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Peter S. Craig papers

 Collection
Identifier: MS2066

Collection Scope and Content

This collection contains reports and studies, correspondence, legal documents, clippings, and index cards documenting the work of lawyer Peter S. Craig in opposition to the construction of freeways through Washington, D.C. The bulk of the material dates from 1960 to 1975, when Craig was active in this work, though some of Craig’s reference materials—such as studies and clippings—date as far back as 1904. As a member of the Committee of 100 on the Federal City and the Northwest Committee for Transportation Planning, Craig drafted legal challenges to proposed highway construction on behalf of neighborhood groups whose homes were in the highways’ paths. He ultimately helped derail plans for seven multilane highways through the District, including highways that would have tunneled under the Mall, tunneled under K Street, and destroyed 200,000 housing units within the city.

The material remains, physically, primarily in the order in which it arrived, much of it in Craig’s own three-ring binders. The titles of the folders and binders have been arranged into series and alphabetized in a finding aid to provide research access. Because some materials were consolidated during processing and the boxes were not subsequently renumbered, some box numbers no longer exist (box numbers 3, 5, 9, 27, 28, 31, 55, 60, 63, 68, and 71).

Reports, studies, and correspondence in this collection come from many local transportation agencies and organizations engaged in city planning as far back as the early 1900s, including: The Committee of 100 on the Federal City, the Northwest Committee for Transportation Planning, the National Capital Planning Commission, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority, the American Civic Association, and many local citizens’ associations. Legal cases include D.C. Federation of Civic Associations, Inc. v. Airis and D.C. Federation of Civic Associations v. Volpe, which were ultimately victories for Craig and his fellow lawyers over business and government interests attempting to build freeways through the District, as well as many other suits brought by citizens’ associations.

Transportation projects that figure heavily in the collection—projects which were canceled in part due to Craig’s work—include: the Three Sisters Bridge across the Potomac, connecting to I-66; Interstate 266; the North Central Freeway (from Capitol Hill to Silver Spring); the South Leg Freeway; and Interstate 70-S/Northwest Freeway (along Wisconsin Avenue to Bethesda).

This material was donated to Gelman Library by Peter S. Craig in 1986.

Dates

  • 1904-1983
  • Majority of material found within 1960 - 1975

Creator

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Restrictions on Use

Some material may be copyrighted or restricted. It is the patron's obligation to determine and satisfy copyright or other case restrictions when publishing or otherwise distributing materials found in the collections.

Historical or Biographical Note

Peter Stebbins Craig was a lawyer in Washington, D.C. who led legal challenges against the construction of interstate highways through the city in the 1960s and 1970s. Taking the side of residents whose homes would be razed for new freeways, Craig successfully battled developers, business leaders, and members of Congress to block seven multilane highways that would have destroyed 200,000 housing units within the city.

Born in Brooklyn, NY, in 1928, Peter Stebbins Craig spent his childhood in Oberlin, OH and attended Oberlin College and Yale Law School, from which he graduated in 1953 as a member of the law review. He first joined the law firm of Covington and Burling, and later became counsel at Southern Railway in 1960, working there until he retired in 1989 with one break from 1967-69 to serve at the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Craig first opposed freeway construction in the city when he became aware of plans to build a major new artery through his Cleveland Park neighborhood, from Georgetown to Bethesda, in the late 1950s. In 1960, as part of the citizen organization Northwest Committee for Transportation Planning, Craig and two other lawyers won a 5-year ban on freeways west of Rock Creek and north of M street, stalling the proposed highway. But success was short-lived. In response to the ban, developers shifted their proposed highway to the west, proposing a North Central Freeway that would have sliced through the city from Capitol Hill to Silver Spring, destroying 4000 homes in a primarily African American neighborhood.

Joining with the community planning organization Committee of 100 on the Federal City, Craig then pushed back against all planned freeways, arguing that they violated a law from the 1880s allowing no road in the city wider than Pennsylvania Avenue. He and his team won in the U.S. Court of Appeals in 1968, though they still faced significant opposition in Congress, which controlled the District’s spending and attempted to push the projects through by withholding money for Washington’s planned subway system until the highways were built. This impasse lasted until 1976, when the Department of Transportation intervened on the side of the District, freeing the money for the subway without requiring construction of the highways.

Many of the proposed highway projects, including the proposed Three Sisters Bridge over the Potomac, faced significant public protest, including violence and arrests at a 1969 City Council meeting. Craig and fellow volunteer lawyers won a victory in U.S. District Court in 1970, ordering work on the Three Sisters Bridge to stop.

Transportation projects that were canceled in part due to Craig’s work include: the Three Sisters Bridge across the Potomac, connecting to I-66; Interstate 266; the North Central Freeway (from Capitol Hill to Silver Spring); the South Leg Freeway; and Interstate 70-S/Northwest Freeway (along Wisconsin Avenue to Bethesda). Craig was named a Washingtonian of the Year by Washingtonian Magazine in 1972. Reflecting on his struggle against the freeways 30 years later in 2000, Craig told the Washington Post, “While I’ve done a lot of things in my life, this has made the most difference.”

Craig was also an avid genealogist. As a Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists and a Fellow of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania, he wrote prolifically on the Swedish Colonial Period in the Delaware Valley. He died on November 26, 2009.

Extent

50 Linear Feet

Language

English

Abstract

Peter Stebbins Craig was a lawyer in Washington, D.C. who led legal challenges against the construction of interstate highways through the city in the 1960s and 1970s. Taking the side of residents whose homes would be razed for new freeways, Craig successfully battled developers, business leaders, and members of Congress to block seven multilane highways that would have destroyed 200,000 housing units within the city. This collection contains reports and studies, correspondence, legal documents, clippings, reference materials, and index cards documenting Craig's work in transportation planning in Washington, DC.

Collection Organization

Arranged in five series: 1. Reports and studies; 2. Correspondence and memos; 3. Legal cases; 4. Clippings; and 5. Index cards.

Physical Location

Materials may be stored off-site, and may require additional retrieval time. Please contact the Special Collections Research Center for more information.

Acquisition Information

Gift of Peter S. Craig , 1986.

Related Materials

In The Metro Oral History collection is an interview with Peter Craig conducted by Dr. Zachary Schrag. The recording and transcript of that interview has been uploaded to Internet Archive. This link will take you to all the MS2214 interviews and transcripts. https://archive.org/search.php?query=ms2214%20george%20washington%20university&and[]=subject%3A%22MS2214%22
Title
Guide to the Peter S. Craig Papers, 1904-1983
Status
Completed
Author
Special Collections Research Center, The George Washington University
Date
2010
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Research Center, The George Washington University Repository

Contact:
2130 H Street NW
Washington 20052 United States of America