Progress Was Slow
Improvement of Squares North of the Capitol.
Site of the Senate Annex.
Opening of B Street Did Not Occur Until the Year 1816.
Values Expressed By Mills.
Names of Early Residents and Description of
Their Holdings--In the Thirties.

By James Croggon, The Evening Star, March 30, 1907 [p. 7]

Within that area of the old municipality which includes square 686, on which is being erected the Senate office building, and squares 683, 684 and 685, between B and D, North Capitol and 1st streets northwest, the progress of improvement, public and private, was slow during the first half of the last century. Indeed, it was not until 1816 that B street was opened and a semblance of a growing neighborhood could be noted. Much of it was in the garb of nature then, and the valuation of the ground by the corporation, though expressed by cents along B street and Delaware avenue, was on the other portions placed at a few mills per foot. Little change in the valuation occurred prior to 1830. It is needless to say that other than the streets having been cut through, little had been done in the way of improvements; then the most of the roadways were wagon tracks through the grass, while the footways were represented by a few of brick, more of gravel and mostly footpath. The natural grade was much more elevated than the present, as may be seen by some of the buildings being perched upon a hill and others having had lower stories added.

If some improvements of brick on Delaware avenue and B street and two small frame houses on C street, which dated from about 1816 are excluded, the area was unimproved until after 1830. In close proximity to the Capitol, in and about which many were employed, and in which, besides the legislative bodies and the Supreme Court of the United States, the local courts held sessions, it seems incredible that development was not more rapid.

Divided by Commissioners
The four squares in the tract of Daniel Carroll of Duddington were platted and the lots divided by the commissioners between him and the United States in 1799. In square 686, between Delaware avenue and 1st streets, B and C streets, seventeen lots were platted. In 1801 M. Brown bought lot 1, at the northeast corner of 1st and B streets, and lot 8, on Delaware avenue, through James Carrick and F.W. Wilmans, passed to William Brent, clerk of the Circuit Court for many years. Mr. Brown resided at 1st and B streets for several years. Mr. Brent’s house was a tall, substantial structure, three stories, of brick, and it was the family residence for a half century or more. Mr. Carroll had erected north of B street, on Delaware avenue, two fine houses on lot 5, and two similar ones on Delaware avenue on lot 7, they being three story and attic buildings. In the early appraisement by the corporation in 1802 the land was first rated at 5 cents per foot, and then reduced to 2 cents and the improvements assessed – M. Brown, lot 1, $1,000; Mr. Carroll, lots 5 and 7, $18,000, reduced to $15,000, and Mr. Brent, lot 8, $4,000, reduced to $2,500. The houses stood until recently.

William Brent in 1810 became the owner of the ground north to the corner, being lots 8 to 10. In 1815 the latter lot was owned by Robert Brent and John Mulloy. The former was the first mayor of Washington and the latter a printer, the father of J.J. Mulloy, a bookbinder, and W.A. Mulloy, a deputy marshal. Lot 6, on Delaware avenue, was bought in 1811 by W. Digges. W. Brent added lot 7 to his possessions in 1820. Griffith Coomb about that time acquired the Brown property, lot 1 and lot 2, on B street, on which he erected a house. In 1825 Samuel Hanson, long connected with the government departments, leased the dwelling on lot 2 and resided there several years. On the 1st street front Benjamin Sprigg of the clerk’s office, Thomas Dunn, sergeant-at-arms, and J.O. Dunn, assistant doorkeeper of the House of Representatives, bought and improved lots 14 and 16 by erecting dwellings and making their homes there from the year 1825.

Assessed Value of Ground
In 1824 the assessed value of the ground was from 2 to 4 cents and the improvements were listed as follows: Griffith Coomb, lot 1, $1,700; D. Carroll, lot 4, $3,800; Sarah Carroll and Catherine Degges, lot 6, $2,800 each; William Brent, lots 7 and 8, $5,800; John Mulloy, lot 10, $250; Benjamin Sprigg, lot 14, $1,900; Thomas and J.O. Dunn, lot 16, $1,700.

Judge Cranch, about 1827, took up his residence in house 217 Delaware avenue and resided there until 1854; Daniel Brent, then chief clerk of the State Department; Dr. Tobias Watkins, secretary of the Florida commission, and W.T. Carroll, clerk of the United States Supreme Court, were in 1830 on Delaware avenue, in addition to the others mentioned. Rev. Thomas Barton of the Navy Yard Baptist Church was at Mr. Dunn’s on 1st street, and Harvey Bestor was located on B street.

Philip Otterback, in 1836, bought the Dunn property, lot 16, and later sold to W.J. Berry, who also bought lot 15. William H. Ball of the fifth auditor’s office, bought the lot on which Mr. Sprigg had resided, it being No. 14 on 1st street. W.G. Cranch, son of the judge, bought lot 5, the southwest corner of the square. Col. Henry Naylor, long connected with the Circuit Court, purchased the northwest corner of the square, lot 10, and Georgetown College acquired the adjoining lot, 2. There had been but little change in the valuation in the decade in question. The old improvement of $1,700 had been reduced to $1,100 on lot 1, and a house assessed at $1,800 on lot 2 was the name of Mr. Coomb. From $3,800 to $2,500 was the reductions on lots 3 and 4, in the name of Mr. Carroll; on lot 6, Mrs. Degges and Mrs. Sarah Carroll’s ratings were reduced $300 to $2,500 each; Mr. Brent’s $5,800, on lots 7 and 8, was reduced by $300; Mr. Mulloy, lot 10, to $200, and Messrs. Sprigg and Dunn, lots 14 and 16, to $1,500 each.

Remained Standing Many Years
The house of Mr. Brown remained standing many years, and sixty years ago a Mrs. Stone conducted a young ladies’ seminary therein, at the corner of 1st and B streets. Later there was a grocery there. On the B street front were two small brick houses owned by the Taits. Attached were gardens.

That angular square between North Capitol street and Delaware avenue northwest facing the present park was platted for nineteen lots, when, in 1795, the apportionment was made between the proprietor and the government. In 1797 Thomas Lawson owned nine of the lots, but it does not appear that there was any movement in the real estate or the lots served any other purpose than for assessment. In 1803 the rate was 6 to 12 cents, but later it was reduced to from 3 to 8 cents, and about 1824 3 to 10 cents was the prevailing rate.

Dr. J.F. May in 1813 acquired lot 13, on Delaware avenue, which many years later was in the name of Joseph Follansbee. In 1816 lot 11 on C street was leased to Charles Brooks and in the twenties Nancy Brooks, a colored woman, lived here and on the lot east was Robert Stephenson, the former assessed $230 and the latter $250 for improvements and 3 cents per foot on the ground.

West Side of Delaware Avenue
John McDonald about 1816 bought property on the west side of Delaware avenue and erected a four-story brick residence, which, when the avenue was graded was left high and dry on the bank. Mr. McDonald was long connected with the office of the secretary of the Senate and his position descended to his son and his grandson with his property. The house was the family residence for more than two generations.

In the thirties on North Capitol street were located E. Fitzgerald, J.L. Wirt, P.W. Browning and G. Scott, on lots 2, 3, 7 and 8; J. Kedglie, lot 13, and Joseph Follansbee, lot 19, on Delaware avenue. In 1845 Wm. Wurdeman appeared on the square, buying lot 19 and establishing the business of mathematical instrument maker in which he was eminently successful, so much so that a fair-sized two-storied brick building was required and erected. Lot 4, on North Capitol street, through W. Fisher, passed to W.G. Cranch and W.H. Stanford succeeded to Mr. Browning’s property on that street. James Crutchett in 1846 bought lots 8 to 10.

Square 683, north of C street and east of the present Baltimore and Ohio passenger station, was, in 1797, owned by Mr. Carroll and the United States and it was almost 1830 before another name, that of Moses Tabbs, was entered. The valuation of the lots was 2 cents per foot in 1803, but it depreciated to a fourth of a cent per foot. Col. William Hickey bought lots 1 and 2, the southeast corner of the square, in 1823, and the same year the lot at North Capitol and D streets went to J.B. Phillips. In 1836 lots 3 and 4 on North Capitol street were bought by J.P. Ingle, who, in 1842, sold to Mrs. Ann Skirving, and in 1845 Mr. Crutchett bought them. Lot 5 was bought by Richard Barry in 1836 and, through E. Semmes and D.A. Hall passed to James Greenleaf in 1842, and the latter late bought up to the corner of D street. Mayor MacDonald bought lot 10 and 11 on D street in 1846.

Points of Interest
The appearance of Mr. Crutchett in the square made the locality a point of interest. Mr. Crutchett was interested in illuminating gas, which had not been installed in Washington, and was the inventor of solar gas. In perfecting his invention he had his works near his house and succeeded in lighting up his home. In the winter of 1846 he so far succeeded that he applied to Congress for a contract to light the Capitol grounds and appropriations of about $20,000 were made. The project was to accomplish the lighting from a lantern set on a pole above the dome on the old building and he succeeded in making a light of such brilliancy that it could be seen for many miles down the river and the avenue was so bright that time could be told on a watch a mile from the lantern. About the same time the Washington Gas Company commenced operations and supplied the government, as well as citizens, and the mast and lantern were lowered from the old dome.

Mr. Crutchett erected a cottage at the northeast corner of North Capitol and C streets. It was on the northern part of the square that Mr. Crutchett established, about 1850, the Mount Vernon cane factory, and for several years canes and other mementoes were made of the crude material sent up from Washington’s home place. In the early part of the war the building became the well-known Soldiers’ Rest, at which meals were served many thousands of the soldiers who landed here.

Another of the Carroll Tract
Square 684 was another of the Carroll tract. Greenleaf’s name was attached in 1794, and shortly thereafter Morris and Nicholson were interested. There is, however, no evidence of their enterprise, nor, in fact, of concern to any one save the tax gatherer. The first valuation of the ground was only 2 cents per foot, but it fell to one-fourth of a cent, at which rate it stood for twenty-five years. Moses Tabbs was then the owner. He made a move in 1834, when lot 3, on C street, owned by D.A. Hall, was leased to E. Semmes, and in 1839 the title passed to W.G. Cranch and four years later to Mr. Greenleaf. In 1838 S. Lewis owned the north and part of the east front of the square.

In the forties on North Capitol street were the Brents, MacDonalds, Mulloys and Cranchs of the original families, as were John L. Wirt of the Capitol police; John Skirving, architect; W.H. Stanford, tailor, and James Crutchett. Joseph F. Brown, then a clerk in the Senate, later secretary of the gas company, and for a long time an alderman; William Wurdeman, instrument maker; T.D. Harris, clerk in the Capitol, and S.A. Coster, employed by the House of Representatives, were on Delaware avenue; Mrs. Ballard, on C street; Mrs. Russell H. Ball, sr., and John T. Ball of Capitol police were on 1st street. At Mrs. Russell’s Andrew John of Tennessee, then representative, and later senator and President, was a guest, with L.B. Chase of Tennessee and L.H. Simms of Missouri. Mrs. Ballard had Andrew Kennedy and J.L. Cathcart of Indiana and R.W. Roberts beneath her roof.