A curiosity about his historic apartment building eventually led Tom Heuser to found the Capitol Hill Historical Society. Here, Tom shares his love of Capitol Hill and how the pandemic has changed the Capitol Hill Historical Society.
Founded in 2017, the mission of Capitol Hill Historical Society (CHHS) is “to gather, preserve, and share the history of the communities that have shaped Capitol Hill.” Events offered by CHHS include intriguing history presentations, book author presentations and Q & As, panel discussions, walking tours, and more — all related to the rich history of the Capitol Hill neighborhood. The CHHS blog features pages of interesting stories about places and people significant to the neighborhood’s story. And CHHS frequently advocates for the preservation of meaningful Capitol Hill sites by voicing support at City landmark hearings, conducting surveys, and connecting citizen advocates, local architects, researchers, and others to help further community preservation efforts. In celebration of National Preservation Month, we checked in with CHHS Board President Tom Heuser. Below, Tom shares highs and lows of the past year, tells us about what inspired the organization’s formation, and highlights what CHHS is looking forward to in the months ahead.
What were the highlights of the past year?
Some highlights include the Capitol Hill coloring book that we published, which was a lot of fun to work on. There was also a lot of growth in social media engagement with our posts, which I think many people have enjoyed. Another highlight has been expanding our scholarship into new areas that are less recognized, such as the neighborhood’s Black history and Midcentury Modern Architecture. We celebrated Black History Month at our annual members meeting with a series of short presentations on significant Black members of the Capitol Hill community throughout history and recently had a virtual event co-sponsored by DOCOMOMO WEWA, where my project partner Lana Blinderman and I shared our methodology, findings, and some interesting photos from the Midcentury Modern project that is currently underway.
What are you looking forward to in the next year?
A lot of that is, of course, up in the air due to the pandemic but generally speaking, I’m really looking forward to more in-person events. For example, we really want to do a walking tour featuring midcentury apartments, and who knows — maybe we’ll be able to actually do the holiday party again this year!
How has the pandemic impacted CHHS?
Many of our members have had to scale back their involvement or step down entirely to address more immediate issues, whether family, or work or both. That has definitely changed how we do things, and what we are able to do, as well. Planning for the future is a little more difficult at the moment, so we’re trying not to jump into anything too big while things remain so uncertain. I’ll add that our virtual events are getting more attendance than in-person events. This doesn’t surprise much because it’s easier to just sign on, but maybe it also allows people to participate who may not have otherwise been able to do so. It makes me think for the future it may be good to do some sort of hybrid model for events – I think that would be a good thing to explore.
Do you feel personally connected to the history of Capitol Hill? To any place in particular?
Yes, for sure! For the amount of time I have lived here, I definitely feel connected to the history of the neighborhood. And I feel particularly connected to The Capitol Building Apartments at Broadway & John, the building I have lived in for most of my the 17 or so years here. While I did actually just move out, that building will always hold a special place in my heart, and I will always think of it fondly. In fact, that’s where my interest in the neighborhood’s history got started. I began getting curious about my building, and then I got really fascinated with everything I was learning about it, and I just kept going and this is where I ended up. I was surprised that there wasn’t already a historical society for Capitol Hill, and I just had this desire to see what could be accomplished by bringing more people together.
There are many opportunities to get involved with CHHS, visit their website at capitolhillpast.org to learn more!