Christ Church and Its Parishioners


This is Christ Church, Washington Parish, the first Episcopal church established in Washington City (1794), and attended by Presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams.

At first Christ Church met in a nearby tobacco warehouse. In 1806 parishioner William Prout donated this land to the congregation, and one year later a simple, two-story rectangular building went up, designed by Navy Yard contractor Robert Alexander. That structure still remains behind the church’s Gothic Revival façade, applied in 1849 along with a bell tower that would become a Union lookout during the Civil War.

In early years, Christ Church’s balconies seated slaves, choir members, and Marines who were marched over on Sunday mornings from the nearby Barracks. Marine Band Director John Philip Sousa and his family were members and neighbors.

As a boy Sousa walked to Eighth Street for music lessons. He apprenticed to the Marine Band at age 13, playing various instruments through two enlistments until age 30. After a few years spent composing and conducting, he returned in 1880 to lead the Marine Band until 1892. That year he resigned to form the Sousa Band, which toured the world and sealed his reputation. Today’s audiences continue to thrill to Sousa’s compositions, including The Stars and Stripes Forever, the official march of the United States.

[Photo captions]:

An outdoor service, around 1920. The rectory to the left burned down in the 1930s. (Christ Church Archives.)

From 1795 until 1807, the church met in this log tobacco warehouse “fitted up as a church in the plainest and rudest manner” near New Jersey Avenue and D Street, SE. (Christ Church Archives.)

These workmen added the final story of the current church’s bell tower and front vestibule in 1891. (Christ Church Archives.)

John Philip Sousa was born in 1854 to Bavarian immigrant Maria Elisabeth Trinkhaus and Portuguese immigrant John Antonio Sousa, a Marine Bandsmen, above, in this house at 636 G Street, right. (Library of Congress.)

In 1872 Antonio Sousa consented to his son’s re-enlistment in the Marine. (Marine Corps Historical Center.)

[Photo on reverse]:

Parishioners in Federal-era costumes and Rev. David Dunning in a wig celebrate Christ Church’s 175th anniversary in 1969. (Christ Church Archives.)

On G Street, SE, Capitol Hill, (On the right when traveling east)
Cultural Tourism DC. (Marker Number 12
Official (Historical Marker Database)
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