the population of Capitol Heights is African-American, and the Town has an all African-American Council.