Early Meeting Place
City Spring on the North Side of C Street
Grove of Trees About It
Favorite Spot for Family Gatherings and Recreation
Blessing To Neighborhood
Water Used for Public Baths Settlement of the Square
Among the Early Owners

By James Croggon, The Evening Star, December 15, 1906 [pt. 2, p. 3]

Until about 1870 there was in existence a diary commenced in about the year 1800 by a young miss when about ten years of age, and continued until about 1860, in which the doings of her home, in the vicinity of the National Hotel, were recounted. Unfortunately this treasure contained some family history which the owner thought should be forgotten, and the diary was therefore destroyed. There are some people living who are acquainted with some of the contents from having read it, and one of whom states that she described the old city spring on the north side of C street, between 4-1/2 and 6th streets, about the site of the present Harper building, and a grove of trees about it which was a meeting place of the early families when the writer was in her teens.

According to this diary every afternoon and evening there were meetings held, sometimes partaking of the character of a picnic, and while the dames sat around conversing, sewing or knitting, the younger portion would give selections of instrumental and vocal music, engage in dancing or old-fashioned plays, or watch the smaller children dabble in the little streams from the spring. Among the names the informant recalled as participating in these scenes were Somerville, Hyatt, Woodward and Underwood. It was also noted by the writer how the water was utilized in the neighborhood, wooden pipes being laid to carry it across 6th street to the tavern now included in the site of the Metropolitan Hotel, and across C street to Havenner's baker and other houses in that square. The water is spoken of as of excellent quality and plenteous quantity, and it was said it long proved a blessing to the neighborhood. The water was carried to the avenue and supplied the public and the residents between 4-1/2 and 7th streets. It was also conveyed to the public baths, conducted for a half century by Mrs. Prudence Aiken.

That for some years the scenes described by this lady were those of country life may be inferred from the fact that it was in 1812 when 4-1/2 street, from the avenue to D street, was graded and graveled, and two years later when "$50 worth of improvements" were put on C street between 4-1/2 and 7th streets. In 1815 C street between 3d and 6th streets was given $200 worth of grading and graveling, and three years later 4-1/2 street received $150 improvement in gravel.

Square With Small Population
C and 4-1/2 streets (now John Marshall place) form the south and east boundaries of square 490, which is on the southwest slope of the hill on which the city hall was erected in 1821-2. It does not appear that there was much settlement on the twenty-five lots into which the square was plotted on the original plan of the city for many years. In fact, the C street front first showed evidence of progress, the first purchasers being on that street. J. Wilkes Pratt and J. Smith Magruder in 1794 bought lot 4, and five years later "David Burns, gentleman," conveys to "A. Rutherford and A. Reid, stonecutters, lot 7, and the improvements for 112 pounds 10 shillings, Maryland currency -- $300 federal money."

Sales of Property
The following year Mr. Reid sold his interest to his partner, and the west half of the lot was sold to David Oglevie. In the corporation books of 1803 the improvements on the east half of this lot include $550 charged to David Waterstone (Watterson) and David Oglevie's improvements are valued at $250. Mr. Waterstone was a stonecutter, and is remembered by many of the descendants of Mr. Rutherford who have followed that business in various parts of the city. It would seem, from the fact that there are a few living who have seen evidence of stonecutting at this point, that if not the first private stoneyards, an early one at least was here located.

There was on the lot a public house in the last century's infancy conducted by a Mr. Kinnan, or Keenan, also one of Marshal Brent's deputies. As such he was the jailer when McGurk, the first to suffer death in the District on the scaffold, was executed in 1802, the crime being the murder of his wife, and he was kept in a building on the rear of the lot.

In 1803, William Woodward was located on lot 3, but three years later he sold part of the property to Robert Underwood, stipulating in the deed for the privilege of using the water of the spring in square 460, west of 6th and south of C streets. The corporation authorized the laying of pipes at the expense of those using the water. Though the books show no improvements, it is believed that at the time of transfer there was a house upon the lot. Though the corporation value of the ground was 5 cents per foot, the C street front of the square was held at 10 cents.

About 1810 part of lot 3 was in the name of Dr. Brent et al., trustees of the Washington Building Company, and John Davis, in 1812, bought there and established the hotel popular under his name for many years, and in the latter twenties, known as John Davis' boarding house. During Mr. Davis' occupancy the adjoining lots, 4 and 5, were acquired, and it became the property of the Bank of Washington, valued by the corporation at $10,000. Miss Ann Hamilton for several years conducted a boarding house there, and later V. Willett assumed the role of Boniface. J.M. Gilbert in the forties conducted the Exchange Hotel.

Later Dr. Jonas Green, a pioneer homeopathic physician, owned the hotel building, having his residence and office in it, back of the property. On the alley, the stabling was converted into a slave pen, or "nigger jail," about 1840, and there were human chattels confined in the days of slavery. The fact that the windows were barred with iron caused the building to be regarded as the McGurk jail, which, long ago, with the exception of the foundation, disappeared.

On lot 6, west of the hotel property, was Moses Young in 1817, and later Edward Judson had $2,000 worth of improvements. There were the bath houses of Mrs. Prudence Aiken for years, she being assisted to the management by Miss Caroline Aiken; and to the fact that the baths were well patronized was due the general good health of that section. On lot 7, adjoining, was William Butler, with a $200 improvement in the twenties, and J.S. McCubbin had a lease on part of it and a $700 house. The latter had prior thereto engaged in the tavern business on the east side of 6th street south of C street, and taken the new place on C street and provided a billiard saloon, one of the first in Washington. There he prospered, in a few years buying it and other property in the square.

Pioneer of Light Infantry
The business reverted to the daughter after the death of the parents, and, she becoming the wife of Henry Sweeting, it was continued in his name as the Virginia House. Mr. Sweeting was known to all Washington as the stalwart pioneer of the old Washington Light Infantry. A man of generous, disposition and genial habits, his house was so popular in the old days that company could always be found there. Mrs. Sweeting conducted the business a few years after her husband's death, and marrying Levi Pumphrey, her neighbor, it was continued in his name, and the late James W. Pumphrey, his son, followed him. A short time before the civil war it became a wine and beer saloon and a popular resort for the German element.

It was there in the winter of 1860 that the late Carl Schurz was given an ovation by his countrymen. The house was gaily decorated with American and German colors, the porch converted into a platform and hundreds were present with a monster band. Reporters were ready to take the speeches and accommodations furnished them. Their consternation in hearing nothing but the German language may be imagined. As this occurred on Saturday evening and there were no Sunday papers published the committee helped the pencil shovers by volunteering translations in time for the Monday issues. During the civil war it was a noted place.

Adjoining McCubbin's tavern on the west on lot 8 was the livery and sale business early established. About 1820 James Smith, a colored horseman, opened a stable which was taxed at $1,300. He was very successful in business, enjoying a fine run of custom. In 1827 it became the property of John Brown, long engaged in the stage business, and there his horses and vehicles were kept when not in service till steam power furnished the means of travel in the 40's. Mr. Pumphrey succeeded Mr. Brown and for many years Pumphrey's stable was a landmark. The lots at the southwest corner of the square for many years had only a $250 improvement, in the name of Joseph Thomas. These 9, 10 and 11 stood for a long time in the name of John Davis, and this improvement noted was a blacksmith shop, first conducted by John Brannen and in the 30s by John Roach. In that decade Mr. Thomas owned a $1,400 house on 6th street in which Mr. Brown lived for several years.

It appears that the first subdivision made in the square was of the original lots 1 and 2 into sublots 1 to 5 in September, 1830. Commodore Tingy owned the lots. About 1816 they became the property of Benjamin G. Orr, afterward mayor of Washington, and though no improvements are listed in his name in 1824, in 1833 those on lot 1, $2,200, and lot 2, $3,000, are listed to his heirs. R. Burgess was charged $2,800 on 3, Bank of Washington $9,500 on 3, 4 and 5; E. Judson $2,000 on 6, J.S. McCubbin $1,500 on 7, R.S. Weightman $2,400 on 7, James Smith $1,400 on 8, James Thomas $1,400 on 9, 10 and 11. The ground valuation was 50 cents at the corner of 6th street, 25 cents at 4-1/2 street and 18 and 20 cents on C street. The subdivisions of lots 1 and 2 were bought in 1831, Tucker & Thompson and Dr. Seth J. Todd being among the purchasers. In the twenties there were on the north side of C street Mrs. P. Aikin, Carey Seldon, John Pettit, dyer; William Thumlist, a shoemaker; Smith's stable, Davis' hotel and McCubbin's tavern. In the next decade, commencing at 4-1/2 street, were Dr. Thomas Sewall, a physician and minister; Matthew St. C. Clarke, clerk of the House of Representatives; John McLean, Postmaster General, and later justice of the Supreme Court of the United States; Dr. S.J. Todd, Mrs. Aikin, Mrs. McCubbin and John Brown's stable. In the forties Dr. Harvey Lindsley was in Dr. Sewall's house on the corner, and Enoch and Samuel Tucker, A.F. Kimmel, the Exchange Hotel, Sweeting's Virginia House, Levi Pumphrey's stable, Dennis Pumphrey's stable and Squire Coote's office were on 6th street. Later Rev. C.M. Butler of Trinity P.E. Church, A.N. Zeverly, afterward assistant postmaster general, Dr. Jonas Green and Mrs. Mickle were on C street.

West Side of 4-1/2 Street
The west side of 4-1/2 street between C and D streets, lots 21 to 25 were improved at a very tardy pace by individuals, the corporation books until the thirties showing no taxable improvements except the Masonic Hall on lot 21, 4-1/2 and D streets, that was valued at $8,000. The lot was in the name of W.H. Dorsey in 1802, the property of Timothy P. Andrews in 1815 and of B.O. Tyler in 1821, but in 1826 it became the property of four Masonic lodges and the site for their hall. The deed was made to Andrew Tate, Jacob A. Bender, W.W. Seaton and William Hewitt as trustees for Federal Lodge, No. 1, Columbia 3, Lebanon, 7, and New Jerusalem, 9. The corner stone was laid September 26 of that year with imposing ceremonies. The procession formed at St. John's Church, whose rector, Rev. W. Hawley, D.D., was grand chaplain, and on arrival at the spot the corner stone was laid by the grand master, J.W. Moulder, after which Col. W.W. Seaton, P.G.M., delivered the address. There were present Gen. Weightman, then mayor, and many officials of the corporation, and a number of Masons from other places were present. By the close of the year it was in service as a building of three stories, the upper fitted for the lodges and the other stores were rented. The old Columbian Museum, previous thereto located in the rotunda of the Arts building, near Pennsylvania avenue and 13th street, was in the new structure several years, and the hall was later the scene of entertainments and the like. Signor Blitz, when a youth, appeared there as a sleight o'hand performer, many balls and dancing parties were given and Masi's dancing school was for a long time located there. Financial difficulty resulted in the property going into the hands of John Purdy more than 60 years ago and after serving as a dwelling it became an office building.

First Presbyterian Church Site
On January 6, 1827, lot 24, the site of the First Presbyterian Church, the members of which had from about 1812 worshiped south of the Capitol, was purchased for that object and the following year was ready for service. It was originally an exceedingly plain structure, being only a slight improvement on "The Little White Church" they moved from, other than in size. But the wisdom of removing was early seen. The first pastor, Rev. Mr. Brackenridge, was followed in 1819 by Rev. Reuben Post, who served till 1836. It was during Dr. Post's pastorate that the church in addition to its original adherents received many families of the down-town section. With such men as Elias B. Caldwell, then clerk of the United States Supreme Court; George Blagden, master builder of the Capitol and other structures, and Capt. John Coyle, chief clerk of the Post Office Department, as the first ruling elders, and the Moores, Campbells, Whittleseys and other families, it would have been surprising if it had not become a large and influential congregation. Mr. Post was followed by Rev. William McLean till 1840, Rev. Charles Rich to 1843, W.F. Sprole to 1847, Rev. E. Ballentine to 1851 and Rev. Dr. Byron Sunderland spent near a half a century there.

In the twenties there were on C street in addition to Robert Evans, a collector; J. Pettit, a scourer, and Mrs. A. Wallensford.

Among those there in the forties in addition to those already named were Prof. C.G. Page and Dr. Lindsleys, Mrs. Little, A.F. Kent, Mrs. Gurley, Mrs. Dashiel and Mrs. Beeler.

On 4-1/2 street Thomas Stanley, a painter, resided, in the twenties, and in the forties there were Lieut. Richard Carter, U.S.N.; H. Dent, attorney at law, and others.