City Desk

The Answers Column: What’s With the Lack of Apostrophe in St. Elizabeths?

What’s with the lack of apostrophe in St. Elizabeths?

At the St. Elizabeths West Campus near the east bank of the Anacostia River, Department of Homeland Security buildings are nearing completion and the Coast Guard is preparing to move in. At the East Campus, construction crews will break ground next week on the Gateway Pavilion that will serve as the first stage of the big mixed-use development planned there.

Yes, St. Elizabeths is taking off. But one thing seems to have been left behind: the apostrophe in the site’s name.

The mystery of the missing apostrophe goes back to the early days of St. Es, as it’s known. Opened in 1855 as the Government Hospital for the Insane, the hospital saw an influx of wounded soldiers during the Civil War. These new patients were understandably reluctant to say they were laid up at the Government Hospital for the Insane, so they started referring to the hospital by the name given in the 17th century to the tract of land on which it was later built: St. Elizabeths.

So why no apostrophe? According to Catherine Buell, who directs the St. Es project for Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, as well the city’s and the federal government’s histories of the hospital, the usage of apostrophes back when the land was named was inconsistent and infrequent. And when DMPED began the process of developing St. Es, Buell says, Ethan Warsh—who managed the project for DMPED before Buell took over—insisted on following the original spelling. Buell says it’s all part of the preservation of the site’s character. “We’re really hoping to keep the roads,” Buell says, “and keep the history intact.”

Warsh has since departed the city government, but the apostropheless spelling of St. Elizabeths lives on.

Have a question about Wilson Building intrigue? D.C. history? Restaurant openings? That weird thing on your block? We got you. Direct your questions to answers@washingtoncitypaper.com.

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