By James Croggon, The Evening Star, February 3, 1907 [pt. 4, p. 1]
When the city was young – that is, prior to 1822, when the Tiber crossed Pennsylvania avenue at 2d street – there was public ground on the north side of the avenue, as well as on the south. Between 2d and 3d streets, south of C street, as the maps showed, there were two public reservations made by B street cutting through the area. With the Tiber at this point, flowing over a gravely bed, and with no indications of improvement thereabouts excepting that trees and bushes had been cut within the street lines, nature had full sway, and the national legislators, representing rural districts did not have far to go to enjoy a home-like scene.
These reservations, numbered 11 and 12, were included in that portion of the domain, which by congressional act of 1822, to drain the low grounds, etc., was transferred to the municipality and converted into city squares. They were platted into lots which were disposed of and built upon, and by reason of the location of our first railroad depot, at the corner of the avenue and 2d street, over seventy years since, it became one of our best-known localities. In the development of the south square, reservation 12, that north of 11, was a great contributor, for from a fine bed of clay there bricks were made and burned within a few hundred yards of the walls in which they were laid.
Reservation 12, running through from Pennsylvania avenue to B street, west of the Tiber creek or 2d street, and east of 3d street, was under the commissioners of the low grounds divided into seventeen lots, Nos. 1 to 18 facing the avenue. It appears that soon after the lots were placed on the market, in 1822, an avenue lot, No. 12, was bought by F.G. Fish, and three years after it was placed in the name of J.R. Burdick. This, in 1826, became the property of James Owner. William Owner, an avenue dry goods merchant, lived here some years and the house was in the thirties, conducted as a boarding house by Mrs. Owner, who had some congressional patronage – Senators Felix Grundy of Tennessee and J.M. Robinson of Illinois, and Representatives Burch, Dunlap and Lea of Tennessee, Lyon of Kentucky, Carr of Indiana, Casey and Slade of Illinois, being among them. Gates & McIntire, in the lottery and exchange business, and Edward Simms, a grocer, from the navy yard section, bought in lot 11 and a fine brick house was built upon it. In 1828 John Purdy, then in the painting business, bought lot 10 and improved it by erecting a dwelling house. D.D. Arden, lottery and exchange broker, the same year bought the lot at the west end of the square, No. 13, the site of the St. Charles Hotel, and this was shortly afterward improved by two three-story brick houses, and he had his office here for a time. At the east end of this square Mr. H.M. Moffitt, in 1830 had a three-storied brick house on the lot and on the next lot 2, John Sinon had a house and H.V. Hill had a lease on ground near Mr. Moffitt's house, on which he had a coach shop.
The Avenue During The Thirties
In November 1835, lots 1 and 2, fronting on the avenue, and part of 16, lot 17, the east end of the square, were bought by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company as the site for the Washington branch depot and in a little time this became a most interesting point for the public. On the arrival and departure of trains for some months crowds were drawn by curiosity, and it was not rare that men and women walked from distant parts of the district just to see the steam cars. The trains, but two per day, had been running a few months before this, since July, landing and taking passengers at a temporary platform and shed, a short distance north, but the property, having been secured, soon was converted to its new uses. A house that was built by Mr. Moffitt, stood near the corner, a narrow three-storied brick house which had been used as a boarding house by John Mount. There were on the other parts of the property the house of John Sinon and some small improvements – coach and other shops. These shops were removed and sheds erected for the cars, and in the house at the corner was the ticket office. This was surmounted by a small belfry, from which the ringing of a small bell ten minutes before the departure of trains gave notice of the fact to the public. The business was easily transacted and for a few years all departments of the road – passenger, baggage and freight – were managed by Mr. John Stettinius, the agent.
The St. Charles Hotel
Gen. Jones and Maj. Jones had their law offices at 3d and B streets, and A.J. Schwartz a drug store at 3d street and the avenue. There were also John Donovan's and John Turner's taverns, W. Brashear's, W. Donovan's and H. Holmead's grocery stores; Mrs. E. Brawner's, Francis Coyle's and Mrs. Mixon's boarding houses; Watts, merchant tailor; the Philadelphia clothing House, E. Sayre, manager; R. Nixon, jeweler, F.A. Dunn, tobacconist; P. Crerar, fancy goods; H. Barnes, confectioner; Smith & McClelland, engravers; R. Patten & Son, mathematical instrument makers, and Col. Joseph Shillington, then agent of the Baltimore Sun, and Mr. Brashears on the avenue. More than one of the patrons at the bars were accustomed to sweetening their whiskey at the taverns in this neighborhood, where a bowl of brown sugar with a spoon could always be found.
Mrs. Brawner had a congressional colony at her house. Among them were Robert Toombs of Georgia, a confederate general and Caleb B. Smith of Indiana, afterward Mr. Lincoln's Secretary of the Interior; Samuel F. Vinton and A. Harper of Ohio, Garrett Davis of Kentucky. J.H. Crozier of Tennessee, E.W. McGaughey of Indiana and John Rank of New York. F.G. McConnell of Alabama stopped at Mrs. Nixon's.
An Early Advertising Dodge
One Sunday morning immense placards, asking "Who heard Hunter speak?" were found plentifully displayed. The next week it was "What did Hunter say?" and the public wanted to know what it meant, for Senator Hunter had not made his speech and everybody was talking of it. Then came the answer: "Hunter says he has the finest assortment of books," etc.
"Why is the iron-front building near the depot like Eve?" was the conundrum of the day early in the fifties, as it brought numbers to view the structure when they found that it was being erected for Adams Express Company. This company was established on the avenue, near 4-1/2 street, sometime before and they were nearly fifty years in the iron-front building.
In the three-storied brick dwelling erected by Dr. Wilstach on the south side of B street between 2d and 3d streets shortly after the establishment of the depot, B. Shadd opened a tavern, in which, until the fifties, when the depot was moved to New Jersey avenue and C street, it was an institution of the neighborhood. Mr. Shadd then took the house at the southwest corner of the avenue and 3d street and established the house which after his death became Mades Hotel. His old stand is now within the site of the Lafayette Hotel.
Only Frame Building Standing
The reservation north, between B, C, 1st and 2d streets, being much larger than that above described, was laid off into twenty-six lots about 1822 – 1 to 6 on B street, 6 to 14 on 3d street, 14 to 20 on C street and 20 to 26 on 2d street. The corporation books show that in 1824 Thomas Courtney had a $200 carpenter shop and Bridget Caton a 4150 house on 3d street, though some sales had been made two years before. The first deed was recorded in 1825 by J.R. Burdick for lot 7 on 3d street; in 1834 by Bridget Caton, Joseph Follansbee, E. Ingle, corner of 3d street; J.D. Smith, lease on corner of 2d; J.A. Wilson, Joseph Watson, N.R. Hazwell, T. Jackson and Hezekiah Langley owned the B street front; S. Philips, R. Keyworth, J.A. Terrell and Birth & Cook were on 2d street; Dr. Thomas Sewall, George Cover, J. Dement, O. Wilson, B. Burch and J.A. Wilson on C street, and L. Emment and L. Picketts on 2d street.
At that time, 1834, the improvements on B street were listed: Lot 1, J.D. Smith and J.O. Wilson, $1,500; 4, H. Langley and Joseph Follansbee, $1,800 each; 5, H. Langley, $2,500, and E. Ingle, $3,000. On 3d street; Lot 8, Birth & Cook, $6,000; 12 and 13, R. Keyworth, $400 on each lot; T. Sewall, $2,400; J.A. Wilson, $1,500; R. Dement, $1,800. On 2d street; Lot 24, A. Diggs, $400, and Joseph Arny, $80. The assessed valuation of the ground ranged from 3 to 20 cents per foot.
Thomas Bowen, a tailor; William H. Campbell, hardware merchant; S. Goddard, a post office clerk; Col. Joseph Watson, late of the United States army and then a claim agent, and Lund Washington were on B street. John Courtney, carpenter; E. Caton, printer; John Ellis, carpenter, and James Birth, stone cutter, were on 3d street.
Settlement Was Slow
By 1840, Mrs. Mary G. Wilson and Mrs. Camilla Coddington and W. Noland were on the B street front; Henderson & English on 3d street, A. Dyson on C street, and T.A. Hawke, Dennis MacInery and Joseph Swiggett on 2d street as owners. In this decade there were living on B street, north side, John B. Coddington, Mrs. Elisa Roberts, Dr. H.H. Schwartz, Mrs. Eliza Leach and Miss F. Proctor; on 3d street, east side, John Kelly and William Booth.
In the fifties, the Laselles were on B street, publishers of a literary paper, the Metropolitan, and Mrs. Lancile was the author of one or more books of note. The fact that the son of the house was the captain of a juvenile military company, the Union Light Infantry, in which Senator Gorman and A.H. Ragan were officers, the members were often entertained at the home of Capt. Laselle. Capt. Laselle came out of the civil war with the title of general, and Mr. Gorman and Mr. Ragan were each given a military commission, but the boys' duties with the Senate kept them home.
On C street, south side, Mrs. H. Hardine and Perrin Washington of the Post Office Department resided, and on 2d street Jacob Ackey had his home and stone yard. In the forties, the northwest corner of the square 3d and C streets became the property of Z.D. Gilman, the well-known druggist, and he erected here a handsome cottage residence, which was occupied by him some years. It then passed into the hands of William H. Todd, and in the fifties Senator Gwynn of California made his home here, and it became the scene of many of the most brilliant entertainments Washington society had ever enjoyed. Mrs. Gwynn and her daughters were acknowledged leaders in the official circle.