The names Blagden Alley and Naylor Court were derived from two 19th-century property owners, Thomas Blagden and Dickerson Nailor. Blagden owned property in the area and ran a lumberyard in the city. Dickerson Nailor (now spelled Naylor) also owned property and was a grocer. After the Civil War, Washington's downtown became increasingly commercial and residential development grew north to the Blagden Alley area in the 1870s and attracted several prestigious, affluent residents. The elegant townhouse, the Blanche K. Bruce House (NHL) at 909 M Street was constructed in 1873. Bruce was the first African American to serve as a Senator in Congress (R-Miss, 1875-1881). To the south was a house built by Alexander "Boss" Shepard, the chief of the Board of Public Works during the 1870s. Streetcar lines connected 9th and 7th Streets with downtown in 1873, and these streets served as the main commercial corridors.
After the Civil War, many African Americans migrated to Washington and came to live in the alley dwellings. They were small and poorly constructed buildings, mainly of wood and brick. The living conditions were overcrowded and unsanitary. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, there were concentrated efforts to have the alley dwellings demolished. Bladgen Alley and Naylor Court are two of only a handful of alleys which are extant.
The Blagden Alley neighborhood continued to serve as a closely-knit, racially mixed middle and working class neighborhood into the 20th century. However, the widening of 9th Street with its subsequent loss of street trees and yards, the flight of the middle class to the suburbs, the increase of absentee landlords and the 1968 riots led to deterioration of the area.
Today, there is interest in renovating and restoring the homes, and the area has an active community group interested in fighting crime. New residents have been attracted to the area by the charm of the buildings and the proximity to downtown.
Blagden Alley-Naylor Court is bounded by 9th, 10th, M and O Sts., NW. All of the buildings mentioned are private and not open to the public. Metro stop: Mt. Vernon Sq-UDC