Grounds of Capitol
By James Croggon, The Evening Star, April 7, 1907
The southeastern portion of the Capitol grounds was, for a period of eighty years, designated square No. 688, within the lines of A, B and 1st streets and New Jersey avenue southeast. During that period, until 1872, the square became well filled with houses of brick and frame, private residences, taverns, stores, shops, etc. In 1872 the extension of the Capitol grounds obliterated, No. 688 as a city square, and in place of brick, mortar and frame appeared grass plot, trees and plants. To the east is the Congressional Library, and to the south the new office building of the House of Representatives. Some idea of the physical features of the old square may be had from tradition and record. In 1st street was a gully. Water from a spring east of the Capitol and the drainage flowed in a ravine across the square, A and B streets. The Capitol square was not leveled and inclosed until 1816, when a picket fence marked the lines. One of the first acts of the corporation was the placing of a small bridge over the gully in A street, after grading the street, between New Jersey avenue and 1st street, for which $1,000 was appropriated. About the center of the square there long existed a pond of water which was once used in the case of a fire. Within the area of the Capitol grounds two or more of the officers of the Senate and House had been granted permission to build homes, and the residences of Messrs. Thomas Claxton, Thomas Dunn and James Barron were there some years before the grounds were inclosed.
Like the square now included in the grounds at the northeast corner, No. 688 was laid out for twenty-four lots, ten each on A and B streets, and though they were allotted in October, 1792, there were no transfers until 1801. Then Benjamin Stoddert and others acquired ground including the northeast corner of 1st and A streets, and afterward two lots south, to which S. Blodgett succeeded. William Duane bought lot 13, corner of New Jersey avenue and A street. In 1801 Adam Lindsay had a lot at A and 1st streets, and there was erected the first house on the square. Mr. Lindsayís home for several years. It was valued at $600 and the ground at five cents a foot.
In the Year 1804
The lease on lot 7 in 1808 was assigned to Henry Schroeder, who transferred it in 1810 to Capt. John Coyle, James Hickey, in 1810, was on lot 11, corner of New Jersey avenue and B street, and Benjamin Burns, a tailor, on the lot adjoining on the north. The next year W.H.P. Tuckfield was on lot 16, on A street, and afterward John Peltz and James Scanlon. The northwest corner of the square in 1817 was owned by Thomas L. Thurston and Dr. Frederick May, and in 1820 Jaffies Nowland and William Preston had leases on A street.
In the twenties the corporation valued the ground at 6 to 20 cents per foot, and the improvements were the Coyle house on lot 7, erected by Capt. Lenox in 1807 and enlarged by Coyle, valued at $3,800, facing on B street; lot 10, the Hickey property, 1810, $2,500, and lot 11, W. Clark, $800, on New Jersey avenue; lot 13, John Peck, billiard saloon, corner New Jersey avenue and A street, $200; lot 16, James Scanlon, $300, three buildings; lot 17, Wm. Costin, brick house, $800; lot 18, James Matthews, 1807, brick houses, $2,200 and $1,300, and 21 to 23, frames, Adam Lindsay, 1801, $450 and $200 on A street.
Located on A Street
Mr. Lindsay, who is said to have been the first resident of the square, was a Scot. He erected a frame building on a knoll and lived there a few years. In his day he was a leading citizen, a member of the city councils and was prominent in the Anacostia Bridge Company and other public utility enterprises. Most of his time he resided in a cottage about 12th and C streets southeast, and though only one child survived him several of his grandchildren reside in the same neighborhood. Mr. Lindsay was prominent when the morus multicaulis of silk worm was prevalent here in the thirties. In addition to extensive gardening he raised many mulberry trees and succeeded in getting enough silk to make him a suit of clothes.
Mr. Lindsay in 1801 erected at the northeast corner of 1st and A streets a neat frame dwelling, which he occupied several years prior to locating southeast of Lincoln square, where, as stated, he engaged extensively in gardening.
Residence of Capt. Coyle
One of the best known families in the square was that of the Hickeys, whose house fronted New Jersey avenue. It was a fine three-story building, north of B street, where resided the widow and son of the settler of 1810. The latter was in his day well known in military circles in the departments and at the Capitol. It is related that the father, James Hickey, was the one who shot at Gen. Ross when the British troops invaded this city.
Brigadier General, D.C.M.
The Costins, on A street prior to 1820, was one of the earliest colored families on the hill. From the father, William Costin, down they were very light in color, and regarded as of the "F.F.V.ís" of their race, enjoying the respect of the community at large, and the descendants living are proud of the name left them. The father was long an employe in the Capitol.
Mr. Varden, who acquired property on A street in 1807, was a pioneer tailor, long of the firm of Matlock & Varden on New Jersey avenue. Mr. Burns, on New Jersey avenue in 1810 was for a few years a tailor there. Adjoining the northwest corner, on A street, the Preston property was in about the twenties under lease to Mr. Lynch and later to M. Callan, and in the thirties to James Barron.
Valuation of Ground
In that decade, the thirties, J.S. Clubb bought lot, 9, on B street east of the Hickey property, and erected a dwelling, residing there a few years. He was in early life connected with the Marine Corps as fife major in charge of the Marine Band, and in the thirties was a messenger of the Senate. He is pleasantly remembered as an old time choir leader, whose greatest delight was in conducting singing schools and choirs.
In the forties there were W.J. Wheatley, one of the oldest residents and a boot and shoe maker; Dr. Jacob Gardener and Joseph Lardella, druggists; the taverns of Mrs. Mary Sweeney and James Johnson, with James Casparisí refectory; the grocery stores of Hitz & Bro. And Casparis, and Mrs. Timsí boarding house on A street; Messrs. D. Vass and Thomas P. Trott of the Post Office Department on B street, J.D. Waller of the Capitol police and Mrs. Tayloeís boarding house on New Jersey avenue.
The site of Peckís saloon, at the corner of New Jersey avenue and A street, was long the property of Frances Hanna, who in the thirties improved it by a frame house. Peck was there to the thirties, and following him were M. King, Casparis, Joseph Hamlin and Mrs. Whitney. Later it was Sandersonís Hotel. The house on the east was the Fowler tavern of the twenties, afterward Lynchís White House, a then brick structure, later occupied by Sweeny, Tom Stone and others.
Settled on the Hill
It is related that in the fifties a messenger of the Senate was sent for a senator who was booked for a speech on an important subject and found him at Casparisí bar. Touching him on the arm, he said: "Senator, your friends are waiting for you, and want you in the Senate. Have a drink." He responded, and both smiled, the senator taking a big drink. When he entered the Senate he was reeling, and the messenger received a reprimand for not having taken him home. The senator, however, by the support of his desk, made the speech of his life, and his friends were elated at his success, though his enemies said it was whisky talking.
Acquired A Reputation
In 1850 Casparis was on the Peck corner, and the old White House was run by Schafer, a veteran of the Mexican war. Schulze, a tinner, was located in one of the two-story bricks, and Aigler, a Swiss confectioner, who in 1854, returned to his old home, was in the other. On the adjoining lot east Casparis erected his hotel. Next in order were George Brown's residence and the residence of Fields, a carpet weaver, in a frame building that stood back from the street; the Hitz grocery, in a two-story brick building; a three-story brick dwelling, in which John Hitz, the Swiss consul resided; a bowling saloon, then occupied by Daniel Genam as a shoemaking shop; the two-story house of a Mr. Moulton, a Capitol employe, and a small frame on the corner, occupied by a colored barber named Washington.
Dr. S.C. Busey resided in a three-story brick on 1st street. On B street was a Mr. Fairfax of the coast survey in a two-story frame; Col. C.W.C. Dunnington of the Capitol police in a brick of two stories; James Adams of the Bank of Washington in a three story brick; J.C. Fitzpatrick in a two-story house, and the Coyle property. On the corner of B street and New Jersey avenue were the Hickey houses, in one of which a family named Steel resided, and on New Jersey avenue three small frames, in which were Washington's barber shop and Wilson's oyster house.