In 1864—the same year that Congress mandated funds for Arlington Cemetery—Abraham Lincoln commissioned $25,000 for construction of Washington, DC’s first Naval hospital just blocks from the Capitol. The 50-bed facility received its first patient in 1866, 24-year-old African American seaman Benjamin Drummond.
Now, 145 years later, the Old Naval Hospital, a landmark of the Capitol Hill neighborhood, has been transformed into Hill Center, a vibrant, campus-like hub for cultural enrichment, lifelong learning, and civic engagement.
In just over eighteen months and at cost of some $10 million, the facility has undergone a major, historic renovation, bringing the structure back to its original appearance, adorned in its original colors and surrounded by its monumental wrought-iron fence. This new building also incorporates many 21st century upgrades, such as a fully ADA-accessible design and a green footprint, with its heating and cooling system supported by 32 geothermal wells.
Much like the 92nd Street Y in New York and the Cambridge Center for Adult Education in Massachusetts, Hill Center offers a wide range of learning opportunities for people of all ages and backgrounds. The 11 program rooms—including a fully outfitted demonstration kitchen, computer labs, and activity and meeting rooms—will host classes that range from cooking to yoga, from art to early childhood development programs.
In addition to classroom education, Hill Center features six gallery spaces for exhibition and sales of contemporary artwork and has an active volunteer docent program to honor the Old Naval Hospital’s proud history as a post-Civil War hospital, medical training facility, and old soldiers’ home.
The Center also presents an active calendar of special events, including musical performances, television sneak previews, film showings, book readings, and lectures—all supported by state-of-the-art video, audio, and lighting technology. The property's historic carriage house will be reborn as a family-friendly café.
Nine top floor offices are rented by nonprofit organizations. Other rooms in the facility are available for rental for meetings, receptions, weddings, workshops, recitals, after-school tutoring, and other neighborhood functions and events.
With its beautifully landscaped gardens and gracious architecture, Hill Center is a grand addition to the Capitol Hill neighborhood and a jewel in the crown of the city.