In City's Early Days
By James Croggon, The Evening Star, July 8, 1906 [pt. 2 p. 6]
The erection of the original National Theater on the present site was regarded as the important addition to the neighborhood. The building of the structure followed the formation of a joint stock company in September, 1834, in which Messrs. Henry Randall, Richard Smith, Columbus McLean, George Gibson and Wm. Brent were the managers. They purchased two lots from Gen. John Mason and commenced the enterprise. In July of the following year the propertyh was conveyed to Mr. W.W. Corcoran and then reconveyed to the trustees, Messrs. Randall, Smith, Brent and B. Ogle Tayloe. That year it was completed. The opening production was the comedy, "The Man of the World," followed by a farce, December 7, 1835. The lessees and manager were Maywood, Rowbotham and Pratt of the Chestnut Street Theater, Philadelphia. In the course of ten years some of the most celebrated stage personages achieved triumphs, among them Mme. Celeste, James Brutus Booth, Edwin Forrest, Ellen Tree, Fanny Elisler and others.
A play called "Pocahontas," written by Col. G. Washington Parke Custis of Arlington, was produced here in 1837, as was also an Indian play called "Pontiac; or, the Siege of Detroit," written by Gen. Alex. Macomb, at that time the commander of the United States army. Both met with success.
Failures in 1844
The ruins remained an eyesore for several years. In December, 1850, in a temporary structure, the celebrated Swedish songstress, Jenny Lind, electrified the audience. For the third time the theater was rebuilt. It was reopened December 15, 1856, E.A. Marshall being the lessee, with Matilda Heron, in "The Hunchback," as the attraction. December 22, 1852, the Grand Italian Opera Company, and February 9 Lola Montez appeared. For a few years following opera and the drama were successfully presented. January 12, 1856, the theater was again burned. The lot remained idle until 1862, when the theater was rebuilt and the lessee and manager, Leonard Grove, opened it April 22, 1862.
Place for Public Meetings
Theatrical performances were also given in the hall in the thirties. There were many fairs and lectures held there, and in political campaigns the hall was a rallying point.
Apollo Hall was burned twice, late in the forties the last time it being completely destroyed. Its blackened walls stood for many years as a reminder of what it had been.
In the twenties the New York Avenue Church was erected under the name of the Second Presbyterian Church. It was a plain chapel-like brick edifice, and it stood alone with no improvements in sight northward and few in other directions. The Foundry Methodist Chapel had been erected at G and 14th streets in 1816 and was almost as lonely.
Coach Factory and Stable
In 1850 what bore the name of Rum Row was made up largely of places where liquor was not hard to obtain and "a game" could be easily found. At the corner of 14th street was the telegraph office, and later the office of the Associated Press, adjoining the drug store of Kidwell & Laurence over which Dr. Hoff had his dental office. Next was Campbell's wine store, then Snell's Hotel and garden, John Usher's restaurant and C.W. Flint's like establishment. Hall's gambling rooms were over the latter. The Union office adjoined the building on the east with the theater next. A marble yard, conducted by Rutherford, who was in turn succeeded by Kirkpatrick & Kelly, flanked the restaurant of "Dry" West, and Michael Talty was next to him. Henry Olive kept a lottery office, and three houses belonging to Allison Nailor filled up space until the two buildings known as Grayson's Hotel, on the corner of 13th street, were reached.
Stopping Place for Indians
The Western Hotel, or Indian boarding house, at the southeast corner of 13-1/2 and E street, was under the management of the well known Jimmy Maher, the magnet of the boys of the city, for there were from about 1830 down to 1860 delegations of Red Men there constantly, and they were regarded with great courtesy. With his stabling and shops, a large three-story brick building, the hotel proprietor used nearly the whole of the E street front of the square. This was the headquarters for Nailor's line of stages, or omnibuses, running first from the Capitol and afterward from the navy yard gate to Georgetown. It was long the leading livery stable of this city, the sons of Mr. Nailor continuing the business for many years.
It was in the fifties that the neighborhood received an impetus, the government bindery, long located in the new building, and a demand for houses for the employes developed. Perhaps the most noted use to which it was put was as the meeting place for a council of "know-nothings," and it is generally believed that it was there the plot was formed to destroy the pope's stone, the memorial sent from Rome to be placed in the Washington national monument.
Mr. Allison Nailor, about 1840, bought three brick houses at the southeast corner of 13-1/2 and D streets, which formed the nucleus of Nailor's row. At the corner Mr. Dickinson Nailor for many years conducted a grocery store. Six houses were added to the original three, and it was while the foundation was being dug that a slave won his freedom. He was Joe Bates and he belonged to Mr. Nailor. While digging a fott or two in the ground he struck a box and was surprised to find that it contained Spanish gold coin. He gave it in possession of Mr. Nailor, who suggested that the could buy his freedom and have something with which to start life the amount being more than $900. Abe, of course, accepted the offer. How the money reached there has never been ascertained.
Ample Facilities for Entertainment
As in those days such places furnished accommodation for man and beast, the requirements were, in addition to the need of the family, their chambers, containing two beds each, and stabling for four horses. It did not require many such houses to fill the public want in this direction. Robert Miller kept a grocery on the north side of the street; Wm. Coleman a bake shop; Wm. Morgan a shoemaker's shop; Joseph Etter a watch and jewelry store, and Chris Cummins a tailor shop.
Among the residents were John Quincy Adams, then Secretary of State; Dr. W. Thornton, then superintendent of the patent office; Richard Forrest, Enoch Reynolds and Joseph Wheaton, government clerks; John Poor, watchman; Mrs. Nancy Preston, Mrs. Alice Berd, Isaac Hutton, bookbinder; J. Girand, carpenter and Thomas Wilson bricklayer.
On 14th street north of F street were Wm. James, E. Stephens, Joshua Dawson and one or two others. James Larned lived on G street west of 14th street; Henry Miller, a brickmaker, resided on 13th street south of G street; Thomas Williams and Joseph Walker, blacksmiths, on 13th street south of F street; Miss Cottringer's school, Henry Neale, register of wills; George King, lumber merchant.
French Consul General's Office
South of the avenue were Nelson Davidson, coachmaker, at 13-1/2 street; James Sinclair, blacksmith; William Coombs, butcher; Daniel Pearl, carpenter; Mr. Jeffero, plasterer; J. Bosworth, blacksmith; N. Plant, bricklayer, and W. Eisenback, messenger.
Twenty years later, or in the forties, the Union Hotel had been established on the south side of F street, near 13th street by Abram Butler. Dowling's tavern was near, and James Kennedy was keeping a book store. John Quincy Adams having served as President, was then a representative; James Buchanan, a future President, was then Secretary of State and Robert Greenhow and N.P. Trist of his department, were his neighbors.
William Smith was keeping a boarding house on the site of the present Ebbitts House; B.W. Reed and John J. Joyce, at the corner of 13th street, were rivals in the grocery trade; Dr. Edward Arnold taught the Washington High School at 14th and F streets, and J.L. Henshaw, the public school at 14th and G street; Miss A.M. Cochrane, Mrs. J.G. Cummings and H.L. Northrup conducted boarding houses on F street and Mrs. Manning a similar establishment on 13th street north of E street; W.W. King, a treasury clerk, and Samuel D. King, agent, magistrate, etc., were on F street, as were also W. Lowndes, painter, A.K. Parris, second controller; E. Semmes, grocer; A. Tait, stone mason; J.E.W. Thompson and A. and W. Thompson, cabinet makers, and Mrs. Rigsby, who kept a fruit store. On the north side of the avenue on E street were McClerry & Clements' drug store; James Anderson's shoe store; Dr. Thomas Miller, afterward on F street; Union printing office, John C. Rives; Swan dining rooms, E. Kersey, the National Theater and T. Berry's stone yard.
Franklin Fire Company
On D street were Mrs. Bartlett Dickinson Nailor, Mrs. Butler, boarding house; Mr. Crider, painter; J.W. Dexter, police officer; W. Dobson, coachmaker; E. Hamilton, carpenter; L. Haislup, coach maker; Wm. Jones, printer; Mrs. C. Kelly, grocer; Mrs. McIntire, boarding house; P.O. Preston, lumber dealer; W.W. Walling, grocer; Chas. Webster, plasterer.
West Adams, Mrs. M. Keller, Sandy Maddox, R. Heath and James Freeman were on Ohio avenue and Powell Heiss, John Moses, Mrs. M. Le Morris, grocer; J.H. Plant, grocer, and John L. Smith, magistrate, were on C street.
On 14th street north of G street lived Columbus Alexander, the well-known printer, in the house erected many years before by Lloyd M. Lowe for his residence. Between F and G streets lived J.L. Henshaw, teacher of the public school, and Balaam Burch, a well-known carpenter. Below the avenue on 14th street lived W.E. Kennaugh, printer, and Grafton Powell, clerk. On 13-1/2 street were Thomas Donaldson, constable, and Thos. Rabbitt, tailor.
On 13th street below the avenue lived C. Dunington, printer; Chas. Gautier, confectioner; P. Green, carpenter; Mrs. C. Lewis and Mrs. Stinger, dressmakers. North of the avenue on 13th street were A. Nailor, Mrs. Sessford, Colonel Michael Nourse, R.S. Wharton and Joseph Wilson, clerks.
On G street was the house of Mrs. N. Wilson and afterward J.E.W. Thompson, John White and Chas. Tschiffely.