Early Meeting Place
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
Sales of Property
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
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
First Presbyterian Church Site
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.