Early Washington
Many Wide Stretches of Unoccupied Squares
Conditions In The Fifties
Southwest Highly Favored for Homes and Business
Colonial Houses and Gardens
Some of the First Owners of City Property and the Assessed Valuations

By James Croggon, The Evening Star, February 24, 1907 [pt. 2, p. 1]

In the square between M and N and 4-1/2 and 7th streets southwest, known as 502, there were few improvements made prior to 1800, and much of the city north of this as far as F street remained entirely clear of improvements for almost fifty years, if we except the gravel for walks and roadway of mother earth in the line of 4-1/2 street. There was, therefore, an open common across which was a foot path worn by the few employees of the arsenal who lived up town.

In the early days, James Greenleaf, Robert Morris, John Nicholson, Thomas Law, John Ashley, Samuel Elliott and many others were prominent in developing that part of the young city as the eighteenth century was about to close. It can, therefore, be regarded as one of the historical localities of Washington, and that it was thought by the early owners to possess advantages for residence and business purposes is seen from the fact that those named above invested there. The archives speak of fifteen houses being erected on each of three squares before 1795. Two years after there appeared an advertisement of a nail factory upon square 502. This square, 502, between 4-1/2, 6th, M and N streets, is within one of Notley Young's tracts which embraced all of the southwestern section, and as laid off by the sixty-foot street known as Union street and alleys. The seventy-four lots were in seven blocks.

Greenleaf in the Southwest
There were but twenty original lots, as platted by the Commissioners, but Greenleaf, in 1794, came in possession, made a new subdivision and building commenced. In the next year Thomas Law had a mortgage on much of the Greenleaf and Morris and Nicholson property, and arranged for a lease on the southwest corner of the square of sublots 12 to 19. On the corner of 6th and N streets had been erected the house yet standing, and this was his first residence in Washington. He, however, occupied it but a short time under a lease of Judge Cranch, then Mr. Greenleaf's agent, for contemplating the marriage with Miss Eleanor Custis, daughter of G.W.P. Custis, which took place March 21, 1796, he was the occupant only till his home on New Jersey avenue and C street southeast was finished in the summer of that year. This house was afterward occupied by Richard Bland Lee, for many years judge of the orphan's court.

In 1795, Capt. W.M. Duncanson appeared as an owner on the square, and John Nicholson transferred to John Ashley a moiety of fifteen houses. The following year Nicholson mortgaged a brick house on lots 44 and 45 to Capt. Duncanson. This house was a large brick dwelling in the colonial style and originally fronted Union street. It was of two stories, basement and attic with dormer windows, and the out-buildings, including a stablery and some house, suggested that the proprietor looked to ample room and comfort. In 1803 it was assessed to Pratt, Francis & Co., at a valuation of $4,200, but the lots upon which it was erected were in the name of Samuel Elliott, jr., a nephew of the Greenleaf's. In 1817, with the lots 70 to 74, fronting on 4-1/2 street, it went into the possession of Peter G. Washington, who for long years, was in departmental service, during which time he was also in turn auditor of the Post Office Department, chief clerk and assistant secretary of the treasury.

The Old Byington House
This property, which included the southwest part of the square, in the twenties was owned by the Bank of Washington, and Samuel Byington, after a tenancy of a few years, in 1837, bought the property. Mr. Byington resided here while master smith and armorer at the Washington Arsenal, from which position he was taken about 1856 and placed in charge of the armory erected at 6th and B streets southwest, and later was placed in charge of the United States Armory at Harper's Ferry.

By the time Mr. Byington took possession the trees and shrubbery planted years before made an ideal place for a home, fruits and flowers thriving, while there was no need to go off the place for vegetables. Some portion of it furnished an ideal picnicking spot for the children of the neighborhood. Later Mr. Byington sold parts of his place to the parents of Rev. Father Stafford on 4-1/2 street, and it was here that Father Stafford was born.

Realty Owners in 1797
In 1797, the well-known Michael Shanks bought lots twenty-one and forty on 6th and Union streets, when he erected a nail factory which he conducted for some years. After purchases by James Dent of lots twenty-three and thirty-nine, Joseph Reed of lot forty-three, L. Griffin of twenty-four and J. Sinclair of forty before 1800, several years passed without any more deeds passing.

The corporation in 1808 placed a valuation of three cents per foot on the ground and assessed improvements to L. Cook, $5,500; Joseph Cox, $5,400; James Dent, $2,500; Joseph Grigg, $2,600; L. Green, $4,800; W. Prentiss, $8,600; Joseph Reed, $6,700; M. Shanks, $4,200; Pratt, Francis & Co., $3,000, and C. McNanty, $1,000.

In 1810 Francis Clark secured lots 23, on 6th street, and 88, on Union street, and later about 1817, Overton Carr, trustee, conveyed forty lots on Union, M and 4-1/2 streets to Samuel Elliott, jr., and C.L. Lewis acquired lots 3 and 4 on N street. The following year Lund Washington bought lots 46, on Union street, and 69, on 4-1/2 street, and leased 1 and 2 on N street. In 1819 R. Parrott had two lots, 25 and 43, William Brent owned in 1821, 13 and 19, and Thomas Dougherty 9 and 12.

In the twenties the value of the ground, according to the assessors, was 3 cents per foot, and on improvements as follows: R. Bland Lee, $2,600 on lot 19, 6th and N streets, and $200 on lot 36; Mrs. M. MacKenney, $60 on lot 37; P.G. Washington, $1,500 on lot 44, and the Elliot heirs, $250 on lot 46, on Union street. Ten years afterward the ground rate averaged 3 cents per foot. Mr. Lee's property had been reduced to a $1,800 value, Mr. Washington to $1,200 on one piece, and a like amount charged to him on lot 12, and the Elliott assessment was reduced to $100.

In 1827 E.S. Lewis and W. Wade leased lot 68 on 4-1/2 street. Mrs. I.B. Palmer bought lots 9 to 12 on N street and 42 on Union street.

Some Early Transfers
In 1837 Mr. Byington bought the Washington lots, and the following year J. Nightingale took the lots bought by Mrs. Palmer, turning them over in a year to J.F. Webb. About 1839 James Gill bought lots 25 and 21 on 6th street, 35 and 26 on Union street and 63 and 68 on 4-1/2 street. Mr. Byington added lots 1 and 2, corner of 4-1/2 and N streets, to his possessions, and H. Nealson bought lots 9 and 12 on N street and 42 on Union street. Thomas Smithson in 1844 bought and settled on lot 5 on N street. In 1846 title was taken for lot 67 on 4-1/2 street by John Van Riswick. T. Smithson and J.H. Pumphrey, as trustees for the Greenleaf's Point School Association, as the site of a school building for the children of that section, a covenant of the deed was that when the school ceased operations, the title should go to the corporation.

This was about the time that the public schools were increased in numbers, but their means were so limited that the demand could not be met by the city. The schools in the seventh ward being distant from this point, the residents of this section took measures to provide a school. An association was formed and in a short time from Mr. Byington, a site was obtained and a little frame school house erected in which a school was started.

In the early days there were on Union street Lund Washington, who was an early postmaster; William Rutherford, a butcher; Peter G. Washington; C. Burnett, carpenter; Jacob Cramer and T. Vail, blacksmiths, and C. Calhan's tavern. On M street were H. Smithson, bricklayer; James Pumphrey, a gardener; and H. Smithson, the father of the family, prominent on the Point for a lifetime, and Richard Bland Lee of the Orphan's Court, and later F. Meyer and Michael Nash.