The Capitol of Yore
By James Croggon, The Evening Star, April 22, 1906 [part 2, p. 9]
That portion of the old first ward of the city lying south of the bend in Slash run, which coursed northward to Rock creek and north of what became "Foggy Bottom," about what is now Washington circle, in the past century came first to be known under the name of "Round Tops," and later that section south of the avenue was spoken of as the British ministerís or Foxís neighborhood. It was not until the thirties that brick pavements made their appearance beyond 23d street.
Under the act of 1802 appropriating $10,000 for the improvement of the streets and avenues of the city K street, west of the circle, came in for a small share (about $100) in 1804. It was not, however, for ten years or more that appropriation was made by the council for streets in this section, and a quarter of a century passed ere there were even gravel footwalks, much less graded and graveled streets. There were a few private citizens, however, who for their own convenience and the public good and at their own expense did something to make walking good on fractional parts of the highways. What footways there were in this section prior to the thirties were made by cart loads of gravel being so dumped as to form a ridge, which long after became the foundation for the brick foot pavements. In these footways in wet weather the presence of mother earth was made apparent by muddy boots and shoes. Much of the primeval growth in tree, plant and vine was in evidence here and there in the squares. That even then this section was looking up and the "west end" was in view could be seen by a few pretentious buildings, a few of them occupied by representatives of foreign governments, and in some cases not far distant from a poor manís castle in the shape of a small frame tenement. Water was then obtained from springs and pumps, one supplying the families in several squares.
The Round Tops
Among the purchasers of the lots in his subdivision -- one of the first recorded of a city square -- were John Wetherall, A. Carmichael, John Cook, Nicholas Travers, Robert Ross and R. Dennison. About 1800 Gen. Henry Lee, Gen. James M. Lingan and Walter Barron were interested in this square. Though according to the plan the lines of the circle destroyed the symmetry of the square, it was to all intents and purposes for many years perfect as a square. The buildings were not, however, located over the line of the circle.
Dwellers in the Neighborhood
The square north of the Round Tops was in the early days thought of little value, and in it were lots belonging to J.H. Stone and William S. Chandler. Possibly the first improvement of note was that made by Nicholas Travers about 1815. Mr. Travers had in that year bought three lots, including the northeast corner of 24th and M streets, and erected quite a fine residence thereon. This, a comfortable brick of three stories, is yet standing. Mr. Travers lived here for some years, and in the forties it became well known in society life for M. Alphonse Pageot, the French minister, leased it. After the minister vacated it was occupied by Samuel Kelly, a well-known school teacher, who succeeded Mr. J.L. Henshaw [R16/85] in charge of the first district grammar school.
St. Annís Infant Asylum
Through Uriah Forrest and H.G. Campbell it passed into the hands about 1820 of Capt. Joseph L. Kuhn, paymaster of the Marine Corps. A large double house of three stories, including the basement, was erected by him, and here he resided for several years, and being in official life, there was much entertaining at the house. About 1828 Capt. Kuhnís connection with the navy ceased, and in the thirties the property was disposed of at public sale to Gen. Charles Gratiot of the Engineer Corps. This gentleman at once remodeled and enlarged the building adding a fine ball room, which was much used in society functions, and during the remainder of his life the general enjoyed his comfortable home. Gen. Gratiot at his death left two daughters, and one went under the guardianship of Col. Bomford and the other of Gen. Towson, subsequently marrying officers. One became Mrs. Derby and the other Mrs. Caldwell. After his death and in the forties the minister from Great Britain, Mr. Henry Fox [R56/96], became the tenant, living there till his death in 1846 under such circumstances as to lead to the belief that he took his life.
This house, during Mr. Foxís occupancy, became more noted than before, owing to the singular conduct of its occupant. He turned night into day, playing cards often through the night and sleeping most of the day, usually taking his breakfast late in the afternoon. He cared nothing for the society of ladies, and, therefore what entertainments he gave were of the stag variety. He, however, felt impelled to attend parties given by diplomats. It is stated that to attend a party given by Count Bodisco he sent to Smithís Livery stable for a conveyance when all the vehicles were out excepting a hearse. This being reported to him, he ordered the vehicle, and either within it or on the box he reached the party. Some say that it was at this time that Count Bodisco was smitten by the charms of Miss Williams, who became his wife. It was a passion with Mr. Fox to keep a fine flower garden, and some of the few hours of daylight he allowed himself he spent among his roses; and that he alone should enjoy them, the fencing was made tight. After his death the house was idle some years, and during the fifties it was gutted by fire. Prior thereto a neighboring fire company had utilized the ball room by holding several parties and balls. The place became the property of George W. Riggs, who sold it to St. Annís Infant Asylum, and it has been rebuilt and enlarged.
That square south of Pennsylvania avenue between 24th and 25th streets was early improved. In or about 1800 Thomas Munroe erected a few yards east of the site occupied by St. Stephenís Church a substantial brick resident. This, in the twenties went into the possession of Satterlee Clarke [R40/130] and twenty years after passed to John Forsyth of Georgia, Secretary of the Navy about that time. John Weems and Guy French lived near this house early in the century and in the thirties Raphael Semmes and R.S. Dunlop owned lots on the avenue front and Benj. S. Bohrer owned the corner of 24th street and Pennsylvania avenue. Early in the fifties Dr. W.G. Newman bought the Munroe house and other property, living in that house for a number of years during which time he grew up with the neighborhood and enjoyed a large practice.
More Old Land Owners
In the latter part of the forties the indications were that a field was opening about this section for religious work, and a lot was offered as a site for a Methodist chapel, but the establishment of Union Chapel, on 20th street, diverted the interest there.
The square west of 23d street and east of New Hampshire avenue, south of the circle, was slow in improving. In the early days it was owned by Benjamin Stoddert, Uriah Forrest, D. Carnack, P. Barton Key and Capt. John Shaw, United States navy. For a third of a century the ground was valued at but a few cents per foot, and in 1824 there had been no improvements. In the thirties Gen. Macomb [R55/147], Col. Bomford and John Boyle, chief clerk of the Navy Department, bought some of the lots.