Old Marine Barracks
Gradually Disappearing as a Result of Improvements
Constructed by Soldiers
In 1801 With Bricks that were Made on the Spot
Used by British in 1812
Aaron Burr after his Arrest for Alleged Treason Was Held a Prisoner in the Old Center House

By James Croggon, The Evening Star, April 7, 1906 [pt. 3, p. 6]

     (Article contains pictures of the old and new barracks)

Another old landmark is slowly but surely disappearing under the steady march of the forces of progress and improvements. It's the old marine barracks near the Washington navy yard. These buildings occupied the entire square bounded by 8th and 9th streets east and G and H streets south. With the exception of the commandant's residence, which is quite a respectable brick building of the style of the early days of the republic, these low, rambling structures have been, or are now being, torn down and replaced by structures of modern design and construction.

The old barracks proper occupied the 8th street side of the block, and by reason of their strange architecture and antiquity were always objects of interest to the general public. They were built by American soldiers in the year 1801, of bricks made on the spot, and cost about $33,000 which money was appropriated for the purpose by the continental congress. They were one-story structures of brick, coated with common cement and painted a steel-gray color. Although the outer walls were flush with the building line, the interior showed a long, high arcade opening into the plaza or parade ground through a series of graceful Roman arches reaching from the ground to the roof. These romantic-looking buildings extended from G to H street, and were inclosed on the street side with a low brick wall plastered and painted to correspond with the design of the buildings. Midway of these barracks was a plain, square brick two-story structure, used as quarters for the officers on duty there. The main entrance to the barracks and interior court was through a large brick archway on 8th street, where an armed sentinel was always on duty.

Once Occupied by British Troops
When the British troops captured Washington during the war of 1812 they occupied the marine barracks for a short time as a post, and it was probably on that account that they did not attempt to destroy it. The old building therefore has the distinction of being the only public building in the capital at the time that was not burned or damaged by the invading army.

The old marine barracks are peculiarly identified with the establishment and development of the order of the Knights of Pythias, and are known by many members of that organization as the cradle of Pythianism.

The latter part of April 1865, a committee of the order was appointed to revise and publish a new ritual. That committee consisted of J.H. Rathbone, founder of the order, then a clerk in the War Department, Clarence M. Barton, a sergeant and schoolmaster at the marine barracks, and Edward Dunn, sergeant major of the marine corps.

The entire work of that committee was performed in the orderly room, now part of the guard room, at the barracks. The committee changed the original ritual in many respects, and had it printed as revised. The ritual has since remained practically unchanged. At that time there were but 179 members of the order, whereas at the present time the membership numbers nearly 700,000. Messrs. Rathbone and Barton are dead.

Sergeant Dunn, who is still a resident of this city, tells many interesting incidents connected with the history of the old barracks. For instance, he says that Aaron Burr, after his arrest for alleged treason, was a prisoner in the southeast room on the second floor of the center house, and also that Rear Admiral Semmes, who commanded the confederate privateer Alabama, was a prisoner in the same room shortly after the close of the civil war. He says that Admiral Semmes was brought from Mobile, Ala., to this city by Lieutenant French, First Sergeant Thomas Jones and Sergeant Pat Cassidy.

The New Barracks
Good progress has been made by the architects in replacing the old buildings with new structures more in accord with modern ideas and demands. An entirely new set of barracks has been erected along the 9th street front, and gives a fair idea of the general design of the approved project for the entire square. These are two-story brick buildings with battlemented parapets built of brown brick and having a series of arcades facing the interior court. On the south, or H street side, similar construction is in progress.

It is the purpose to replace the old barrack on the west, or 8th street side with modern structures of the same general plan as those already erected, but only at the south end as far as the central gateway. The northern half of the 8th street front will probably be left open to the street, except for a high ornamental fence. This opening would afford an excellent view of the interior court or parade ground and the surrounding buildings.

The improvements will add considerably to the comfort and convenience of the marine corps and also to the architectural attractiveness of that part of the city.