When City Was Young
By James Croggon, The Evening Star, April 14, 1907 [pt. 7, p. 8]
The section of the city bordering the southeastern portion of the Capitol grounds, between B, C, South Capitol and 1st streets, known as squares 689 and 690 in the early days, was an interesting and important locality. On the square east of New Jersey avenue, once almost entirely occupied for residential purposes, is being erected the office building of the House of Representatives, and on the square east the coast survey has long been located in government property. The old buildings, some antedating 1800, were replete with the associations of the most prominent people of the day, including Washington and Jefferson and other characters whose names are prominent in history. Thomas Law is credited with taking the initiative in the matter of development, and, with the expectation that New Jersey avenue would become an artery of trade leading to the Eastern branch wharves, he built on both sides of New Jersey avenue.
In view of the belief that the locality was to become a center of business, a market was located on New Jersey avenue prior to 1802, before the municipal government went into operation, and from that year till removed to East Capitol street in 1812 it was the mart for fresh meats and perishable food. For many years the Columbia Fire Company was located on the angle formed north of B street.
Division of Land
The hotel was continued for only a year or so, for in 1804 Samuel Harrison Smith, editor and publisher of the Intelligencer, and a Mrs. Coyle and Mrs. Williams occupied the row. It was from Conrad & MacMunn’s that Mr. Jefferson in 1801, proceeded to the Capitol to be inaugurated.
Matthew Brown in 1799 leased from Mr. Law part of lot 18, fronting twenty-three feet on New Jersey avenue, north of his buildings, on which was a three-story brick residence. W.F. Beall, about 1800, was on lot 17, north of Brown’s property, on which was a smaller house. The ground on New Jersey avenue in 1806 was valued at 10 cents per foot, and four years later at half that figure, while on South Capitol street the depreciation was from 4 to 12 a cent. The improvements were assessed as follows: Lot 1, $16,000; lot 18, M. Brown, $5,000; lot 19, W.F. Beall, $2,000. That evidently does not include all of the improvements, for in early writings it is mentioned that Daniel Rapine, later mayor of Washington, had his printing office and book store at the southwest corner of New Jersey avenue and B street, where the assessors afterward valued improvements of Mr. Carroll at $5,000.
Original Hotel Man
“Nothing doing” was true as regards operations in real estate in the section in question till 1812, when a deed to Beall’s heirs conveyed part of lot 17, Rev. Andrew Hunter, chaplain, U.S.A., bought in lots 18 and 3 in 1818, and later acquired lot 19. In the next decade the twenties, the ground valuation was 2 to 10 cents per foot. The Law buildings on lot 1 were assessed at $13,000 a brick house of Mr. Carroll’s, on the corner of B street and New Jersey avenue, lot 12, $5,000; Beall’s heirs, lot 1, $2,200, and Hunter’s heirs, lot 19, $3,300.
J.G. Whitwell in 1827 bought the south half of lot 17, and James Adams had part of lot 12 and part of lot 18 conveyed to J. Coyle, jr. In the thirties, John MacCormick was on the north front of lots 11 and 12, on B street. T.W. Brodhead, second controller of the treasury, bought the Hunter property, lot 18, in 1842.
On New Jersey Avenue
The site of the office building of the House of Representatives, bounded by New Jersey avenue, and 1st, B and C streets, square No. 690, laid off in the Carroll tract in the early days of the capital, was platted and divided between the United States and the original proprietors in 1795. It was not an ideal spot for building as regards topographical features, but for those whose business was in and about the halls of legislature no more convenient place could be found. The ground was traversed more or less by ravines and either cutting or filling sometimes both, was required to make the lots suitable for houses. Nevertheless it was not long before there were some substantial houses showing up. As early as 1807 there were nearly $30,000 assessed on improvements, those of Thomas Law being prominent.
To that of the original proprietor, Mr. Carroll, very soon were added the names of Law, Morris and Greenleaf. There were thirty-two lots originally platted, but a revision was made providing for only eleven lots, some having more than 300 feet front.
One of the first lots purchased was by James R. Dermott in 1795, it being at the northwest corner of the square. Arthur Jones in 1797, had a part of the lot, as also did Samuel Brown. The latter was on the corner and Jones on B street. Mr. Law about that time built the fine residence on New Jersey avenue north of C street into which he moved about 1799 from the opposite corner. That was his home for a few years, but about 1808 Dr. Frederick May bought the property, which became noted as the house of the May family for years, the sons becoming eminent in the law, legislative, medical and military professions. In after years the property was owned by Joseph Holt, Postmaster General and judge advocate general.
What the Books Show
The Bank of Washington was opened in 1809 and bought through John Barlow, John Davidson and W. Cranch, sublots 7 and 8 of lot 4, the business being conducted there until the twenties.
Gilbert Docker in 1811 bought in lot 4 and James Young in lot 3, improved by brick residences on New Jersey avenue, and in 1812 Buckner Thurston bought a brick house on lot 8, in B street, and Francis Pic leased part of lot 10, corner of B and 1st streets, and opened a grocery store. On B street near New Jersey avenue A. Thurston, in a three-story building, conducted the original “White House Tavern” from 1812, and about the same time Charles Varden and Rev. A.T. McCormick, the rector of Christ Protestant Episcopal Church, bought in lot 11, the first opening a merchant tailor’s shop on New Jersey avenue and the latter establishing his residence on B street.
Thomas Claxton in 1814 leased part of lot 5, with a two-story frame house on the north front of the square, and Mrs. Claxton conducted a boarding house there for a number of years. Mrs. Martha Gordon bought in lot 4 on New Jersey avenue, the Minchen property; Henry Tims, part of lot 7 on B street; John Campbell, in lot 11, and H.V. Hill a three-story brick on New Jersey avenue. George Burns in 1818 was on lot 10, on H street; J. Duckworth in lot 11, on New Jersey avenue, and James Young on the corner of B street and New Jersey avenue, conducting a grocery store there. Harvey Crittenden in 1820 bought part of lot 11, on New Jersey avenue, and W.A. Bradley part of the same lot on B street, on which was Hill’s cabinet-making shop. J.W. Hands of the Post Office department in 1825 bought the Duckworth property on New Jersey avenue about which time Rev. A.T. McCormick bought in lot 7, on B street, and John Coyle bought from Pic property in lot 10 on the same street. Col. C.K Gardner, long connected with the Post Office Department and once city postmaster, bought sublot 9 of ot 4, New Jersey avenue in 1826, and took up his residence there. The following year Francis Iardella bought in lot 4, the Docker property, on New Jersey avenue, a two-story frame house then occupied by Mrs. Kinsla, and in 1829, John P. Ingle bought in lot 5 on New Jersey avenue and resided there many years.
Valuation of Ground
Then residing on New Jersey avenue were the May family, James Young, H.V. Hill, E. Lindsley of Ingle & Lindsley, Mrs. Kitsia, who conducted a boarding house, V.A. Bradley, cashier of the Bank of Washington; Henry and John P. Ingle; Alexander Tait, stone cutter; James Thompson, grocer; Mrs. Patience Minchen; Rev. Reuben, first pastor of the First Presbyterian Church; Matlock & Varden, merchant tailors; J.T. Frost, then a clerk in the War Department, and W.H. Gunnell, dentist. The Youngs, Mays, Ingles, Bradleys and Gardners were on New Jersey avenue for many years.
Some changes occurred in the thirties in the personnel, and but little in the improvements. Mr. Young had gone into the brick-making business and his grocery was transferred to S. Cartwright & Co., later being owned by William MacLean. Francis Iardella later conducted a hardware store there, and in more recent years it became George F. Gulick’s grocery. Among the residence other than the families named were James Adams, cashier of the Bank of Washington; J.D. Craig of the patent office; Mrs. Cox, who conducted a seminary; James Manahan, a treasury clerk; J.S. Meehan, Dr. Osborne, David Butler, J.H. Baker and James Brocks, the latter colored.
Stores and Shops
Mrs. Claxton’s boarding house, on B street had as guests a number of the members of Congress, including Senator Barton and Representatives John Cooke and F. Jones of Tennessee; Thomas Whipple W. Plumer and M. Harvey of New Hampshire; Anthony New of Kentucky, B. Bassett and Jabes Leftwich of Virginia, and A. Hobart of Massachusetts.
Mr. Frost of New Jersey avenue housed Senators Benjamin Ruggles of Ohio, N. Knight of Rhode Island, John Chandler of Maine and Elijah Boardman of Connecticut,, and Representatives M. Harris of Maine, J.H. Pierson of New York, John Sloan of Ohio and G. Tomlinson of Connecticut. Mr. Young had under his roof Representatives Andrew Stewart of Pennsylvania, who was an earnest protectionist of his day H.W. Edward of Connecticut and D.P. Cook of Illinois.
On the west side of New jersey avenue were Representatives Joseph Cist of South Carolina, at Mrs. Rapine’s; James MacSherry of Pennsylvania, at Miss Heyer’s and in Mrs. MacLeod’s house, S. Eddy and Job Durfee of Rhode Island, Lewis Condict of New Jersey and C.H. Ruggles, Joseph Gebhard, Anthony Conklin and C.D. Colden of New York.
Residents on B Street
Rev. Mr. McCormick bought part of a lot of the Laws in 1833, the deed for which covenanted that if at the expiration of five years the ground should be value at more than 6 cents per foot by arbitration he should pay the excess. At that time the corporation value was from 1 to 16 cents and there were holders of lots on C street willing to sell at 1 mill per foot.
Absence of Improvements
In the forties located on New Jersey avenue were the Coast Survey, at the head of which was Prof. Alexander Bache, and his residence; D.W. Middleton, clerk of the Supreme Court of the United States; J. Bartram North, William Barker, James N. Barker, Peter Bradley, William H. Dundas, T.P. Trott, Samuel Hanson, M. Hanson, John Underwood, James E. Young, Johnson Simonds, Dr. F. May and Henry May, attorney-at-law, of the original settlers; Col. Charles K. Gardner, city postmaster; Dr. Jacob Gardner, druggist; Simon Brown, librarian, House of Representatives; John P. Ingle, Henry M. Moffatt, attorney-at-law, and Mrs. Knott, dressmaker. On B street were Grafton D. Hanson and D.E. Stanton, clerks at the Capitol; James Fry, a carpenter; N.C. Towle and E.N. Roach, register of wills.