Capitol Park Border
By James Croggon, The Evening Star, March 17, 1907 [pt. 4, p. 1]
At the northeast corner of the Capitol grounds, where the trees and shrubbery of the park now flourish, were once brick, mortar and wood in the form of commodious buildings, which, for a large part of a century, furnished homes for families and sojourners. It was designated as square No. 687, located on the original plan of the city, between A and B streets north and Delaware avenue and 1st street east, and was included in the tract of Daniel Carroll of Duddington. But nearly forty years ago this square, at that period, as stated, the site of a number of residences, was absorbed in the east grounds of the Capitol, and the occupants found homes elsewhere. Many of them, who had bought ground at less than twenty cents per foot, were paid ten times that amount and liberal sums for the buildings. Nearly all the buildings were of brick, and they were demolished and the material hauled away. In one instance, at least, that of the residence of John S. Meehan, librarian of Congress, a frame building erected forty years previously, was moved half a mile or more on rollers to 6th street northeast and is in service today.
It is patent that, situated near the national Capitol, as well as the temporary capitol erected after the destruction wrought by Ross and Cockburn in 1814, it has an interesting history. In the division between the commissioners and the proprietors in 1791 the title to the whole square was vested in Mr. Carroll, but in 1794 the name of Greenleaf is associated with it. It was platted for twenty-four lots, ten each on A and B streets; and Mr. Carroll before 1803 had, near the southwest corner of the square, improvements valued at $20,000, with the ground assessed at ten cents per foot, but subsequently reduced to eight cents per foot.
Known as Dowson Row
It is on record that Mr. Dowson occupied property in the row as early as 1807, though it was not till 1817 that he became an owner. Then his holdings fronted seventy-eight feet on A street. Mr. Dowson had control of four of the buildings for several years, known in congressional parlance as "Mr. Dowson's," "Mr. Dowson's No. 1," "Mr. Dowson's No. 2" and "Mr. Dowson's No. 3," respectively and these were a veritable congressional annex, often near a hundred members rooming here.
The Vice President to Mr. Monroe, Daniel D. Tompkins of New York, long roomed here. Senator T.H. Benton of Missouri was also a roomer for many years in the twenties, before he took a house, as was Senators Smith of Maryland, Holmes of Maine and D. Wolf of Rhode Island. John Randolph of Virginia, who was long a representative in the House, was here, as were his colleagues, Mark Alexander, W.S. Archer, James Jones and R. Sanders, T.H. Hall and Weldon Edwards of North Carolina, E.F. Tatnail of Georgia and W. Eustes of Massachusetts and others also had apartments there.
In 1817 Samuel Elliott, jr., acquired parts of lots 10 and 11, the corner of A street and Delaware avenue, on which were two of the buildings, and these became known by his name. One of these was leased the next year to B.O. Tyler, who was prominent in the lottery and exchange business for a number of years, and he had his home here. Yates & McIntire, who were in the same business, at that time one of the industries of Washington, became the owners in 1829. Later, in the forties, John Foy conducted a hotel here under the name of Foy's Hotel; and in the fifties it was conducted by Mrs. Whitney. While used as a public house it was as popular as was any house of its size in the city.
In one of these houses lived H. Tims, the doorkeeper of the Senate in the teens of that century, and afterward Charles Tim had a drug store here, and under H. Tims' roof during the sessions of Congress were a number of public men. Senators Dickerson of New Jersey and Caesar A. Rodney made their homes here.
Mrs. Sarah Seaver occupied a house in this row in the thirties.
In the latter part of the twenties Mrs. Elizabeth Queen moved to one of the houses in the row and conducted a boarding house, remaining there until well into the thirties. In 1832 Mr. Joseph Follansbee, a messenger in the Capitol, came up from the southeast part of the city to A street, east of the row, purchasing lot 4, on which he built a house. This was a four-story brick and a few members of Congress roomed there during the sessions, Milton Brown and W.A. Cocke in the forties.
Mr. J.W. Beck, in 1824, bought lot 23 on 1st street and erected a three-story brick residence, to which the name "Beck's Folly" attached because of its disproportionate size with other houses north and east and because it was supposed to be beyond the requirements of his family. J.A. Brightwell about this time bought the east half of lot 6 on A street and for a few years lived there. Robert Brown, who was long known as a master stonemason on the Capitol, bought one of the houses in the row on part lots 10 to 12, and resided here in the forties and fifties.
Changes in Ownership
In the same year, 1814, James D. Waller, a Capitol policeman, bought part of lot 3, east of Mr. Scrivener's. Here he lived in a three-story brick for a time. J.C. Hall bought the Brightwell property adjoining Mr. Scrivener's, east half of lot 6, and here were reared the well-known twin brothers, A.G. and G.A. Hall, long connected with the corporation and who held various offices. In the same year Mr. J.S. Meehan, librarian of Congress, bought lot 19, on B street, on which Mr. Follansbee had erected a fine frame house.
In 1842 lot No. 7 on A street was acquired by Mr. Follansbee, and Mrs. Mary Pancoast bought lots 16 and 17 on B street, on which in a substantial brick residence, was the home of Isaac N. Wailes of the Capitol police.
Up to this time there had been little appreciation of the ground value, and indeed some of the property holders had suffered it to be sold at the tax sale when the original valuation of eight and ten cents per foot had barely doubled. Little public improvement had been made, only the front having a brick sidewalk, and a gravel ridge did service on the other fronts.
Purchased by William Hicks
In the forties Mrs. Owner, in a brick building near the corner of Delaware avenue and B street, conducted a boarding house. Among her guests were Senators Jenness of New Hampshire, Semple of Illinois, and Representatives Howell Cobb of Georgia, afterward Secretary of the Treasury; J.C. Dobbin of North Carolina, Secretary of the Navy in '53, and Asa Biggs, D.S. Ried and J.J. McKay, his colleagues; Sterling Price of Missouri, Robert Smith of Illinois, B. Martin of Tennessee and A. Yell of Arkansas. Near 1st and B streets was Mrs. Robinson's boarding house, where were Representatives A.D. Simms and J.A. Black of South Carolina.
There were in the row several boarding houses. Mrs. Carter had, among others under her roof, Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia, afterward prominent in the national Congress, and vice president of the confederacy; Amos Abbott of Massachusetts, Joseph Buffington and Andrew Stewart of Pennsylvania and H.G. Cranston of Rhode Island; Mrs. Rumney had Representative J.H. Campbell as a roomer; Mrs. Ballard entertained R.W. Roberts of Massachusetts, A. Kennedy and T.J. Henley of Indiana.
Among those who were on the square in the fifties were the Scriveners, Durhams, John Francis Hicks, Price and the Halls on A street, and the Wailes, Meehan and S.W. Handy families on B street. Afterward Charles Ewing lived in B street. In ante-bellum days Billy Hicks and "Mose" Durham were the recognized leaders of "the boys" of that section.
Some Were Restless
The old row especially was lively during the sessions of Congress. Foy's Hotel, on the corner of Delaware avenue, was well patronized. It is not surprising that until after the war at the west end of the square public men could be found there, among them Senators Calhoun of South Carolina and Solomon Foote, who were often guests at Mrs. Carter's in their day, and their chambers were often the meeting places of their followers.
With the hotel and well-filled boarding houses in the row the western portion of the square was the scene of activity, but other portions were suggestive of suburban life. A street, though convenient to the Capitol, and but light travel over it, the easy ascent to the hill on the south side diverting the travel to that side. With the Capitol ground opposite and the sidewalk well shaded, the families living there regarded it as an ideal place for homes, and that it was thus appreciated is witnessed by the long years spent by some of the old families here.