Has Unique History
By James Croggon, The Evening Star, January 6, 1907 [pt. 2, p. 7]
The square of ground known on the plat of the city as Reservation B, located between Pennsylvania and Missouri avenues and 4-1/2 and 6th streets, has a unique history. In the early days there was no thought that it would ever be the location of business houses, residences and workshops, and to demonstrate this it is only necessary to state that it was until about 1820 a part and parcel of the grounds reserved by the projectors of the city for the public. In addition the physical conditions were such as to repel any idea of placing habitations there, being south of the avenue, the ground but a foot or so above the level of the waters of the Tiber or canal and at best the surroundings were regarded as uninviting to seekers for homes and to builders.
Nevertheless the lots when placed on the market near a quarter of a century after the establishment of the municipal government, and over thirty years after lots in the vicinity had been utilized, were not a drug on the market nor were the purchasers tardy in making improvements. As early as 1830 the avenue front had upon it an auction den, a restaurant, a dry goods store and several boarding houses, and these were not slow in multiplying. In the course of a few years the boarding houses were a dominant feature and the buildings large and well managed. Among the patrons there were so many members of Congress that there was often heard the remark that on a call of the House the sergeant-at-arms could easily secure a quorum from the adjoining squares.
In the Low Grounds
There were bushes and vines in evidence, and, according to some of the early settlers of the locality, it was similar to the “slashes” in the northern part of the city, well remembered by some now living, and frequented by the wandering boys in search of adventure. An old lady who had occasion when a child to pass over this ground told the writer before her death about 1880 that many times when she was sent to market she would loiter by the way to “pick blackberries.”
Under an act of Congress, passed in 1822, the corporation was authorized to contract with the canal company to change the course so as to more effectually drain the low grounds. Under this act the canal was cut in a new course south of the reservation about directly west of the center of the Capitol. The act conveyed the interests of the United States to the city, and provided that the grounds should be plotted and the lots sold at public auction; that the proceeds should be used in paying for the work in planting trees and improving the space left vacant between the south line of the reservation and the canal, the balanced to be paid into the United States treasury. This act was executed by the commissioners of the low grounds, consisting of Mayor Thomas Carberry, R.C. Weightman, George Watterson, James Hoban and Adam Lindsley, with the mayor’s clerk, Thomas L. Noyes, secretary. The reservation was platted, and the sale took place that year in September.
Gen. Van Ness, who married Marcia Burns, the heiress and daughter of David Burns, claimed that the land, having been diverted from the use contemplated in Burns’ deed, the estate was entitled to it, or the proceeds of sale, and entered suit therefor. This did not deter purchasers and lots were bought subject to the decision of the court, the execution of the deeds by the mayor being held up for a time. Neither were parties deterred from building.
Considering this with the fact that the reclaimed ground was low, the process obtained were regarded as good, being in the neighborhood of 20 and 25 cents per foot on the avenue and 10 cents on the other streets.
The new street created by this improvement was then called Missouri street.
In the early deeds both avenue and street are mentioned. In a few years the improvements made by the purchasers formed an incentive to corporation work, and the first gravel walks gave way to brick sidewalks. South of Missouri street the trees flourished and the pleasing outlook was appreciated by residents and sojourners.
In 1830 the Missouri avenue lots were valued at 15 to 22 cents per foot, while those on Pennsylvania avenue were rated at 65 and 80 cents. John Carothers then lived at the St. James Hotel corner, and east on the avenue were Moses and W.P. Poor, auctioneers; H.V. Hill, cabinetmaker; Thomas Robinson, dry goods dealer; James Latournas, restaurant; Mrs. Ruth McIntire’s boarding house,, and E. Lindley’s dwelling. William Archer, a carpenter and builder, who invested about 1825, at this time had $13,800 on lot 18 on the avenue; Yates & McIntire $11,000 on lots 26 and 27. Other improvements on the avenue were two houses valued at $2,000 each and one of $400 charged to Ingle & Lindsley; $2,500 on 19 to G.S. Bullfinch; $3,500 on 20 to W.M. Sawyer; $4,200 on 21, to Anthony Preston; $5,500 on 22 and $5,800 on 23 to W.A. Bradley; $5,000 on 24 to George Phillips. On 4-1/2 street $3,000, lot 31, R. Semmes; $800, lot 36, and $1,500, lot 37, G. Watterson. Ulysses Ward, who bought lot 1, 135 feet on 4-1/2 street and 63-1/2 feet on Missouri avenue, had a row of buildings valued at $6,000.
About the same time Mr. Watterson had lot 3 on Missouri avenue and a house of $2,300 value; Mr. Ingle a $2,000 building on lot 4 adjoining; Fleet Smith a $1,000 improvement on lot 5; Thomas Burch one of $4,000 on lot 9 and H.T. Wrightman $1,000 on 10, $600 on 11 and $2,500 on 12, corner Missouri avenue and 6th street, and Thomas Hughes $2,000 on lot 15 on 6th street.
The boarding houses of Mrs. Hamilton, Mrs. E.G. Harrison, Mrs. Jackson, Mrs. Little, Mrs. Preuss, Mrs. Whitehall, Mrs. Williams, Mrs. Buck, Mrs. Chisholm and Mrs. Kennedy were to some extent favored by congressional patronage, and among the representatives with them were Messrs. DeMott, Edsall, Woodworth, Goodyear, Jenkins, Niven and Russell of New York; James Thompson of Pennsylvania, Robert McClelland of Michigan, afterward Secretary of the Interior; O.B. Ficklin and Wentworth (Long John) of Illinois; Young, Grider and Bell of Kentucky; Lumpkin of Georgia, Hanna and Thibodieux of Louisiana.
Some of these are remembered by our older people – Mr. Wentworth, by the Odd Fellows particularly for he “rode the goat” in Metropolis Lodge in the city hall.
“Marble alley” received its name from the well-known stone cutter, John P. Pepper, who established a marble yard at the avenue mouth about 1840. That fact was sufficient for the name, but it was brought more prominently before the public by some well-built houses erected in the center of the square.
On 4-1/2 street Joseph C. Davis was at the avenue corner, and there were the boarding houses of Mrs. M. hill and Mrs. Duvall, the residences of Mrs. McCormick, Mrs. E. Whitney, O.S. Hall and C. Miller, tailor. In the block erected at the corner of Missouri avenue and 4-1/2 street by Ulysses Ward lived a number of people, and one of the houses was occupied by himself. Mr. Ward was prominent in Methodist Church circles as a local minister and a zealous advocate and publisher of the Columbian Fountain in the interests of temperance; was engaged as a lumber dealer and largely interested in developing real estate.
On Missouri avenue were the boarding house of Mrs. Briscoe, residences of W.A. Wilson, J.V.N. Throop, H. Bangs, G. Mattingly, H. Fossett, R.G. Briscoe, D. Wilson, Francis Coyle, M. Delany, Charles Fletcher, Mrs. Tilley, Daniel Rhea, Mrs. S.A. Houston and Mrs. Connor and J.M. Favier’s bowling alley. The house in which Mrs. Connor lived is said to have been a present to her, and in the latter part of the forties it became an object of much interest because of the claim she made to an interest in the estate of Gen. Van Ness, as his widow, and her suit against the estate, which was the topic of the times. This claim was successfully controverted by the family of Mr. Van Ness.
John Brown's stable was at the corner of Missouri avenue and 6th street in the latter part of the thirties, and about 1841 it was destroyed by fire. Fortunately the horses with one exception were saved. Next the spot was occupied by Carroll & Kleindienst, wheelwrights and blacksmiths, and after was Thomas Young’s repair shop, his coach factory being on the avenue.
On 6th street lived Isaac N. Winston and James Hall, well known in sporting circles. There was some slave trading in this section, and in one house at least were rooms to confine these chattels.Clark's restaurant in the early forties was the site of the printing office of John T. Towers, and afterward the upper part became for a few years the Olympic Theater. In the early part of the civil war the theater was run by Henry Purdy, who exhibited a variety show.
In the fifties the building on 6th street known as “The Olympic” became again a printing office, and the National Era was printed there by Messrs. Buell & Blanchard for several years. C.H. Munck, gun and lock smith, became a favorite with the boys of that day, as he turned tops to suit them and was accommodating in his terms. He exchanged tops for natural dog wood, and for two sticks he turned tops to order.
After the burning of the National theater in 1845 the Adelphi was opened on the avenue near 4-1/2 street and for several years was Washington’s playhouse. Here it was that the elder Booth, in playing “Richard III,” became so real in his part that in the sword combat he forced Richmond from the stage. This building, when, in 1860, it was occupied by the Washington Light Infantry, was destroyed by fire, with much of the property of the organization. Henry Purdy then owned this building and grocery.
On the St. James’ Hotel corner in the fifties were David Reed, tailor, and Cherry and Whalley in the two-story bricks there standing. Among others not before mentioned were the Porters, painters; John Reese, plumber; Rudolph Eichorn, bacon dealer; P.A. DeSaules, restaurant, and Miss Ellen Scott’s boarding house.