Early Washington
Rustic Environs of the Capitol Back in the Twenties
The Improvements Slow
Unique Condition of Affairs When City Was Small
Observation of an Old-Timer
Scenes Along Tiber Creek --
First Public Gardener Came from Kentucky -- Notes

By James Croggon, The Evening Star, February 10, 1907 [pt. 2, p. 1]

In the first quarter of the last century, the infancy of the national capital, square No. 575, between Pennsylvania avenue and B, 1st and 2nd streets northwest, occupied a unique position -- that of a building square sandwiched between areas of reservations for public uses. At least such was its appearance on paper, but in reality so slow were improvements made that the general public was long in realizing that it was intended for the site of private buildings, and, indeed, till after the war of 1812 it was looked on as part and parcel of the grounds surrounding the Capitol, which then extended west to 4 1/2 street north and to 6th street south of the avenue. Up to 1822, when the course of the canal was changed for the drainage of the low grounds and lots in the reservations were placed on the market, with the exception of the roadway on the avenue, and the wooden bridge over Tiber creek with a few shops on the south front of the square, the work of nature had not been molested.

The western limits of the Capitol grounds though on paper reaching to 1st street, were inclosed to about the line of Arthur place, a few feet west of the location of the John Marshall statue. This was inclosed by a wooden picket fence describing a semicircle, and all outside was in a wild state. The outlook eastward from the square was, therefore, not a pleasing one. On the west the Tiber skirted the northeast corner, and at 2nd street crossed the avenue into what are now the botanical gardens. This sluggish stream was only a few feet deep and barely moved over a gravely bed and was reached by a moderate declivity. It was an ideal watering place for hackmen and teamsters. There were, however, some dangerous holes along the stream, and, it is related that in the forties a night-line hackman driving into one of these holes wrecked his entire outfit. The carriage was wrecked and both he and his horses were drowned. After a storm or thaw the stream was liable to overflow, and on more than one occasion broke over the northern portion of the square, once damaging houses fronting on the avenue. During the thirties, it is said, the back building of a tavern was washed away.

Some Early Day Assessments
Of the original lots platted in this square Thomas Law, in 1797, became the owner of six, three of which, Nos. 3, 4 and 5, included the southwest corner of the square; and others on B street, Nos. 8, 9 and 10. In 1803 J.M. Miller bought part of lot 4, corner of 2d street; and James Ingle appears on this lot at the same time, by the corporation assessment books of that year, while Jones & Kain appear in lot 3 eastward. The valuation of the ground at this time was 10 cents per foot; but in the second assessment, 1807, this was reduced to 8 cents on the corner lots, 7 cents on the avenue, 2 cents on 1st street and half a cent on B street. The improvements at this period were assessed to Jones & Kain, $300, on lot 3; J.M. Miller, $120, and Joseph Ingle, $600 on lot 4. Mr. Miller had, in 1806, transferred his property to James and John Moore.

On the lot at the corner of 1st street and Pennsylvania avenue much of which is now partly within the circle around the Peace monument, No. 1, came John Minchen in 1811; and Mrs. Martha Gordon came on the lot in 1816. After John Moore had made another purchase in lot 4, corner of 2d street, in 1817, quite a number took leases on parts of the avenue lots, with the privilege of purchasing. Among these was D. Stewart, a coachmaker, who took part of lots 3 and 4. Here also was the coach-making business carried on for a number of years by Solomon and David Stewart. In 1818 Horatio Kingsbury leased in lot 2, eastward, as did also P. Odlin and G. Betterton. Mr. Kingsbury was a carpenter, and located his shop here. The next year Ennais Holt, a master carpenter, and his shop east of Mr. Kingsbury, and Mr. John Foy took a lease west of the shops. Mr. Foy came here from Kentucky at the instance of Henry Clay in 1819 to take charge of the Capitol grounds and may be regarded as the first public gardener. Today there are in the Capitol grounds some trees and plants which he brought here and set out. The cedars of Lebanon, on the south side of the east grounds, and the jujuplant (the zizyphus volgaris), of which there are several thousand, were brought here by him. He became active in the local military, and was the captain of an Irish company, the Montgomery Guards, for a few years before his death in 1823. He erected on a sublot two brick dwellings, in one of which he lived and died and in the other Mrs. Jane Marr kept a tavern in the twenties. Mr. John Foy, a nephew of the captain, came here late in the twenties and a few years after established farther west the well-known Jackson tavern, a most popular resort for the democracy also the first and last place for a drink in going to and returning from the Capitol.

The Old Jackson Tavern
It is related by some of the former residents of the locality that the sign was an old-fashioned swinging board, on which was painted a likeness of Gen. Jackson. This sign soon showed a large crack down the face, and people were wont to refer to the place as where you could see "the man with a cut down his face." They also knew the place well because of the screeching made by the swinging of the sign in the wind. Mr. Foy kept the house for some years. To the proprietorship Patrick Moran succeeded in the thirties, and a few years later - it was was destroyed by fire.

In 1821 Frederick A. Russell leased ground for the coach-making business near the Jackson Tavern having his residence on Louisiana avenue; and William McKinney bought farther east. Shortly before 1825 Mrs. Harriet Green, John Bowen, Gregory Ennis and John Purdy were lessees or owners of avenue property. The assessors in 1824 placed a valuation of 15 cents per foot on the ground, and for the improvements Horatio Kingsbury was assessed on $250; F. Pio's heirs, $300; Mrs. McKinney, $400; G.W. Dasfield, $150; John Foy, $1,500, and D. Carroll, $900 in Carroll's subdivision of lots 1 and 2; D. Stewart $800 on original lot 3; Gregory Ennis, $800, and John Moore's heirs, $1,000 on lot 4, corner of 2d street.

As heretofore stated, most of the improvements were shops. At the corner of 1st street in the twenties was the grocery store of Archibald Stewart, and in the same business during the forties and fifties was Mr. John T. Kilmon. On the Moore property, corner of the avenue and 2d street, there was a large two-storied frame, which in the thirties was owned by E. Hopkins and was occupied by Mrs. E Warren, who conducted a boarding house. When the railroad depot was established, just over the Tiber, it proved a convenient stopping place for the traveler. Later it became the property of Ulysses Ward, who, well known in business circles as a builder, was a Methodist local minister and a zealous temperance advocate. In the interest of the total abstinence cause Mr. Ward was publishing the Columbian Fountain, with his son, James T. Ward, as editor. The old boarding-house structure gave way for a three-storied brick structure, in which the paper was published for some years.

Purdy's Court in 1825
The well-known John Purdy leased land near the corner of 1st street in 1825, and soon his sign as a house, sign and ornamental painter announced his business. Mr. Purdy afterward bought this lot with others and also conducted a wood and coal yard on 1st street. On 1st street and in the interior of the square, Mr. Purdy erected a number of tenement houses, to which the name "Purdy's Court" applied, but these in later years became tenanted to such an extent by natives of Italy, that the former name was almost entirely displaced by that of "Little Italy."

In the thirties, W.G. Wheeler, A.B. Davis, James Fitzgerald, C. Sinon, James Adams, C. Drane, J.A. Donoho owned on the avenue, Mr. Purdy had bought on 1st street. J.S. Clark, A.B. Davis and Jonathan Hill on the other parts of the square. Among the residents were John U. Moulder, then chief clerk in the treasury; George F. Berry, a messenger in the Capitol; John Donn & Son were in the coach making business and Joseph Etter, printer on the avenue, and Thomas Donn was on B street. There were two or three colored families also on the square. Mr. Etter's office was destroyed by fire in November, 1840.

About 1845 Mrs. Letitia Elsey, Mrs. E. Barrett, dressmakers; Thomas Wallace, messenger in the War Department; John Sheahan, J.V.N. Throop, engravers; J.T.. MacDuffie's and Mrs. Pierce's boarding houses were located on the avenue, and Mrs. M.A. Barrett, a seamstress, on 1st street.

In 1846 the well-known Wm. Thompson, for many years later a justice of the peace, established the Washington News, near the corner of 2d street, and published the same till 1858. It made its appearance on Saturdays and was a popular journal of that date and, unlike other papers of its day, made a specialty of local news, particularly corporation and city items.

In 1858 the Sentinel, a democratic paper, was published here in the interests of the democratic party, of which Beverly Tucker was editor and proprietor, and here was also done some of the congressional printing. The Sentinel was but short-lived, however, closing its career in 1858. After some years the building was used by the colored Grand United Order of Odd Fellows.

Circular Road Around Capitol in 1825
Mr. Ennis, who about 1820 kept a tavern on 1st street east, in 1825 built a residence near the center of the square, and was residing here in the thirties. Mr. Ennis was, at this time, a leading contractor on government and corporation work, which he carried on for many years. His first, important work was in the construction of the circular roadways around the Capitol grounds about 1825.

In the fifties, as above stated, the Jackson Tavern, established by John Foy, had been, and was still, conducted by Patrick Moran; Squire Thompson administered the law and edited the News; Mr. Purdy engaged in the wood and coal business, but before that time had a lumber, coal and wood yard with office on 1st street, and had erected dwelling houses on his avenue property. Mr. Kilimon was the grocer at first street and the avenue, and west of him was a fruit store kept by Mrs. M.A. Brown. Boarding houses of Mrs. Pierce, Mrs. Bronaugh and Mrs. McDuffies were full at the time because the work on the new wings of the Capitol had brought numbers of mechanics to the city who sought board near their work.

Timothy Buckley kept a tavern here, and A.M. Farquhar, an agent, had a residence and office here. M. Brady had succeeded P.M. Garvey in keeping the Railroad Hotel.

Among the signs displayed was one reading: "Moses Black, White and Yellow Washer," which caused much attention. Black was an adept in the use of lime, having been engaged in the business from his boyhood. His typical appearance fit the character of "Old Black Joe." It is stated that many of Black's patrons were want to say of him, "Though Black by name and black by nature, he was white in character." He was one of those who made hosts of friends among the dominant race.