Washington in Early Days (Between 4th & 7th, North of P)

By James Croggon, The Evening Star, date unknown

Within the lines of the Samuel Blodget and other tracts, conveyed to the commissioners for conversion to city property, and by L'Enfant and Ellicott platted into squares, that portion which fell to the east of 7th street, west of 4th street and north of P street, skirted by the "street which binds the city," long called "Boundary" street, and now Florida avenue, a change of conditions required near half a century. In fact, so slow was the progress made that hundreds remember when the first improvements were made on land which could be had for a song; and, indeed, though some men of prominence had invested a hundred years ago, yet well down to the middle of the century lots were known only on paper, and what sales were made were of entire squares, and then for a few hundred dollars, the rate per foot being expressed in mills. There is recorded a transfer of a square for $5.25, it being a small triangle on Florida avenue. Even those squares on 7th street, regarded as the principal thoroughfare after Pennsylvania avenue, were listed for taxation at the same rates as the others; in 1802 at a fourth of a cent per foot, soon after at an eighth, and up to 1830 a mill per foot was the uniform rate. Up to that year but one improvement had been listed, that being for $100 value to William Johnson at the corner of Rhode Island avenue and 6th street. There was established on the square between 5th, 6th, P and Boundary streets in 1829 a burial ground for colored people. Undeveloped for any purpose was the rest of he section west of it lying in the open, if one or two gardens are excepted, and the wagon track to the graveyard was the only semblance of a road until the forties, when brickyards near the head of New Jersey avenue necessitated others.

The territory was so little known to the public that in the local municipal campaigns as late as the civil war even candidates for the councils were ignorant that there was such a locality as Germantown east of 7th and north of R streets until they found supporters there. And it may be said that so little progress had been made before, it was not till late in the fifties that an effort was made for the upbuilding of this section, though so convenient to the crossing of the 7th street and the old Bladensburg roads a hundred yards north and the old Cross Keys tavern.

The records of title and of the valuation by the assessors are not extensive, and indeed until the forties there were few marks of a pen upon them. The small triangle, square 440, formed by 7th, T and Boundary streets, was of but two lots, when, in 1796, it was allotted to the government, and there was no change till 1841, when Henry Johnson bought it for $46.25.

The twenty lots on S, T, 6th and 7th streets formed square 441. This, in 1794, was included in the Greenleaf contract, but was deeded back to the government and in the division of ground went to the latter. After lying idle until 1842 Charles H. Wiltberger, the city register, purchased it, afterward subdividing into many sites and the wide alley in the center took the name of Wiltberger street.

The sixteen lots between 6th and 7th streets, Rhode Island avenue, R and S streets, square 442, were assigned to S. Blodget in 1796, and five years after to Stoddert et al. In 1807 R.S. Beckley bought them and Mr. Wiltberger in 1843 purchased them of Thomas Corcoran.

Square 444, then being No. 443, described that south of nineteen lots on Q, R, 6th and 7th streets and Rhode Island avenue, which vested in the government in 1796, George Ailer and Paulus Thyson, then leading grocers, took title in 1842, and three years after Mr. Thyson owned it.

Square 445 of lots on 6th, 7th, P and Q streets has similar ancient history to the above. From Samuel Blodget the directors of the Washington Association, Stoddert et al., obtained title in 1801, but six years after Robert S. Beckley was the owner. In 1842 Ailer and Thyson became the owners and three years later the former took title to the five lots forming the southeast quarter and Mr. Thyson owned the remainder.

East of square 441 the seven lots in the lines of 5th, 6th, S and Boundary streets formed square 475, which was vested in the United States in 1796. This lay idle until January, 1829, when it was conveyed by Col. Elgar, commissioner of public buildings, to George Beall, Joseph Warren and Francis Datcher, agents of the Columbia Harmony Society, for a graveyard for colored people. The deed recited that the society had raised $100 for the purpose and proposed to give burial to the indigent of their race and to furnish sites for not exceeding $2, when family or friends were able to pay. This for thirty years or more was the principal colored cemetery in the city, but as the city became settled a site was found in the country to which the remains were moved and the site became that of homes.

Square south 475, between Rhode Island avenue, S, 5th and 6th streets, of four lots, was owned by the government from 1796 to 1843, then passing to Thomas Corcoran.

Between 5th, 6th and R streets and Rhode Island avenue, of two lots, square 476, was bought from the United States in 1801 by Stoddert et al. Six years later Charles H. Varden was the owner, and in 1810 John Arnot, and from the latter's heirs in the forties, George Milburn, R.C. Washington, Allison Nailor, George ???ing, in turn acquired ground, and ??? Wiltberger in 1843 was an owner.

Square 477 of twelve lots, in the line of Q, R, 5th and 6th streets, was held by the government from 1796 until 1842, then going to Col. H. Naylor and Andrew Rothwell, they paying $435.00 for this square; and 419, on the west side of 7th street between R and S streets, to Col. Noland, commissioner of public buildings.

The square south, 478, of twelve lots, in 1796 was Mr. Blodget's; and Stoddert et al., trustees, obtained title in 1801, Mr. Beckley in 1807 and thirty-six years after Isaac Beckley sold it to George Hill for $420.

The two squares, E 475, between boundary, 5th and S streets and New Jersey avenue and N 508 in lines of Rhode Island and New Jersey avenues, 5th and S streets, in 1798 were vested in Mr. Blodget and in 1807 went to Mr. Bickley. In 1843 the first passed from Thomas Corcoran to William H. Prentiss. The latter has the same history and for the 90,000 feet in them Mr. Prentiss paid but $227. Mr. Prentiss also bought square north of 507, the triangle formed by New Jersey, Rhode Island and Florida avenues, of Col. Noland, commissioner of public buildings, for $525 in 1843, the government having held it for forty-five years.

The square known as 507, five sided, fronting New Jersey, Rhode Island and Florida avenues and 4th and R streets, of eight lots, vested in the government in 1798, two years later George E. Nunzeller being interested. In 1843 James Eslin, who had long been in the brick making business east of the courthouse, bought the square and re-established his kilns and yard. It was in the seventies that C.F.E. Richardson bought on New Jersey avenue and erected a row of brick houses which have long borne his name.

West of the above, square 508, of four lots on New Jersey and Rhode Island avenues and 5th and R streets, was vested in Mr. Blodget, and passing through Stoddert and Bickley early in the century was bought in 1843 by Thomas Corcoran.

Mr. Blodget took title to the twelve lots in square 509 between New Jersey avenue, Q, R and 5th streets as the original proprietor. Precisely the history of squares E, 405 and others applies from 1796 to 1843, when Thomas Corcoran bought it.

Morris & Nicholson and Blodget's property in the lines of P, Q and S streets and New Jersey avenue contributed to square 510, but in the division between the government and proprietors Blodget was given nine lots and the government the other ten. In 1801 Stoddert, et al., had possession of the whole, but in 1815 seven lots were conveyed by tax titles to Henry Burford. In 1817 lot 1, corner New Jersey avenue and P street, was bought by Charles Talbott. William O'Neale owned lots 16 to 18, on New Jersey avenue, in 1819, and sold to William Davis three years later. In 1830 Merritt Tarlton took a lease on lot 1, the ownership of which passed to John Talbot. In 1841 James Hollidge, C.H. Wittburger and Charles Hibbs owned lots, and in 1847, the square, less two lots, changed hands again.

Seven lots were laid out in the square between Q, R, 4th street and New Jersey avenue, east 509, vested in 1798 in the Untied States, and after forty-five years they passed to Thomas Corcoran. The triangle south of east 510, between New Jersey avenue, 4th and Q streets was vested in the United States for nearly fifty years. John F. Callan became the owner in 1844, and M. Sentes bought it two years later.