By James Croggon, The Evening Star, February 17, 1907 [pt. 4, p. 1]
In that portion of the capital city to which the name of the Lower Bridge applied in the early part of the last century and later that of "Foggy Bottom" was the enumeration of the squares commenced Square No. 1 was the designation of that south of K street, east of Rock Creek, and though a building square, supposed to be terra firma, was partially covered by the waters of the creek, especially the southwest portion. This square was in the Peters tract, called "Mexico," which, skirting the creek in the early years, and navigable for vessels of a few hundred tons to the mills above P street, and had a depth of ten feet west of this square. There were no mean wharfage privileges. Before the construction of the Chesapeake and Ohio canal, about 1830, one of the enjoyments was fishing in the creek. Some of the early settlers built wharves on the creek, and at that of Shaw & Birth, stone cutters, stone was landed from the Aquia Creek quarries for twenty years or more.
It is well known by students of the early history of Washington that some of the leading men in developing the city in other sections were jealous of the western portion and indeed it was intimated that the commissioners were partial to it and were doing their best to locate the navy yard, the marine barracks, etc. in the west end. The construction of the bridge at K street, in the embryo days, though in the line of travel for Washington, was the subject of criticism by Mr. Law, whose interests were in other sections.
Square No. 1, as may be supposed, is now solid earth, and all its lines well defined by 27th, 28th, K and I streets and Virginia avenue. On the original plan twenty-two lots were platted, five fronting on K street. In 1793 the second east of 28th street, lot 12, was bought by H. Konig, but in 1796 it passed to Thomas Cook and J.E. Rowles. That year Mr. Cook acquired the lot east, No. 12, and Leonard Harbaugh three lots on 28th street – 8, 9 and 10. In 1797 H. Shively bought part 10 and A. Ault the south half of 8, on the creek, with the privilege of wharfage, and in 1799 Mr. Shively bought lot 12. In 1802 John Shaw and R. Birth bought lot 13, and afterward other lots on the same square.
Corporation Values in 1803
Rufus Elliot, a stone cutter, bought part of lot 20, on 27th street, in 1812; David Walker and Henry Foxall, in lot 10 adjoining, in 1815; Samuel Smoot lot 7, on 28th street, and Alex. Suter lot 2, on I street, in 1816, the latter selling shortly after to John Pickrell. John Lawrence, in 1818, bought parts of lots on 28th street, and in the twenties Francis Dodge of Georgetown had two lots on 27th street; P. Otterback and Richard Smith, lots on 28th street, and James Birth, three lots, three-fifths of the K street front. In 1824 the assessment was on a ground valuation of 2 to 7 cents, and the improvements were listed to George Peter, $100, occupied by Monica Trail, $300, and on wharf, lot 6, $1,000 on house and $600 on wharf, lot 7; John Baker, $1,000, lot 8; P. Otterback, $500, lot 9; Birth & Shaw, $500, $200, $50 and $30 on lots 10 and 12; David Walker, $1,000 on lot 19, and F. Dodge, $2,000, lot 20 on 27th street.
In the thirties improvement valuations had changed on the west front, the Chesapeake and Ohio canal having taken title to ground there and private wharfs were relegated. The improvements were listed to Monica Trail, 4100 on lot 6; Samuel Smoot, $1,000, lot 7, owned before by G. Peter; Eliza Lawrence, $1,000, lot 8; P. Otterback, $500, the Harbaugh house, lot 9; James Birth, as before, lots 10 to 13, on K street; David Walker, father of D. Walker, deceased, long of Lewis Johnson & Co., bankers, $1,000, lot 19, and F. Dodge, $2,000, lot 20, on 27th street.
Eastward in square 5, between 26th and 27th streets, and this is in straight lines unmolested by avenue lines or water, and it was laid out for twenty-six lots The title to the first lot passed to Richard Ober in 1792, this being No 8, on 27th street, and two years later John Suter had a lot on the same street, and the first-named lot passed to J. Somerville and W. Dugaid. In 1796 Clatworthy Stephenson owned lot 18, corner 26th and I streets, and west David Crawford bought lot 17, as also lot 11, on 27th street. About the same time Morris & Nicholson gave a mortgage on four lots on H, I and 27th streets, but if for building thereon it is not known. These lots, in 1802, went to Benjamin Stoddert. In 1800 W.S. Chandler had four lots on 27th street. William Doughty, two years after, owned lot 22, on 26th street, and P.B. Key a lot on 27th street.
Two to Five Cents Per Foot
Square 16 between 25th and 26th and I and K streets, contained twenty-eight original lots, of which the first sold was lot 17, on K street near 26th street. In 1792, James Hoban and Peirce Purcell being the purchasers. The same year, R. Ober bought lots 22 and 23, on 25th street, which two years after were sold to Somerville & Dugald. In 1795 Walter Hellen had lots 15 and 16 on I street, including the corner of 26th street, and four years after James Johnson appears as the owner. Though these names are followed by those of R.S. Bickley, Joseph Nourse, M. Lambert, W.S. Chandler and E. Lanham, with others associated with real estate, some improved, little appears to have been doing elsewhere in this square in the early years. Before 1820, however, M. Lambert, who bought part of lots 12 and 13, on 26th street, had a two-storied brick house thereon, and James Dunlop, who bought lot 21, on 25th street, near the corner of K street, had a fine three-storied house which was known for years as the British consul's, from its being the home of that official for some years. Six to 13 cents per foot was the ground valuation, and M. Lambert's property was valued at $1,000, and Mr. Dunlop's at $2,500.
Among the early residents on the K street side about 1830 were General Nathan Towson, for almost a lifetime, paymaster general of the army; Captain John Peabody, who sailed on behalf of the Georgetown merchantmen, father of ex-Fire Chief Peabody; Nathaniel Frye, chief clerk of the paymaster general's office; George Macdaniel, chief clerk of the fourth auditor; James Birth of Shaw & Birth, stone cutters, father of our oldest inhabitant, Wm. Birth, who celebrated recently his entry into his 100th year; Levi Washburn, a grocer, near the bridge; Jacob Wineberger, an old-time baker, father of the late James Wineberger, an antiquarian and an "oldest inhabitant;" Richard Eno, a stone cutter; James C. Dunn, printer and publisher of the Washington Republican; Betsy Douglas and John Hartlove.
There were on 26th street at this time M. White, a millwright; Eliza Schooley, Lindsley Muse, colored, for many years the messenger and attendant of the Secretary of the Navy; Rufus Elliott, a stone mason, and others. Sandy Grummel lived on 28th street and Mrs. Mary Shaw on 27th street.
K street, being on the line of Water street, Georgetown, was an important thoroughfare for the merchandise of Washington merchants, in hauling goods from the wharves and warehouses, and not far off were the Smoot lime kilns, the Davidson brewery, in the forties conducted by Harmon, Gordon & Co; the Thompson tan yard and other industries. In the forties, General Towson and family had moved to 17th and F streets, the Births to 3d near C street, the Peabody's to 17th street near C street, the Macdaniel's to near Queen Chapel, the Fryes to the Seven buildings and others elsewhere. There were then on K street, with others, John Davis and George Johnson, well-known clerks; Jacob Harmon, brewer; Joseph Smoot of the lime kilns, and Benjamin Hackney's carpenter shop.