Old Market Section
High Water Occasionally Inundated Reservation
Before Canal Was Formed
Business at the Mart a Century Ago Was Very Small
Butchers Use Wheelbarrows
Establishment of Commercial Houses in Sparsely Settled
Area Proceeded Slowly – Land Valuations

By James Croggon, The Evening Star, September 2, 1906 [pt. 2, p. 8]

In the early part of the last century that portion of Washington on which the Washington market stands, the reservation south of Pennsylvania avenue between 7th and 9th streets, became the principal center for the marketing of the city. This was soon after the people of Washington had obtained a corporate existence under the charter of May 30, 1802, the city council having passed an act establishing the Center Market on October 6 following. Though the name Center Market was an appropriate one because of its location, the term Marsh or Marsh Market, by which it soon became known was more fitting, and even today, where there are no signs of water about the place, it is called by the same term by the elder residents.

The waters of Tiber creek had not then been made to flow into the canal, and at high water much of the reservation was covered. Indeed, the present portions of the market fronting on B and 9th streets are where the tides ebbed and flowed a century ago.

It is true that the project of constructing the Washington city canal was based on a twofold object, the reclamation of the land and the interest of trade, but at that period it was in abeyance. Authority had been given for such improvement by acts of the legislature of Maryland in 1790 and 1795, and the company incorporated having failed to complete it within the five years specified, Congress had repealed those acts. In 1809, however, the project was revived and a company incorporated through which the canal was constructed and swampy lands reclaimed, and it is needless to say, conditions about the market improved.

Business Gradually Increased
As time passed the business of the market increased with the population and butchers, some of whom in the infancy of the market were wont to use a wheelbarrow to convey a hog of two or the quarters of a beef to their stalls, provided themselves with horse and wagon. More than one of the families of Washington who now enjoy affluence credit the origin of their fortunes to the humble occupation of carting meat to market on a wheelbarrow. At first there was but one shed set on piers, and in this the butchers' benches were rented for the moderate sum of $10 per annum, and it has been said that until about 1825 the provision was ample for the butchers and other dealers.

With the reclamation of the adjacent ground to the west and south of the shed through the construction of the canal there was there a site provided for an additional shed between 8th and 9th streets, as also for one extending southward in 8th street for the fish market previously held on the banks of the Tiber or canal at 7th street. It was about that year, 1825, that the enlargements took place and between the wings was erected the scale house and office of the clerk of the market, a position filled for thirty years or more by John Waters. In this provision was also made for the Auxiliary Guard, Washington's police, organized under the act of Congress of 1842, long under the command of Capt. John H. Goddard. The guard was legislated out of office when the metropolitan police was created in 1861. Here were also cells for prisoners and daily, in the mornings and evenings, some magistrate tried criminal as well as civil cases. Ofttimes was the lash applied there in the cases of offending slaves, the gratings of the cell doors serving as the whipping post.

The fire engine for the protection of the market was kept in a shed within convenient distance, a small building furnishing accommodation for the apparatus of the times – a small hand engine in which the water was poured from leathern buckets passed down a line of men from a pump or cistern, to be forced on the fire, a few short ladders and axes and a small quantity of hose. That for the Center Market was in the 20's located on the east side of 9th street, a few feet south of Pennsylvania avenue, and a fire company, known as the Phoenix, used it. Former Lieut. James Johnson of the metropolitan police, now approaching his ninetieth year, was reared in this neighborhood and remembers that among the active members of the company were the elder Bacon, the Bradleys, the elder Galt, Anthony Holmead, Gassaway, Pairo and Zekekiel Young.

Fire Company Formed
In the 30's, about 1837, the formation and location of the Perseverance Fire Company in the center of 8th street, where the lines of Pennsylvania and Louisiana avenues intersect, gave that section what was a fine improvement – a two-story brick engine house with hall surmounted by a fine-toned bell and a cupalo. The company was composed of some of those noted above or their descendants or many who resided in that section. The bell is well remembered by the older Washington people, for it was used many years as the curfew bell. The corporation laws respecting people of color, slave or free, required them to be in their homes by 10 o’clock at night in summer and 9 o’clock in winter, and this bell struck those hours. Many families made it a rule of their households that the bell should determine the hour of retirement, children especially being expected to be in the house when the curfew rang.

The hall was used for some years as the office of the Firemen’s Insurance Company, a corporation formed in the latter part of the 30's by representatives of the volunteer fire companies of the city and is yet in business here. It was the meeting place for firemen's conventions, social and political clubs, and it was there that numerous church entertainments were held in those days.

In the political campaign of 1840 the vicinity of the market was a busy place, for near the site of the Phoenix engine shed was located the headquarters of the whigs. A log cabin decked with coon skins with a live coon or two and other insignia of Tippecanoe contained a barrel of hard cider which was liberally patronized. Here at meetings held every night a fiddler was engaged in scraping out the tune of "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too" and others, and the excitement in which the Tippecanoe Club took the lead continued until the eve of the election.

It was to be expected that the sparsely settled vicinity of the principal market house would soon become dotted with business houses, but such improvements came slowly. North of the market, beyond the reservations, was the line of C street, but on this there were but four original lots on each of the two squares. These were, however, cut into smaller parcels and some business houses established on what long has borne the name of Marsh Market Space, for many years the dry goods center. It was not, however, till in the thirties it became a mart for hides and leather, fancy goods, groceries, etc.

Little Enterprise Shown
Where now nearly the entire square is covered by one mammoth establishment, C street, or Market space between 7th and 8th streets, little enterprise was shown in the early days of the century, despite the fact that by 1800 the east half of the square and other portions were sold. There were but twelve lots in the original plan, and of these J.R. Dermott bought the three forming the southeast quarter fronting 7th street and space, Thomas Lansdale the northeast quarter, 7th and D streets, and a lot on 8th street, and A. Moriarty the lot of 8th and D streets. The ground valuation was but 12 cents per foot in 1803, and as above stated, improvements came slowly. Part of lot 2 had been leased to John Harrison, who three years later transferred it to Robert Harrison.

In 1802 Thomas Young had purchased on 8th street a lot on which he had a $1,000 building, and John Bloor had a building of like value on the same lot, while Mr. Moriarty owned one valued at the same on the southeast corner of 8th and D streets. Henry Whetcroft owned lots 3 and 4 before 1800, which his children sold to Letitia King. Thus the south front of the square was out of the hands of the original owners.

In 1812 James M. Varnum obtained a four-year lease on Mr. Young's 8th street lot, and lots 3 and 4 were subdivided into subs A, B, and C, presumable for stores. In these were Mr. Varnum, A. Kerr, after George Kleiber, and John Randall interested, and Fred Wagler owned property eastward. In the same year Washington Boyd and Charles Glover acquired the corner of 8th and D streets. In 1815 Mr. Varnum bought the corner of 8th and C streets and other property on the space. F. Pic leased a frame house on 8th street and transferred it to Washington Hall three years after, and R. Ballard bought sub B on the space. A. Oehler, a tailor, in 1822 had a lease on part of the Dermott property and after 1827 assigned it to John Simond, with an agreement that his two frame houses fronting on 7th street should be moved so as to front on the alley.

Real Estate Figures
In the twenties the valuation of the ground was 60 to 65 cents on the space. C street, 25 to 28 cents on 7th street and 18 to 20 cents on D and 8th streets. The valuation for improvements were: Lot 1, property owned by Ann R. Dermott, $7,500; lot 2, John J. Dermott, $2,000; lot 3, J.M. Varnum, $1,500; lot 4, Phineas Bradley, $3,000; Mr. Varnum, $4,200, and Joseph Walker, $2,200; lot 6, on C street, J.C. Wilson, $1,800; T. Young, $1,800; lot 7, R. Jones, $1,800, and C.W. Boteler, $350.

In the thirties the ground valuation had risen to $1.00 per foot and there was an increase in the amount and number of improvements, as the following will show: Lot 1, Ann R. Dermott, $12,000; A.B. Waller, $6,000; 3, Varnum's heirs, $3,600; P. Bradly, $3,300; 4, P. Bradly, $2,500; John Walker, $2,200, and Varnum’s heirs, $4,000, on the space; 5, Mary P. Varnum, $2,800; 6, J.A. Wilson, $1,600; Thomas Young, $1,800; 7, James Fauble, $250; R. Jones, $1,800, on 8th street; 8, Varnum's heirs, $800, on D street; Patriotic Bank, which acquired the corner of 7th and D streets in 1825, $6,500; and 12, Mr. Waller, $2,500, and Ann K. Dermott, $500, on 7th street.

The square west of the above described, like it, was of but twelve original lots, but in 1812 that portion bordering on the space and 9th street was subdivided. Before 1800 most of the lots were owned by Nathan Bond, Thomas Law and Lawrence Sands and in that year Joseph and Isaac Perkins acquired property around the east half of the south front of the square.

The original ground valuation was 12 cents, and improvements came slowly. Among the property owners prior to 1820 was John Mason, owning a piece of land at the corner of 8th and D streets; W.H. Dorsey, avenue and 9th street lots; Henry Whitcroft, 9th street and the avenue, which property afterward went to David Ott; and T.W. Pairo, N. Whelan, F. Clark and John McConnell, owned property on the avenue; J.C. Palmer and Isaac Edelin, 9th street; Simon Mead, corner of 9th and D streets, and Peter Lenox, the corner of 8th street and the space.

In 1820 the ground valuation had reached 75 cents on the space and 55 cents on other portions. Hanson Gassaway then owned property at the corner of 9th street and the avenue, keeping a hardware store, which was assessed on $4,000. T.W. Pario conducted a dry goods business on adjoining property assessed at $300; and eastward were N. Whalen's heirs, $450; T. Delany, $750; N. Whalen's heirs, $900; F. Clark's heirs, $1,800, and the property of Peter Lenox, $500. On 9th street J. Durphy was paying taxes on $1,500; L.E. Pack, $1,150; J. Spratt, $2,200; G.C. Grammer, $2,100. On 8th street J.B. Gorman paid taxes on $1,800 and P. Lenox on $400.

Record of Improvements
Before 1830, when the ground had appreciated to the value of 75 cents and $1 at the corner of 9th street, on the space, James Nairn acquired property on the southeast corner of 9th and D streets and established a grocery store, paying taxes on an assessment of $1,600. Thomas Cookendorfer, then running a stage line between this city and Baltimore, owned lots on 9th street and was paying taxes on a $2,000 residence. Sam Devaughn lived in leased property on 9th street and he afterward bought the house.

In the thirties Selby Parker, long in a fancy goods business on the avenue near 10th street, resided on 8th street north of the avenue, but sold his frame house to William Doughty. James Richey had a lease on a house on the avenue est of 9th street, where he kept a fancy store and after transferred it to Charles Lyons and in turn to P.H. Borland. John Richey had a frame building on 9th street north of the avenue used as a billiard saloon, which he sold to J.W. Garner.

Nathan Jewett was, in the forties the owner of the Clagett corner of 9th street and Pennsylvania avenue, and George W. Adams, father of the late George W. Adams, well known as a journalist and a member of The Evening Star Company, was keeping a dry goods store on the space in leased property. On 8th street Samuel Kirby owned lot 10, on a part of which he had his cabinet factory, other parts being occupied by the house of Benjamin Burch, William Poulton's cooper shop and residence, and the residence of R.S. Patterson, a druggist.

Early Settlers
In the twenties Capt. Phillip Mauro had his auction and commission house at the 7th street end of the space. The hardware store of Hanson Gassaway was at 9th street. The dry goods stores of William Prout, jr., and William Owner, the groceries of M. Murray and Mrs. Jane O'Leary, the tin shop of Henry Ault, the barber shops of John Bull and A.C. Moore and the shoe shop of M. Speake were then on the space. In the forties the dry goods trade had a number of stores on the space and the space had become more attractive to the ladies than any part of Washington. There were here the larger portion of Washington's dry goods houses, and some of the stores carried surprisingly large stocks. Among these were the houses of Darius Clagett & Co., at 9th street; William R. Riley, afterward a bank president; Henry Carter, A.T. Wall, R.C. Washington, Hall & Brother, H.C. Spaulding, R.W. Carter and R. Estep. Miss Jane Briscoe kept a millinery establishment, J.H. Gibbs, a fancy goods store, and Boteler & Donn a house furnishing store. The wholesale and retail grocery houses of George & Thomas Parker, Lewis & Holland and Edward Hall and the boarding houses of Mrs. E.M. Janney and Mrs. Kluber were situated on the space.

In the 20's on the west side of 7th street were James Crain's tavern. Thomas Colclazer's blacksmith shop and A. Oehler’s tailor shop, and twenty-five years later there were the grocery of Moorhead & Browne, fruit store of Michael Talty, tavern of William Feeney, the Patriotic Bank and Firemen's Insurance Company.

Mrs. James M. Varnum, C.W. Boteler, T. Colclazer and Edward Barry were residents of 9th street in the 20's, where Raphael Jones then kept a grocery and dry goods store on the east side of 8th street. In the 40's Mr. Jones was established there in the grocery trade, and also Mrs. Varnum, and there were the shops of Samuel Kirby, cabinetmaker; William Poulton, cooper, with residence; Ed. McCubbin, braber; Mrs. Lepreux, boarding house keeper, and the meat stores of John Hoover and John Walker.

On 9th street in the 20's were Spratt's hat and shoe store, Mrs. E. Fonde's fancy store, John Dumphy's and James Nairns' groceries and Thomas Cookendorfer's residence. In the 40's the latter was living in his old home there, and there were F.M. Orme's grocery, F. Stugle's tailor shop, John Richey's fancy store and A. Wallingsford's residence.