Important Historical Maps Narrowly Escape Destruction In DC Library Fire

Peabody Room Collection Originally Feared Lost

On 1 May 2007, library fans everywhere and United States historians in particular were shocked and saddened to hear that the Georgetown Branch of the Washington DC Public Library system, located at Wisconsin Avenue and R Street NW, suffered a catastrophic fire that destroyed much of the building. The branch was, at the time, closed for renovations.

Of particular notability was the branch’s Peabody Room, a rare and old books an maps repository. As the Washington Examiner reported:

Among the dozens of priceless historic documents and paintings housed in the library were a rare map of Civil War fortifications made inside the District and portraits of slaves dating from the early 19th century painted by Georgetown artist James Alexander Simpson, Peabody Room archivist and librarian Jerry McCoy said.

With the damage the building sustained, the worst with regard to the contents of the Peabody Room was feared. While this is a tragic loss for the DC Library System in specific, however, there was good news: the Peabody Room was apparently as far removed from the fire as possible and the fire was controlled before much damage happened to the contents, according to the office of Washington DC Mayor Adrian Fenty who has announced a rebuilding campaign for the facility:

Although the fire caused great structural damage ultimately destroying some of the library’s irreplaceable historical content, the Peabody Room, which serves as the District’s only special collection of Georgetown history, is about 95 percent intact with significant portions of the room unharmed by fire and water destruction.

More photos of the Peabody Room can be seen via this link.

(HT to the MapHist list and to Matthew Gilmore, H-DC maling list co-editor)