Hundred Years Ago
Early History of City Squares South of Avenue
Bordered on Tiber Creek
Section Now Scene of Great Business Activity
Valuations In Early Period
Some of the Residents and Their Occupations –
Gradual Rise in Ground Values

By James Croggon, The Evening Star, October 7, 1906 [pt. 2, p. 6]

That section of Washington south of Pennsylvania avenue between 9th and 10th streets, which, 100 years ago, bordered Tiber creek, now the scene of business activity, was for many years difficult to describe. Indeed, most of these squares were for a third of a century partly covered by water at times, and were made up so much of marsh land that it was difficult to delineate what was suitable for settlement. This swamp land bordering the Tiber did not even approximate firm land till the center of C street was reached.

It was about this point that what became known as Sluice run united with the waters from Franklin Square and were merged with those of the Tiber. When the waters of the latter stream flowed into the canal, which was opened before 1820, the adjacent ground was drained and utilized. That it was not a very inviting section for residential purposes is apparent, for few and far between were the eligible places for houses. These were off the lines of the avenue and on 10th street, north of C street. Indeed, with the run, which until 1808 was crossed by fording, but was later spanned by a simple wooden bridge, and with little improved roadway, there was not much to invite settlement and improvement until the establishment of the Center, or Marsh market in 1802. Before this was authorized and when there was uncertainty of the completion of the canal, which was to supply drainage, a few optimistic people had made homes for themselves. And as the ground south was reclaimed some dwellings and business places appeared. When in 1816 the canal was opened to navigation much wood and produce was brought here by boats. Schooners, sloops and longboats were used in the trade and much of the adjacent ground was given to wood yards.

Bordering Pennsylvania Avenue
The square bordering Pennsylvania avenue was platted for but six original lots, and these running from avenue to street, excepting that at the southwest corner of the square had avenue frontage, but later they were ubdivided. Of that at the northwest corner of the square, in about the year 1801. James Ford, A. Robertson and James Charlton were part owners, and in the year following Zach Ferrel was located there. Messrs. Ford, Robertson and Ferrel were in the original listing of property in 1802 charged for improvements $150, $200 and $300, respectively, those of Robertson being doubled, and the latter increased $200 by 1807. About this time the ground in the square had been reduced from 12 to 8 cents per foot. Though no improvements were charged to Mr. Charlton, it is known that before the war of 1812 he had a grocery store at or near the corner of 10th street, and there is a tradition that there were times when rivermen rowed their boats under the store, which was on piles. They entered through the floor to make their purchases.

Mr. John Hereford purchased lots 2 and 3, bordering on Sluice run, in 1802 and there established a brewery, the building being valued at $1,000. It was later increased to $1,200. This was the scene of a fire in February 1815, the loss being between $1,000 and $2,000. Thomas Bates after this carried on a soap and candle factory here for ten years or more, his sons removing to G street east of 7th street, where for half a century as Bates & Son and Bates & Bro. the business was continued.

Valuation Increases
By 1824 the ground had greatly appreciated in value, 50 cents per foot being the basis. Capt. Peter Lenox had a brick building at the corner of 9th street valued at $3,500, in which Michael Shanks was then carrying on the china, glass and crockery business. Westward was the residence and grocery of Mrs. Cana, widow of Francis Cana, who established the business, assessed at $2,800; Christian Buchly, father of an undertaker well known in after years, was assessed for $500 on his dwelling and confectionery store; two brick dwellings belonging to Alexander Kerr of the Bank of Metropolis, assessed at $2,800 each; one to John Quincy Adams of $2,700 value, in which Robert Eastman, a carpenter, lived having his shop on C street, and Mrs. Eastman's millinery establishment. Mr. Ford's property had appreciated to $550, Mr. Ferrel’s to $1,000 and Mr. Robertson’s to $450. Besides those named above there were then on the square John Cunningham, a printer and temperance advocate; Maria Byrne, a milliner, who bought property about this time at the corner of 10th street; William Douglas, a carpenter; Joseph Ward, a tailor; Thomas Warner, a shoemaker; Mrs. Douglas, a dressmaker, and Mrs. Taylor, who kept a boarding house at 9th street.

In August, 1820, a house in the course of erection on the 10th street side of the square was destroyed by fire.

Further Improvement Noted
In 1833 there was still further improvement. Capt. Lenox had replaced his $3,500 property at 9th street by buildings assessed at $13,000, and the basis for taxation on the ground was from 60 to 75 cents per foot. John Quincy Adams' assessment was $3,500; Mr. Kerr, $2,800 on each of two houses; Cana's heirs, $2,500; Mr. Charlton, $1,500; Mr. Buchly, $500; John McNerhany, $3,300; Capt. Lenox's buildings on 10th and C streets, $6,000; Hereford's heirs, $800; Mr. Ford, $2,000; Robertson's heirs, $500, and Maria Byrne, at 10th and the avenue, $2,000. In this decade Mrs. Byrne and Mrs. Hamilton were milliners here, and Columbus Alexander and Samuel Stellinus had acquired ground here. Later Lemuel J. Middleton, the popular commander of the National Blues, was at the 9th street corner as a grocer, and James Skirving, dealer in stoves, etc., at the 10th street corner, were, in the forties, Thomas L. Potter established a grocery.

On the north side of the avenue dress goods were to be found by the ladies, and the south side furnished the bonnets and trimmings in the forties and fifties; in fact, here was a settlement of milliners and dressmakers. Among the milliners recalled are Mrs. Lucretia Allen, Mrs. Morrell, Mrs. E. Lamphier, Mrs. E. Sexsmith, and afterward Mrs. E.M. Lowe, who also kept embroideries and trimmings. The dressmakers included Mrs. Douglas, Miss A.M. Clarke and Mrs. Owner, on the avenue, and on 10th street were Mrs. R. Best and Mrs. Poulton; at the corner of 10th and C streets was Mrs. Barker, who conducted a bonnet bleachery. There were also on the avenue L.J. Denham’s dyeing establishment, and William Umfield and C. Berkely were in the same business in the fifties. At the corner of 10th street over the grocery was Shubert'’s muff factory, corner of 9th street; the boarding houses of Mrs. Taylor, Mrs. Hill, Mrs. Wilson and Mrs. Miller. There was a physician, Dr. C.H. Leibman; a drug store, E. Englehard's the house-furnishing stores of Thomas Milburn and L.S. Beck & Sons; Buchly's confectionery, afterward A. Buchly's undertaking establishment; Andrew Reese's upholstery; William Noell's venetian blind establishment, long engaged in supplying the government departments; John Doermee's gunsmith shop; Jacobi, turner; Jacob, tailor; John McDevitt's crockery store; Alex Prevost's, contractor, residence; George Miller, silver plater, and Marshall's carriage repository, after Stratton's auction rooms, at the 9th street corner. Later what are now the Salvation Army quarters was the Chesapeake saloon, conducted by Mr. M.R. Combs, the second story in the early part of the war being used as the armory of the Washington Light Infantry, then in the service of the United States.

Some of the Residents
William F. Bayly, a leading avenue stationer, father of C.B. Bayly of the Ellis music store, and long a city father and alderman; Anthony Best, who engaged in the manufacture of envelopes by hand for several government departments, afterward using machinery; the families in which were Mr. Shafer of Harris & Shafer, jewelers, and F.C. Bangs, the veteran actor, and Mrs. Edwards were on 10th street and Mr. Wright, a hatter and furrier, and William Doniphin, who had several cows, were on C street.

Much of the square south of the above described was, like it, of six original lots, and those were owned by Thomas Law, W.H. Dorsey and the Burns estate in the early days, when the corporation reduced a 3-cent valuation of the land to half a cent a foot. James Moore, who was a prominent dealer in bacon and lard as early as 1810, owned the eastern portion of the square on which is now located the Majestic Theater, and several years after the west end of the square. In 1824 the value of the ground was from 10 to 25 cents. The theater site was owned by Col. Peter Force, who had on it a brick building valued at $800. The lower portion was used in part for shoemaking and other shops, and here Mr. James Johnson, an ex-lieutenant of police, was employed about the year 1830. The upper portion was the coach shop of Mr. Peck for a long period.

Later the original building made way for a larger structure which in the late forties became the coach factory of Haslup & Weedon, and a portion of the ground floor was given to the manufacture of horseshoe nails. Subsequently the upper portion became a gymnasium, first under the management of Prof. Sharretts and next, Prof. Jardine, both of New York, and for a few seasons it was well patronized by the lovers of athletic sports. Then William Marshall had a carriage repository there and later it became a theater. Immediately in front of this building was the favorite ground for the circus performances in the thirties and forties, when circuses consisted of a dozen or so performers and horses, with a small band.

Commission Business Established
On Louisiana avenue about 1850 one of the dealers in fruits and vegetables in the market took a store room and engaged in the commission business, being the first of that now numerous class. He was known as French John at first, but later as Cheap John, and he met with such success that he surrendered his market stall to other parties and stuck to his store.

Mr. Moore built on Louisiana avenue near 10th street two frame houses, conducting the bacon business in one. These were in June 1840, destroyed by fire and were replaced by brick buildings, Mr. Moore occupying one and Mr. Shaffer's leather store the other. On C street were the boarding houses of Mrs. Ricker, Mrs. Donn and Mrs. Narden, which flourished, being favorite stopping places for those engaged in the market. Henry L. Davidson, long a constable, and Mrs. S.J. Hutchins, a dressmaker, lived on 10th street, and at the corner of Louisiana avenue and that street was the American Organ, published in the interest of the native American or know-nothing party in the fifties with Vespastion Ellis as editor.

About the center of Louisiana avenue was located a pump of spa water, which was located a pump of spa water, which was regarded as of highly medicinal quality, and it was carried to all parts of the city, frequently crowds of people waiting their turn.

West of the Market
It was many years before the square bordering the canal directly west of the market became of use for business purposes. Thomas Law was an early investor, being the owner of four of nine lots in 1802, when the ground rate of 3 cents was reduced to half a cent. In the thirties the valuation was from 35 to 50 cents, and the few buildings upon it were owned by Messrs. Law and Van Ness. One of these was valued at $400, facing the canal, in which S.W. Handy had a hat factory. This was burned in November, 1840. There was a valuation of $1,000 on two frame houses facing Louisiana avenue near Slice run. A willow tree was a prominent object here, and far and near the term "Willow Tree" was the recognized name for the locality. The west lot was owned by Gen. R.C. Weightman and Richard Smith, with the exception of a small portion leased to John P. Ingle. On this lot in the forties was Snyder's blacksmith shop, and one night it was burned.

The military and civic ball of the Washington Light Infantry was in progress that evening and many present in uniform were firemen as well as soldiers. When the alarm was sounded it was responded to so generally that the terpsichorean exercises at the ball were crippled and the fire apparatus, manned by the militia made a spectacle not often witnessed.

This lot was used by the Washington Gas Light Company as a site for tank and shops, and Capt. John McClelland in the 50's located his machine works here. Charles Lyons had his carpenter shop on Louisiana avenue, and with the exception of houses on 9th street occupied by A. Davis and Ignatius Luckett, the rest of the ground was used for the storage of wood and coal, B. and F.G. Waters having used much of it in 1826.

Brick Houses Erected
In the 40's the wood and coal yards of Joseph Fugitt and John B. Boone were on 9th street. In the 50's the market house had led to the location of some stores. Some brick houses had been erected on the corner of 9th street and Louisiana avenue in which stores were located. John H. Semmes & Company, grocers, were here many years and others soon followed. West of this was a small hall used for some time as a practice room for Joe Masoletti's band, and about 1837 the central guard house was erected by the corporation.

That there were some queer characters to be found here need not be said to many of the older ones. There was one known as "Nosey," for his prominent nasal appendage, but when Beau Hickman appeared here and saw the man he applied to him the title of "Champion cherry picker," giving as a reason that from the shape and size of his nose he could hang himself to a limb and pick cherries with both hands. Few who knew what an able-bodied man the possessor of the nose was would dare to say "cherries" in his presence.