Washington History
Reminiscences of the First Platting of City
The Remarkable Changes
Some of the First Business Establishments in the City
Story of Old Odeon Theater
Old-Time Hotels and Boarding Houses –
How Pennsylvania Avenue Looked Over Fifty Years Ago

By James Croggon, The Evening Star, January 20, 1907 [p. 5]

When the city of Washington was laid out B street northwest was created a due east and west thoroughfare, and between 3d and 4-1/2 streets it passed through what is now reservation 10, crossing Pennsylvania avenue between these streets. This made the reservation an almost perfect square, with a small portion abutting on the avenue, and when the Hotel Vendome is, at the southeast corner, was a triangular space. This reservation was changed from its square form by the extension of its south line to Pennsylvania avenue. In 1816 a congressional act authorized the commissioner of public buildings (Col. Lane) to plat the southern portion of the square into building lots, not exceeding two hundred feet in depth, and dispose of every other lot, holding the others for the United States. Some disagreement as to how the act was to be executed ensued, for it was found with B street as laid down but two and three lots were on the avenue, and the act was allowed to lapse. In 1820, however, the act of Congress for the reclamation of the low grounds by the city, included this reservation, and the line of the avenue was decreed its southern boundary. At that period some of the lands north and west had been improved, but trees and shrubbery were plentiful, and looking northward the idea of country life was suggested. Near 4-1/2 street the house long occupied by G.C. Grammer with the surrounding grounds covering several lots terraced and laid out bore the appearance of a country seat.

The reservation was platted for forty-four original lots and their sale was made under the commissioners of the low grounds, the terms being one-fifth cash, the deed to pass on the payment of the balance. That these on the payment of the balance. That these were soon sold and improved is apparent, for by 1824 there were several buildings on this land, John Law having one valued at $2,200; John E. Frost at $2,100, on Pennsylvania avenue; Thomas Stanley at $2,200, on 4-1/2 street. The latter afterward sold to John Withers. Of lot 21, at the corner of 4-1/2 street and the avenue, owned by Mr. Law, Henry M. Moffitt, an attorney-at-law, in 1827 bought a part, 50 feet on the avenue and 100 feet on 4-1/2 street, and afterward bought other portions of this lot, having his residence here for a number of years. There was some litigation between the United States and Mr. Law over the title, but the case was decided in favor of the latter about 1830. After it had passed through Moffitt’s hands the corner was purchased in 1837 by the well-known grocery, hardware and variety firm of Ailer & Thyson, located for over a generation on 7th street. It next became the Odeon Theater and in the latter part of the forties a noted book and periodical stand was conducted on the ground by the popular Col. Joseph Shillington. This store was one of the best patronized establishments and was a great resort for men of note in national and local circles. Dr. J.F.I. MacClery had his office in the Odeon and later L.B. True, a general agent, was here.

The Old Odeon Theater
The Odeon was opened as a theater by Mr. Kilmiste about December 1, 1846, and was so used till April, 1847. In this period a stock company performed and in January three noted dancers were the attraction. As the room would not seat four hundred and the price of admission was only 25 cents, no blame could be attached the management for raising prices when there were extraordinary attractions such as Miles, Augusta, Malvine and others. The old building is yet standing and has been the scene of many parties, balls, exhibitions, society and religious meetings and has been used for almost every possible purpose.

In the thirties an assessment of 50 cents per foot was made on the avenue lots, 55 cents on those at the southeast corner of the square and 80 cents at the southwest corner, while other portions were rated at from 16 to 20 cents. Mr. Withers had by this time acquired lots 1 and 2, 40 and 41 on the southeast part of the square, but later sold the last to F.X. Kennedy. Mr. Withers improved these lots later by the erection of the building known in the forties as William Gadsby's hotel, and later a boarding house conducted by Mrs. Beveridge and others. Reverdy Johnson, senator from Maryland, and other congressmen, and later Henry Wilson, senator and vice president, were for a long time guests in this house. Mr. Kennedy also improved his lot northward by erecting a residence. West of Mr. Withers' avenue property were the tailor shop of John Simon, the house of Darius Clagett, who sold to Briscoe & Clark, who conducted a dry goods store for a time. These were succeeded by G.J.F. Catlett. Mrs. Mary E. Wertz had a lease and kept a boarding house about midway the square, and Hannah Allen was in a house held in trust for her. Samuel Miller had a brick dwelling, with a store on the avenue.

Daniel Pierce, whose name was before the public for over fifty years as an umbrella maker, had a shop here then. Samuel Miller had a house on the present site of Jackson Hall. In 1835 Jonathan Elliott and Andrew Rothwell, both well-known printers and publishers, each set up business on this square. The name of the former is preserved on the early-day directories and other publications, and the former in the files of Rothwell’s register and in the corporation records as collector of taxes. Mr. Elliott erected several buildings here, in which he located his business, and the Elliott building contained his printing office, with those of Dr. C. Boyle and other professional gentlemen.

An Historic Old Street
There were also on the avenue Michael MacCarthy's tailor shop, J.D. Boteler, gun and locksmith; Catherine Davis, milliner; James Lawrence, and James Sessford, whose signs were the figure of an Indian. Michael Murray and the well-known John Smith, then sweepmaster; John Withers, J.E. Frost and Richard Thompson had by 1830 erected fine houses on 4-1/2 street, as Anthony Holmead and W.B. Kibbey did later. The southwest corner of 4-1/2 and C streets was, in 1823, in the possession of John Colburn. James Williams, and later Joseph Bosworth, were located there, and it is known that Mr. Williams, who was in the cabinet-making and undertaking business, lived on the 4-1/2 street portion for years. On C street were the houses of Mrs. Elliott, C.S. Fowler, J.H. Bradley, W.S. Drummond, Mrs. D. Galvin, J.H. Reilly, H.T. Weightman and others; later Rev. Reuben Post, Maj. S.R. Hobbie, J.T. Webb and others.

Mrs. Galvin bought part of lot 32, near the corner of 3d street, and having achieved a reputation in the conduct of a congressional boarding house on Capitol Hill; as soon as her new house was opened her clientage followed her. From the days of Senators Buckner, Ruggles and others, for twenty years or more, Mrs. Galvin's boarding house was an institution of the neighborhood.

About 1830 Carey Selden, who, in the days of Jackson, was the naval storekeeper, and Gen. Alexander Hunter, for many years marshal of the District, bought at the southwest corner of 3d and C street. Here they built the fine old-fashioned edifice known in later years as the Crosby House. Mrs. Harriet O. Read afterward bought the corner and conducted a boarding house some years, and in her day at intervals it enjoyed the patronage of distinguished people, members of Congress and others. Messrs. Selden and Hunter each lived here some years.

The 3d street side of the square did not improve rapidly, though in 1830 there were W.S. Drummond's carpenter shop and the houses of Edward C. Caton, a printer, and F.X. Kennedy. In 1832 Michael Foy had bought part of lot 40, and James Elgar, commissioner of public buildings, had lot 40, and James Elgar, commissioner of public buildings, had lot 44, and in this decade Buckner Thurston, judge of the circuit court, had part of lot 40, Mr. Foy lots 37, 38 and 39 and Mr. Withers lots 42 and 45.

In 1830 the improvements were valued as follows : John Withers, $2,700; Robert Eckel, $1,800; C.B. Hamilton, $3,000; W.S. Drummond, $150, carpenter shop; Letourna, $300; P.S. Howie, $1,400; John Withers, $4,500; John Simon, $300; J.S. Devlin, $600; M. Jeffries, $800; M. McCarthy, $450; C. Venable, $150; F. Kingston, $450; S. Miller, $400; D. Pierce, $100; Jonathan Elliott, $900; S. Miller, $3,700, and H.M. Moffett, $2,800. These cover the avenue property from east to west. On 4-1/2 street the valuations were: John Withers, $2,500; J.E. Frost, $2,500; H. Thompson, $2,600, and --- Galloway on the lot at 4-1/2 and C streets. On C street Joseph Bradley, W.S. Drummond and J.H. Risby, $2,700 each; Mr. Drummond, $300; H.T. Weightman, $3,200, and John Simon, $900.

In 1832 C.H. Wiltberger was assessed on $2,800, A. Holmead $3,000 and Carey Selden, $16,000, the latter on improvements at 3d and C streets.

Before 1840 John W. Maury, afterward mayor of Washington, then an exchange broker, bought near the corner of 3d and C streets, where the family yet reside, and James MacCormick on the west and Dr. Wwilliam Jones, long city postmaster, on the east, where he lived a number of years, adjoining the house of Charles Rich. Mrs. Ann MacDaniel bought a house on 4-1/2 street and established a boarding house, which was a favorite stopping place, especially of the Virginia members of Congress. J.C. Bayer had a lease on a brick house north on 4-1/2 street. George Parker of G.T. Parker & Co., wholesale grocers, on the avenue for twenty years or more, bought at the southwest corner of 4-1/2 and C streets and made his residence there for many years. William H. Upperman bought avenue property and engaged in the grocery business there for a long series of years until a short time before the civil war.

The Old Metropolis Hotel
In the forties A.H. Young and P.W. Browning, merchant tailors, bought on the avenue, as did A.R. Jenkins, who opened the Metropolis Hotel and Joseph Follansbee, what became afterward the United States Hotel property. F.P. Blair bought lots 14 and 15, on which was erected Jackson Hall and the printing office of Blair & Rives, who published the Congressional Globe. James Fitzgerald kept a tavern and fruit store nearby, and William Greason a fruit store, the former owning his ground and the latter having a lease on two frame houses. In 1851 this property was destroyed by fire.

On C street Rev. William MacLain, long secretary of the American Colonization Society, owned a home near the corner of 4-1/2 street and nearby Thomas H. Benton, who served thirty years as senator from Missouri, known also as “Old Bullion,” owned a roomy old-fashioned brick house as his Washington home. The senator and family added much to the society of the neighborhood at that time and the house was the scene of many brilliant entertainments, in which the daughter, Miss Jessie, afterward Mrs. John C. Fremont, was a bright star. A delegation of Pottawatomie Indians on a visit to the great father (President Polk) paid a call here, appearing in the full dress of the wilds, and were as delighted with the reception as were Col. Benton and family. It is needless to say that they attracted much notice from the neighbors. In February, 1855, this house was destroyed by fire, and it was one of the most exciting fires Washington ever experienced. It occurred about 3 o’clock in the afternoon during freezing weather, and when the family, with a little of the furniture, reached the street, the interior was a raging furnace. The firemen found entrance impossible and the hose of the Northern Liberties fire company was carried to a tree, from which the stream of water was directed into the upper windows. When the fire had been extinguished it was found that the pipeman was frozen to the tree and it was necessary to cut away the ice, as also to thaw him out when he reached the ground, for the water in his boots was frozen. He is living today and a member of the Veteran Volunteer Firemen’s Association.

The Francis Scott Key Home
Francis Scott Key owned a home on C street near 3d street in this decade, and P.B. Key lived here the latter part of his life. George B. MacKnight, surgeon of the United States navy, owned and lived on lot 37, on 3d street south of C street, and later Admiral L.M. Powell, then a commander of the United States navy, built a home southward, in which he spent many years.

About the center of the 3d street front of the square was the Temperance Hotel, the host of which bore not the significant name of Beers for a total abstinence house. A hotel minus a bar room was not an oddity to the public of Washington, but nevertheless a goodly number of patrons enjoyed life under the roof of Isaac Beers.

In the forties many houses had been erected and hotels, boarding-houses, stores, halls, etc., were in evidence. On the avenue front was the United States Hotel, under the management of Capt. James H. Birch, at which were guests then Senators J.C. Calhoun and W.T. Colquitt of South Carolina, Representatives Burt of South Carolina, J.B. Chapman of Michigan, E.H. Ewing of Tennessee, H.A. Haralson, Isaiah Parrish of Ohio and G. Sykes of Wisconsin. The Verandah Hotel of Cotter & Thompson, the Metropolis House of A.R. Jenkins, the taverns of James Cuthbert and James Fitzgerald (also a fruit store) stood on the avenue. The boarding-houses of Mrs. Clements, with whom J.A. Seddon of Virginia roomed; Miss Shonnard, with whom Senators J.T. Simmons of Rhode Island. W. Upham of Vermont and W. Woodbridge and Gen. J.C. Chapman of Maryland made their homes; Mrs. Clitz, with whom J.H. Ewing of Pennsylvania and S. Foot of Vermont lodged, and Mrs. W. Archer, with whom J.C. Phelps and J.H. Relf of Missouri lodged, also stood here.

The Jackson Hall Building
About 1845 the Jackson Hall building was erected by Blair & Rives and there the Congressional Globe was printed for years. This at the time was regarded as a great improvement and the building is yet a fine structure. The lower story was arranged for two store rooms of one hundred feet depth and the hall in the second story took in the whole length and width of the building. It was intended for balls, meetings, etc., and in the old days was the scene of many a fine assemblage. The old Jackson Democratic Association had its headquarters here and the 8th of January was always remembered here in some manner by a military ball usually, while on January 17 the Typographical Society and a volunteer fire company, either by a ball, supper or entertainment, would honor Franklin, and it need not be said that on the night of February 22 the hall was never idle.

Of the stores on the avenue there were those of William Greason and Isaac Newton, dealers in fruits; J.C. Kneller and P.L. Leman, tobacconists; Duvall & Bros., P.W. Browning, A.H. Young, tailors; G. Templeman, books; W. Adams, periodicals; W. Wilson, hats; T.F. Semmes, wines and liquors; W.H. Nalley and Newton & Lewis, bookbinders; J.H. Davis, printer, and W.P. MacConnell, dentist.

The Adams Express Company was then in a small room and the Colonization Society was in rented quarters near 4-1/2 street. On 3d street was the well-known Temperance Hotel of Isaac Beers, the homes of Commander, afterward Admiral L.M. Powell, and Surgeon G.B. MacKnight, U.S.A. William Bagnam kept a grocery store and hacks. C.E. Sherman was an attorney, and Senator A.P. Bagley of Alabama was living here, and Gen. Hunter was located at the corner of C street.

On C street were Senators Thomas Benton of Missouri and John A. Dix of New York, John A. Smith, clerk of the court; George Parker, grocer; Marshall Brown of Indian Queen Hotel; Dr. Jonas Green, who afterward was on the Exchange Hotel site; Mrs. McLean, Mrs. Galvin, Mrs. Cox, Mrs. Clements and others. On 4-1/2 resided Justice B.K. Morsell, W.B. Kibbey, Dr. McClery, Mrs. Spalding and the boarding house of Mrs. McDaniel.