Last updated: August 19, 2022
Pets Allowed, Public Transit
Located at the intersection of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire Avenues in Northwest Washington, D.C., Dupont Circle has served as the anchor of a neighborhood of diplomats, government officials, war commemorations, and the LGBTQ community for over 200 years.
Dupont Circle is part of the traditional and ancestral homelands of the Piscataway and Anacostan peoples, who have served as stewards of the region for generations. Washington, D.C., is surrounded by over a dozen tribal nations that thrive along the Anacostia and Potomac River watersheds, Chesapeake Bay area, and the states of Maryland, Virginia, and Delaware. Washington, D.C. sits on the ancestral lands of the Anacostans (also documented as Nacotchtank), and the neighboring Piscataway and Pamunkey peoples.
When Pierre Charles L'Enfant drew up plans for the City of Washington in 1791, he envisioned a city of grand vistas and diagonal avenues meeting in circles of green space. The location that became Dupont Circle has a direct connection to the White House along Connecticut Avenue. Nevertheless, until the late nineteenth century, the neighborhood was sparsely populated and undeveloped.
In 1872, the city paved Connecticut Avenue, improving landscaping and public works in the neighborhood, which was then called Pacific Circle. William Stewart, a U.S. Senator from Nevada, built what became known as Stewart Castle on the north section of the circle in 1873. The five-story mansion with center turret was impressive, although some wondered why Stewart built his house so far away from the prestigious areas of the city. A year later, the British Legation Building was completed at 1300 Connecticut Avenue, which began the transformation of the area into desirable real estate.
Rear Admiral Samuel Francis Dupont
Samuel F. Dupont had a long and varied career in the U.S. Navy. Born at Berge Point, New Jersey, in 1803, he joined the Navy at the age of 12. Year by year, he worked his way up the promotional ladder and was promoted to the rank of captain in 1856. Dupont was serving as commandant of the Philadelphia Navy Yard when the American Civil War began in 1861. To protect Washington, D.C., which was surrounded by states of unclear loyalty, Dupont sent the forces under his command to occupy Annapolis, Maryland. This move allowed U.S. troops to reach the beleaguered capital.
Later, Dupont was put in command of the South Atlantic Blockade Squadron. On November 7, 1861, he helped to capture Fort Royal, South Carolina. The following year, he was promoted to rear admiral. But after an unsuccessful attack on Fort Sumter at Charleston, South Carolina, Dupont was relieved of command. He retired to the family home in Wilmington, Delaware, and died in 1865.
Despite the inauspicious end to his naval career, Dupont never lost his popularity with the people of Wilmington. In 1882, at their behest, Congress decided to raise a statue to Dupont's memory in downtown Washington, D.C. The bronze statue of Samuel Dupont, standing and holding a pair of binoculars, by the sculptor Launt Thompson was dedicated on December 20, 1884. Pacific Circle was renamed in Dupont's honor.
Between 1880 and 1940, the neighborhood transformed, eventually including many Victorian and Beaux Arts residences. It became a sought-after address in the 1920s, home to notable Washingtonians like newspaper editor Cissy Patterson (organizer of the Cherry Tree Rebellion.)
But the Dupont family was unhappy with the statue, and in February 1917, Congress passed legislation to remove it and commission a new memorial to Dupont, a white stone fountain designed by Henry Bacon and Daniel Chester French, the team who also designed the Lincoln Memorial. In the sculpture, which was dedicated in 1921, the bowl of the fountain is held aloft by three figures representing “The Sea,” “The Wind,” and “The Stars.” The fountain has become a gathering place for numerous celebrations and events throughout the year, including the annual Pride Festival and Parade. The National Park Service began caring for the fountain and the surrounding park in 1933.
In the 1970s, Dupont Circle became a welcoming place for the city's LGBTQ community. Activist Deacon Maccubbin opened Earthworks, a craft store and "headshop" that was the city's first openly gay business that wasn't a bar. Earthworks became a center for the gay community. Maccubbin expanded the business to open Lambda Rising, which he advertised as "The Largest Lesbian and Gay Liberation Bookstore in the U.S.A." Lambda Rising moved several times throughout the years to different locations around Dupont Circle, eventually settling at 1625 Connecticut Avenue, NW, where it operated until 2010. The neighborhood was also home to The Gay Blade newspaper (now called Washington Blade,) and off our backs, a lesbian feminist publication.
Maccubbin organized Gay Pride Day in June 1975, a small community gathering that grew every year. The event is now called Capital Pride and draws tens of thousands of people to Dupont Circle for the annual parade. Since 1986, the Tuesday before Halloween in Dupont Circle means the High Heel Race. Thousands of people gather to watch drag queens race for three blocks down 17th Street in high heels. Although it began as an impromptu competition, the event is now hosted by the D.C. Mayor's Office and includes a parade and other festivities.
The Circle Today
Today, the park continues to serve the community as a popular gathering point for games of chess, drum circles, demonstrations, concerts, and snowball fights. The only surviving structure from the Pacific Circle era is the 1882 Blaine Mansion, located at the corner of 20th and P Streets. The neighborhood still includes elegant examples of historic Queen Anne, Beaux Arts, and Georgian Revival architecture along with more modern buildings.