Growth Hindered
Section near Tiber Creek Settled Slowly
Lay of the Land Was Low
Small Stream Wound its Serpentine Way through Square
First Theatre Built There
On its State Joseph Jefferson Appeared and Vaudeville Delighted the Early Settlers

By James Croggon, The Evening Star, September 24, 1906 [p. 7]

Few sections of ancient Washington had such an unpromising outlook in the early years of the nineteenth century as the square on the south side of Pennsylvania avenue between 10th and 11th streets, and the square south of that whose lines were once within the waters of the Tyber, now facing the wholesale market space, for many years the canal basin. It is, therefore, not surprising that the southern portion, especially that which was often under water, was slow to improve. Indeed, if credence is given to the accounts handed down to this generation, the wonder is not the slow rate at which this slice of the municipality made progress; but that substantial citizens settled upon it and worked energetically to build it up. For, as before stated, there was south of it the Tyber, which was being converted into the Washington canal, the completion of which was problematical; the lay of the land was low in comparison with the grades of today, and in 11th street there was a small stream whose head was in the neighborhood of 12th and G streets, and which followed a serpentine course. However useful this was for carrying off water, etc., it had well worn an ugly gully in the street, and, as early as 1809, had put the corporation to the expense of bridging it. Yet at an early period a building for theatrical purposes was erected there, known later as the Washington Theatre or Assembly Rooms. It is needless to say that the former inhabitants would find little familiar to them in this section, though there are a few old buildings standing.

Important Early Event
Aside from the selection of the site for the Washington Theatre at the northeast corner of 11th and C streets in the early years of the last century, the most important event was the settlement of the avenue front, at least that portion about 10th street. There are standing today, as Nos. 1001-4 and 6 Pennsylvania avenue, three old-fashioned brick houses which bear few signs of their age. Though it cannot be ascertained in what year they were erected, there is little doubt they were built in the early days of the century, for the lot No. 7 was in 1802 in the possession of Wm. H. Dorsey, who owned much city property, and in 1811 that was owned by Phillip Mauro and later by Jacob Felius.

This section was included in the Burns tract when the city was laid out and the square fronting the avenue laid off into eight lots, the avenue front into but two. In 1800 Pratt, Francis and associates owned half of them, the other half being held by the original proprietor, David Burns, from whom it descended to his daughter, Mrs. Van Ness, wife of General Van Ness. The 10th street corner portion from the middle of the square, lot 7, became the property of Wm. H. Dorsey. When the first assessment was made by the corporation in 1803 the avenue front was valued at 12 cents per foot, the 11th street front at 8, and the 10th and C streets property at 4 cents. By 1807 these valuations were reduced about one-third. The first improvement assessed was in the name of Gen. John P. Van Ness of $4,000 on lots 3, 4, and 5, the theatre building, on the site of the present Kernan's Lyceum Theatre, whose walls contain some of the original building. In 1811 Capt. Phillip Mauro bought lot 7, the 10th street corner, and for a few years conducted the business of an auctioneer there, but later was established in the neighborhood of 7th and the avenue.

The Original Owners
This lot was subdivided into A, B, C, an D about 1815, Julius Fillius taking sub B, west of the corner, which afterward went into the hands of Gaetano Carusi, as did also original lot 8, on 10th street, the owner later selling this to Anthony Holmead. Michael Sardo bought sub A, at the corner; Frederick Stinger sub C, and John Knoblock sub D. Before 1820 Mrs. Elizabeth Braden took a lease on part lot 6, purchasing later; and in a few years G.C. Grammer owned a lot on C street; John Coad leased part of a lot adjoining; the theatre property, which was then a mass of blackened walls, passed to the Carusis. David English about this time had property on the avenue, and Mrs. Baltzer, Andrew Way and Christopher Andrew owned in property lot 6, the Harvey corner. Mr. Sardo , who had kept a grocery, was then conducting a boarding house in his dwelling, corner of 10th street, and was assessed at the rate of $4,000. On the lower floor Passet & Fadeulhe, upholsterers and paperhangers, were located. The three houses west bore an assessment of $3,300 each and were in the names of G. Carusi, Frederick Stinger, and J. Knoblock. A small house, valued at $200, in the name of Mrs. Baltzer and some vacant ground were between Mr. Knoblock's house and the house familiarly known as Betsy Braden's boarding house, on the corner, this being a three-story brick valued at $6,100. On the 10th street front property owned by Andrew Faw was assessed at $1,700 and the theatre property, in the name of the Carusis, at $4,000. The ground valuation was thirty-five cents per foot on the avenue and on some lots was as low as fourteen cents.

Before the Thirties
Before the thirties Mr. Stinger, who had kept a grocery store next to the Carusi residence, sold his place to Paul Kinchy, a confectioner and chef, and Charles Lyons, a carpenter, purchased the corner of 10th and C streets. The ground valuation about 1833 had risen to sixty cents on the avenue, the lowest price being eighteen cents. The following assessments were made: Charles Lyon, $300 on C street; $8,000 on theatre property to the Carusis; $5,600 on 11th street and the avenue to Mrs. Braden; $3,000 and $3,300 to Mr. Sardo.

In the square south there were twelve original lots which were valued first at three cents a foot, but it fell in 1807 to one cent. They were then owned by Thomas Law and the owners of the Burns estate. There was nothing doing in sales for a third of a century other than by lease with the privilege to purchase. In 1818 John Carothers leased lot 10, at the southwest corner of 10th and C streets, having in 1824 a building on the lot, then valued at eight cents a foot. Henry Ault, a tinner, owned property on lot 7, at the southeast corner of 11th and C, in a building of the like value. Samuel Walker had leased before that time lot 9, fronting on C street, and in 1828 James Green leased parts of lots 10 and 11, on 10th street. In 1830 they were listed for only a $300 improvement in the name of Thomas Law, and one of $1,800 in the name of John Carothers.

Fronting Canal Basin
In 1833 Caleb Buckingham became the owner of a lot on C street, subsequently buying to the corner of 11th street, and Thomas M. and Benedict Milburn became the owners of a lot fronting the canal basin. The southeast corner of the square was used by Peter Casenave as a wood yard for many years. Mr. Casenave was a grandson of Notley Young, one of the original proprietors whose lands joined those of Burns in the square, and it was believed that he inherited the ground. At any rate, the Youngs claimed interest here, and as late as 1853 the heirs, thirty or more, joined in a deed to George N. Young conveying all of their interests here.

That the site of the first building erected for theatrical purposes in the District should have been at the northeast corner of 11th and C streets northwest is difficult to understand by those who have knowledge through reading and family traditions of the physical features of that locality at the period. Though close to the avenue, it was only a short square from the walls of the canal, and at one time but a few yards from the waters of the creek which ran through this section to the Potomac. Indeed, the very doors of the building were at times under water during storms or high tides. It is true that the Masonic fraternity had erected a small hall on the square west, but the surface of the ground on the west side of 11th street was slightly higher, and on the square south there was no settlement for years. The old theatre became the city post office for a time in the early forties. While the office was located there, the neighborhood was never a lonely one. When mails were received and dispatched by stage there were scenes entirely unknown to the present generation. There was, on the southeast corner of 11th and C streets in the twenties a $300 improvement, assessed to Thomas Law, and the ground had risen from a few cents - one to three, then to sixteen and twenty. John Carothers, from 1818 to 1822 was in business at the southwest corner of 10th and C streets, going from there to New York avenue, 18th and H streets, where he established a tannery about 1828.

Wild Waste Nearby
South of these places was wild waste for a number of years if the business along the canal wall is excepted. It may be said that the location north of the theatre site was comparatively unknown to the public of fifty years ago, when the steamed oyster business was started by the late Thomas M. Harvey in the two-story brick building at the southeast corner of 11th and C streets, which in a few months had become a most popular place.

There had been some theatrical performances in the infant years of the capital before 1803, companies of strolling players giving shows at Conrad & McMann's tavern, now the Varnum, at the northwest corner of New Jersey avenue and C street, and at the Great Hotel, afterward the post office, which was burned in December 1836. In 1803 a movement looking to the erection of a permanent temple for theatricals was made by the opening of subscription books, and by April of that year there was a meeting, over which Daniel Carroll presided, when the site was selected and a building committee appointed.

Gen. Van Ness Treasurer
Gen. Van Ness, at that time a major of militia of the District, was the treasurer. Associated with him were Samuel Harrison Smith, the founder of the Intelligencer, Robert Brent, the first clerk of the District Court, and Thomas Law, a capitalist, all of whom were prominent in measures affecting the interests of the capital city.

According to Mr. A.I. Mudd, whose progenitors were among the early residents of Washington, the money needed, raised by stock at $50 per share, did not flow into the coffers freely, but the building, which cost some $3,000, was finally finished. Mr. Maginnes opened it November 16, 1804, with a grand medley entertainment of song, dance, magic, pictures, etc. lasting a month. It was opened and closed alternately for some years, and, failing to pay to the satisfaction of the shareholders, was put up for sale in 1811 and 1813, but was not disposed of. As before, performances and vacation alternated until April 10, 1820, when fire destroyed all save the walls and, doubtless, had not the adjoining boarding house of Mrs. Braden and some others been covered with snow, the flames would have spread. Here Joseph Jefferson, Mrs. Warren, Mr. Fennel, Mr. and Mrs. Wood, Mr. and Mrs. Burke, Mr. and Mrs. Wallace and others performed. The vaudeville also was not unknown here.

After the fire the walls were found to be intact, and the Carusi family, having settled on the avenue at 10th street, bought the property. There were the father, Gaetano, and his three sons, gifted as musicians and artists; the father also well-versed in law and a linguist of note. The sons, Samuel, Lewis and Nathaniel, had established a reputation as professors of music, dancing and painting, and here could be fitted up a building in which their avocations could be easily followed.

Purchased Old Ruins
The old ruins were purchased in 1822, and the intention was to enlarge it, but when the attempt was made to take down the wall, and it was pulled over in one solid chunk, the other walls were allowed to remain. From 1822 till 1858 the names of Carusi's Assembly Rooms applied as well as Carusi's Dancing School, and in that period it played an important part in the history of the city. Many an aged gentleman or lady can recall pleasant scenes of the past, especially the famous May balls given by Lewis Carusi and his pupils, the inaugural balls of Van Buren, Harrison, Polk and others before such had grown to a magnitude as to require larger space. Military and civic organizations often gave balls here, and theatrical, musical, and literary entertainments, temperance and occasionally political meetings took place within its walls.

The Carusis, who were associated with the assembly rooms and the property in this section for years, had, for a few after the arrival of the family - Gaetano, the father, and three sons - in this country under an engagement with Commodore Preble to form and instruct a band for the Marine Corps, resided first near the navy yard. Subsequently, they lived on 11th street above E street, and later south of the avenue. Having in course of a few years established themselves as musicians and teachers, they took a more pretentious residence, what is now 1004 Pennsylvania avenue, as did Michael Sardo, also a musician, on the corner of 10th street. During the war of 1812 and after, the latter was engaged in keeping a store on 10th street, just south of the avenue, where he is said to have sold his whole stock to the British soldiery, being soon the richest man in Washington in pounds, shilling and pence. While the family residences of the Carusis and Sardos were here, there were also on the square the homes of Col. Joseph Watson, Col. D.P. Polk, Senator Poindexter, George M. Bibb, whose son John married a Carusi, Col. Ashton, Mrs. Blake, widow of major Blake, James B. Colvin, editor and publisher of the Register, as well as the boarding houses of Mrs. Sardo, Mrs. Braden and Mrs. Stewart; F. Stenger's grocery store, C. Polkinhorn's harness shop, G. Gaither's silversmith store, Benjamin Chamber's engraver's shop, P. Kinchey's confectionery store, John Coad's cabinet shop. Later there were on the avenue front the properties of M.R. Coombs, restaurant keeper; R.I. Davis, music storekeeper; Samuel Lewis, silversmith, Kinchey, confectioner; Sidney DeCamps, with bookbindery on 10th street, Joseph Whitney, shoemaker, Alexander Rutherford, marble dealer, Charles Lyons and Mrs. Edward's residences. Squire Clark and his office, near the corner of 11th street for a time, and afterwards J.W. Thompson's plumbing establishment, was opened there. Over Buckingham's shop on C street was a small hall, in which some societies held their meetings, the German Benevolent Society among others.

This neighborhood was several times the scene of excitement through the actions of a demented ex-government official who, in his early life, made an enviable name among the citizens. At times he would become possessed of the idea that he had untold millions of wealth, which it was unfair to keep all to himself. With pieces of paper the size of banknotes he would count out into the hands of those he met what he thought to be thousands of dollars. Sometimes he would attempt to give a fortune to a stranger and a scene would often follow.

Had Money to Spare
On one occasion Squire Clark had had his office treated with a coat of whitewash and was engaged in hearing a case in his trim little apartment. The poor fellow appeared at the door with a piece of charcoal in his hand, and after meditating for awhile went to the wall, saying "I give ______ one thousand million dollars," and naming others with like fabulous sums in a trice covered the walls with huge black figures which he intended to sum up, but by main strength his addition was stopped.

The steamed oyster had its start at the southeast corner of 11th and C streets and it is not generally known that its introduction to the public was one of the results of the civil war. Messrs. Thomas M. and George Harvey had, in 1858, taken the building at the southeast corner of 11th and C streets, which had been for years the shop of Captain Buckingham, while he was engaged in iron work. It was of brick of about sixty by thirty feet, and the Harveys, making a specialty of hotel and boarding house trade and giving their personal attention to all the details, including the serving of boiled, oysters, became favorite caterers.

Tried an Experiment
In September 1861, just after they had opened for the season, Mr. George Harvey witnessed the arrival of four or five regiments of soldiers by the Baltimore and Ohio and, knowing that in a few hours their place would be crowded, hastened there and asked how they would manage to supply boiled oysters to the crowd which would be there in a few hours. Michael R. Combs and Tom Harvey were there and the three conferred, the question being why oysters could not be steamed, instead of boiled. It was agreed to make a trial, and into a kettle four or five baskets of oysters were emptied, the steam turned on, and in a few moments they sampled the first dish of steamed oysters. The experiment was a success. Other kettles were erected and in a little time such was the popularity of the steamed oyster that a hundred horsepower boiler and a long line of kettles were put in and additions were made to the counter to supply the demand. Soon after the close of war the building, later occupied by G. Harvey, was purchased and remodeled.

The wholesale market space now fills the site of the ancient canal basin, at times a busy mart devoted mostly to the lumber and wood trade. The usual craft seen there was the long boat propelled by men pushing with poles. Some of the vessels were supplied with mast and sails the shoulder-of-mutton style being the favorite. When, however, the ice stopped navigation, this basin underwent a metamorphosis, for the water was at best a few feet deep, and furnished an ideal skating place, where hundreds resorted.