When City Was Young
Early Landowners in Neighborhood of Capitol
Memories of the Long Ago
Reminiscences Suggested by Reading Old Records
Original Washington Homes

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
In the square west of New Jersey avenue and south of B street, the title to which was in Daniel Carroll, the lots were divided between him and the United States in October 1792. The names of Law, Robert Morris and Greenleaf were associated with the title four years later, the first only for any great length of time. Mr. Law improved lot 1, at the corner of New Jersey avenue and C street, by the erection of a block of three three-story dwelling houses, some of the walls of which are part of the Hotel Varnum. Mr. Law occupied one of them as his residence from 1796 to 1799, and, among his guests frequently were Gen. and Mrs. Washington, and in 1797 he entertained Louis Philippe and his brothers, and later other noted people. One of the houses was the cradle of the National Intelligencer, whose first issue was October 31, 1800. Messrs. Conrad and MacMunn about this time opened a hotel in other of the houses.

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
Wm. Brent in 1802 acquired two of the Law buildings, and the deed speaks of “the corner house in the occupancy of Pontius D. Stelle.” The latter was one of the original hotel men of Washington. About that time conveyances were made affecting Mr. Law’s holdings, recorded to secure Mrs. .Law, formerly Miss E.P. Custis. They included a marriage settlement of March 19, 1796, in which James Barry is the trustee; a deed in trust to Thomas Peter of five lots, and the conveyance of parts of lots 1 and 2 to G. Calvert and Mr. Peters.

“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
In the twenties there resided on New Jersey avenue Daniel Rapine, Miss Heyer and John MacLeod, clerk in the Post Office department, in the Law buildings; Rev. A. Hunter, and later Robert mills, the architect, father of Mrs. Pendleton; Dr. J.M. Brodhead of the treasury, and J.G. Whitwell of the Post Office Department. On other portions of the square there was practically no settlement, a two-story frame at the corner of C and South Capitol streets occupied by Samuel Conner, a carpenter, being about the only house other than those mentioned, until about 1850.

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
Griffith Coomb in 1800 owned on lot 3 and Harry Ingle on lot 4, and two years later James McCarthy and John Minchen each had leases in the lot and resided there for many years. Samuel Elliot, who was a relative of Greenleaf and cashier of the Bank of Washington, and Dr. May in 1804 bought in lot 3. R. Oliver in 1807 bought two three-story brick houses occupied by Law and Elias B. Caldwell, the latter clerk of the United States Supreme Court at the time. At that period, the corporation books show by faint pencil marks, improvements of $2,000, $2,200, $2,300, $2,700, $2,400, $3,000, $4,800 and $6,800.

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
In the twenties the ground valuation had realized 20 cents per foot, and the improvements were as follows: James Young, grocery store and residence southeast corner of New Jersey avenue and B street, $1,900; Harvey Crittenden, $450; J.W. Hand, $1,800; H.V. Hill, $2,300; C.K. Gardner, $4,500; J.P. Ingle, $4,000; Bank of Washington, $5,000; F. Iardella, $2,600; Henry Ingle, $3,000; Griffith Coomb, $2,800; James Young, $2,500; Thomas Law, $3,000 and F. May $3,200. On B street were H.V. Hill’s cabinet shop, $150; George Burns, $300; Pic’s heirs, $1,900; grocery and hardware store and residence, Thomas Claxton, $2,000; P. Tims, $2,500; B. Thurston, $2,000; A.T. McCormick, $1,100, and B. Thurston, $300.

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
On B street in the twenties were stores and shops of H.V. Hill, F. Pic and George Burns, the residence of Thomas Claxton, later Mrs. Claxton’s boarding house; Henry Tims, Rev. A.T. McCormick, Buckner Thurston, judge of the circuit court, and Thomas L. Thurston of the State Department, and Jacob Janney, shoemaker.

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
In the thirties Mrs. Anne Royall located on B street, and soon her name became prominent because of her papers, the “Paul Pry” and “Huntress” in which her criticisms of public men stirred up affairs. Also on B street were Mrs. Grooch, who conducted a boarding house; William Henry of the post office and N. MacNantz. Later on and east of the corner of New Jersey avenue was the residence of John Coyle, jr., the house once occupied by the Belgian minister and by Joseph J. Bartlett, and in which at different times resided Edward N. Roach and N.C. Towle, the former in the forties being register of wills and the latter of the Post Office department, afterward recorder of deeds. Senator Willie Roach was a son of the former, and George P. Towle, who achieved reputation in literary circles, of the latter. Next was the house in which Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania made his home; the home of Reeve Lewis, who was killed in Know Nothing days; the Thurston houses, and, on a knoll, a cottage house in which resided Charles Stewart, an employe in the Capitol, who committed suicide there fifty years ago, and a small house on the corner of 1st 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
The absence of improvements on 1st street and C street and the consequent low valuation of the ground may be accounted for in part by the topography and its being almost in a farming region, for it is stated that nearly to the fifties corn, grass and potatoes were raised on the opposite side of the street from the lots and not a few cows ranged in that section.

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.