Civil War to Civil Rights: Downtown Heritage Trail Civil War to Civil Rights: Downtown Heritage Trail

Check out the Civil War to Civil Rights audio tour hosted by NPR's Korva Coleman!

Follow the signs on this self-guided Cultural Tourism DC Neighborhood Heritage Trail to learn more about Washington's Downtown, just east of the White House.

Civil War to Civil Rights: Downtown Heritage Trail's 21 poster-sized, illustrated signs combine storytelling with historic images. Discover the little-known sites that link the history of the city to the history of the nation.

Walkers are encouraged to follow the trail at their own pace, sampling neighborhood character, businesses, and restaurants along the way.

For more information, email us at or call 202-355-4280.


Walk in the footsteps of Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Walt Whitman, and other great Americans whose lives were intertwined with the history of the nation and its capital city.

The trail focuses on Washington's experiences during the Civil War as well as the continuing challenge to realize the American dream of equal rights for all citizens.

Along the way, you'll see:

  • A former boarding house frequented by the Lincoln conspirators
  • The alley down which John Wilkes Booth fled after shooting President Lincoln
  • The home and office of famed Civil War nurse and American Red Cross founder Clara Barton
  • A church that was used as a hospital during the Civil War
  • The city's oldest synagogue, now a museum of Jewish history
  • A Renaissance palace style office building-turned-building museum
  • The hotel where the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. put the finishing touches on his "I Have a Dream" speech


Cultural Tourism DC has 17 self-guided heritage trails for people to experience the distinct neighborhoods of Washington, DC. Watch as Sam Edelstein, a former staff member at Cultural Tourism DC, visits sites along the Downtown Heritage Trail and highlights the exciting and fun places and people you will meet along the way.


 Designed so that you may enter at any point along the trail, the tour is arranged in three one-hour loops:

  • The Center Loop, the heart of the Downtown Heritage Trail along Seventh, F, and Tenth streets focuses on Washington at the time of the Civil War as well as Lincoln's assassination. This is the neighborhood of Clara Barton, Walt Whitman, and John Wilkes Booth, and an area often visited by Abraham Lincoln. Start this loop at the National Archives, accessible from the Archives/Navy Memorial Metro station at Seventh Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, NW.
  • The West Loop takes you into a former residential neighborhood. Jefferson Davis attended one of its churches before the Civil War, and President Lincoln attended another during the conflict. Here you will see one of the city's most venerable African American churches, the magnificent U.S. Treasury, and the hotel where the term "lobbyist" was coined. Access this loop from the Metro Center Station at 13th and G streets, NW.
  • The East Loop continues the story of the struggle for equal rights for all citizens. Here Daniel Webster worked to hold the Union together. And in 1862, eight months before the Emancipation Proclamation, Washington's old City Hall was the site of "compensated emancipation" in the District. Ten churches and former synagogues stand as the legacy of the city's early immigrant communities. Access this loop from Judiciary Square Station at F Street between Fourth and Fifth streets, NW.

Would you prefer to take a guided tour?


Download the trail map PDF.

Download the trail guidebook PDF.



Want to surround yourself with sound as you walk the trail? Check out the Civil War to Civil Rights audio tour hosted by NPR's Korva Coleman. It's the first ofCultural Tourism DC's Audio Journeys.

These free tours take listeners by the ear and lead them through the streets of Washington, telling the city's great stories in dramatic fashion. The tour is organized in three 45-minute loops.


Cultural Tourism DC, Inc., initiated the District of Columbia Neighborhood Heritage Trails program with two goals in mind: helping visitors find their way around Washington's historic neighborhoods and promoting community pride.

Each trail was conceived with the active involvement of neighborhood organizations and residents. For Civil War to Civil Rights: Downtown Heritage Trail, the Downtown DC Business Improvement District served as a local partner.

Civil War to Civil Rights: Downtown Heritage Trail is a project of Cultural Tourism DC with support from the Downtown DC Business Improvement District, DC Department of Transportation, and the U.S. Federal Highways Administration. Special thanks to Gelberg Signs for its in-kind contribution of banners.


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