Site of the Library
By James Croggon, The Evening Star, May 24, 1907 [p. 13]
For nearly a century the ground upon which stands the Congressional Library composed city squares known as 729, 730 and 731. The portion between East Capitol, A, 1st and 2d streets was a perfect square, and the other blocks extending to south B street were made into angular shape by the intersection of Pennsylvania avenue. That there is historical lore of national as well as local interest attached to the residences formerly on the ground needs no telling, even to the younger portion of the community. Several of the buildings were equipped as hotels, and in their day they offered accommodations to many noted people. Lincoln himself, ere he was forty years of age and while a representative in Congress, was a boarder in the house in which during later years prisoners of war were confined. For a time, too, this same dwelling sheltered contraband slaves while barracks for them were in the course of erection elsewhere.
After the city had a mayor and council this section gave evidence of material progress, and the Capitol Hill market, which had been on New Jersey avenue south of the Capitol in 1812, was removed to East Capitol street between 1st and 2d streets. Tradition has it that stores with tavern attachment were also plentiful in the neighborhood. Lafayette in his triumphal visit in 1820 was escorted to the Capitol by way of the market place, and every stand was profusely decorated. An arch spanned East Capitol street, and hundreds of school children crowded the line of march and strewed the way with flowers and sang an ode of welcome to the patriot.
The Hill market in its life of twenty-five years on the present library block prospered greatly, and early in the thirties an extension was carried over the building lines into the next square. About 1838 the improvement of East Capitol street was projected, and the buildings were sold and a new market house erected on the site now occupied by St. Mark’s P. E. Church, southeast corner of 3d and A streets. William Howard was the first clerk in charge of the Hill market, and after him came Benson MacCormick.
Square 729 was platted in 1792 for thirty lots, which were vested equally in Daniel Carroll, the original proprietor, and the United States. In the following year C. Coles acquired lots on A street near 2d street; James Wilson a lot on East Capitol street, and James Cramond and James Wilson held a lot on A street. These men were holders of certificates who received deeds in 1795. In the following year A. Robertson purchased a lot at East Capitol and 2d streets, and James Hoban two lots on A street and one on East Capitol street. Before 1800 Morris & Nicholsen, Greenleaf, Thos. Law, Pratt, Frances and others held interests in the square. A. Reed was an owner at 2d and East Capitol streets, and a lease was given to James Johnson on an A street lot and George Burns on another fronting East Capitol street.
Figures From Assessor’s Books
Mr. Emack in 1808 took a lease on lot 20, and conducted business there for many years. George Watterson, librarian of Congress, bought in lot 27, East Capitol and 2d street, in 1809, and in the following year Alexander MacCormick bought in lots 26 to 28. In 1813 Patrick Callan, J. Cooper and D. Bates had property on East Capitol street. In 1817 Vandoran Mallion bought with lot 18 a two-story dwelling house opposite the market and William Caffrey took a lease on an adjoining lot, and the following year David Ott was in possession of East Capitol street property. In 1819 David Watterson had a lease opposite the market and opened a grocery store, and Timothy Caldwell had lots 26 and 28 in possession shortly after. In 1822 Mary Burns bought lot 17 and Rhoda Berry obtained lease on house on East Capitol street, and Brooke N. Berry, long a clerk under the House of Representatives, resided there. In 1824 James Getty obtained a lease on an East Capitol street lot and assigned it to W. Hayman. The following year John Boyle bought lot 19 with three houses fronting East Capitol street.
About 1825 the corporation books listed the ground at from 5 to 15 cents per foot and the improved to Scipio Jackson, $150; C. Tippett, $250; Daniel Homans, a carpenter, $250; James Johnson, $250; J. Hoban, $150, all on A street: Daniel Carroll, $20,000; Moses Young’s heirs, $750; d. Watterson’s heirs, $600; V. Mallion $300; J. Leckie, $900; William Emack, $2,000; James Getty, $300, and Timothy Caldwell, $1,000. by this time Mr. Carroll’s houses formed an important part of the city, and beneath their shelter were a number of senators and representatives in Congress.
Others in the Row
Mrs. Hamilton housed Senators Horatio Seymour and W. A. Palmer, and representatives Charles Rich, S. C. Crafts, Elias Keys and John Mattock, all of Vermont.
There were also the grocery stores of Patrick MacGowan and James Knott on 1st street, the latter at the corner of East Capitol street. On the south side were Patrick Lynch’s , William Emack’s, David Watterson’s and W. I. McCormick’s groceries, all convenient to the market, which Benson McCormick, the market master or clerk, could overlook from his room. Jas. Scott, a tailor, and John Green, a shoemaker, were also on East Capitol street, and on South A street, north side, were Jas. Johnson, an old settler; Wm. Joyce, a stonecutter; John Carlan, carpenter, and M. Ryan, laborer. Mr. Emack, in addition to keeping a grocery, had some roomers during sessions of Congress, L. Wood of New York, S. tucker of South Carolina and Thos. Murray of Pennsylvania stopping with him.
Before 1830 Robert Louree and G. C. Grammer had deeds to lots 19 and 17, on East Capitol street, and E. Sweeny had a lease in the latter, as well as Mr. Carroll. In that decade R. C. Brent, J. W. Beck, James Lynch, B. Kelly, Jeremiah Hepburn, Henry Hepburn and Elizabeth Rigdon were on East Capitol street. The tavern, known for years as Lynch’s, conducted by the well-known James Lynch, later captain of the corporation police, was a popular one. Mrs. Rigdon and Mrs. Sweeny each conducted groceries on A street. John Stettinus and Robert Leckie owned property.
The Carroll Block
The tax books of 1835 show a valuation of 12 to 16 cents per foot on the 1st and East Capitol street lots, and 5 and 7 cents on the other streets.
The Carroll block bore the name of the owner, as did those of Stephenson, Green, Thurston and MacDonald. The hosues valued at $1,000, $1,800, $1,400, $3,000, $3,000, the latter the corner house. On A street the improvements were assessed to C. Tippett, $250; J. Bailey, $300; D. Homan, $300, and J. Homan, $400. At the corner of East Capitol and 1st streets J. Bailey was assessed on $1,000 and on East Capitol street Watterson’s heirs, $1,000; J. J. Dermott, $500; David Orr, $600, on leased property; W. Emack, $2,000; J. Carman, $500; Mr. Carroll, $150; A. MacCormick, $1,200; and on 2d street Mr. Carroll had erected a building valued at $6,900.
In the forties new names appeared as owners, Ann E. Lindenberger, Benedict Milburn, B. B. French, James Halligan, the Bank of Washington, A. Ruppert and J. Kedglie. In the Carroll block Mrs. Whitwell, Mrs. Frost, Mrs. Sprigg and Mrs. Mount conducted boarding houses, and Mr. Green lived in one. As in former years, the houses were well patronized by the congressional element. Mrs. Whitwell, in the corner house, had under her roof Senators W. L. Dayton and Jacob W. Miller of Delaware, John Davis of Massachusetts, popularly known as “Honest John,” and George Evans of Maine; also Representatives Joshua F. Bell, B. R. Young and Henry Grider of Kentucky, George Ashman and Robert C. Winthrop of Massachusetts. The latter was Speaker of the House afterward, and was remembered by the older Washingtonians as the orator on the occasion of the laying of the corner stone of the Washington monument July 4, 1848. On the death of Mr. Webster in October, 1852, Mr. Winthrop was appointed and filled out his term as senator.
Statesmen as Boarders
Among those at the house of Mr. John T. Frost were Senator S. S. Phelps of Vermont, who was afterward minister to Russia; representatives James Pollock, afterward governor of Pennsylvania, and John W. Houston of Delaware.
The south side of East Capitol street was well supplied with grocery stores and taverns. Of the former there were Mrs. Hannigan’s, MacConnell’s, R. T. Mills, Mrs. Murphy, Mrs. Rigdon’s, Mrs. Sutherland’s and N. W. White’s; J. A. T. Todschinder & Co. kept a bakery, Mrs. Mary Sweeny, A. Ruppert and James Lynch conducted taverns, and there were Mrs. Carmon, dressmaker; Mrs. Rebecca Burch, Addison Brown, huckster; Brooke M. Berry, a clerk, and Col. B. B. French, then clerk of the House of Representatives and afterward commissioner of public buildings, well remembered in corporation affairs as an alderman for many years, and in Masonic circles as a grand master after whom a lodge is named. Mrs. Greenwell, J. M. Jamison and Horatio King were on 2d street. The latter, then a clerk in the Post Office Department, was before the civil war at its head, and many of the older residents recall pleasant associations with him during his many years of residence on the hill and on H street northwest. On A street were James Garlan, carpenter, and a few others.
Noted During Civil War
Tells Harrowing Story
The disconsolate one became completely unnerved, and his friend had all he could do to keep him from collapsing. Then he told him that while there was life there was hope, and he had a chance if he would take it. He explained that, having been a leaper in a circus, he knew how to make a spring board by which the jump could be safely made.
“But,” whined the fellow, “we are in the third story and the pavement is hard; I’ll kill myself if I jump.”
“Don’t be chicken-hearted now after we’ve battled together and have come out of worse scrapes,” urged his friend. “We won’t take the chance until tonight, but we can make the preparations, and you must learn how to jump so that the ball of the toe will strike first.”
He found in the floor a long plank, though much of the original flooring had disappeared, and by the aid of a chair a lesson in the use of the spring board was given, and for several hours practice was kept up. About midnight the men awoke and some time was spent in instilling sufficient courage to impel the frightened one to leap, and he finally jumped to the pavement, breaking his ankle. He was sent to a hospital, and under treatment soon became a cheerful convalescent.
It is not necessary to say his fellow was no longer troubled with his mourning.
Two Blocks, Four Lots Each
In 1818 William Costin, colored, took a lease on part of lot 4, on A street, as also did W. S. Early and Daniel Homans, the latter a carpenter. The following year John Dunning, a butcher, afterward an employe of the navy yard, where he lost his life by the explosion of a gun, bought and located on Pennsylvania avenue. In 1822 Cartwright Tippett, then the jailer, bought part of lot 4, corner of 2d and A streets; Rhoda L. Berry had leased property west, and B. O. Tyler bought part of the same, on which were two houses. In 1825 Mr. Tippett bought another part of lot 4, on A street. In that year the ground was valued at 6 cents, and the improvements were listed to Mrs. L. Brannan, $150, on A street; Joseph Martin, $1,400; James MacCaffrey, $200, on Pennsylvania avenue, lot 3; D. Homans, $250, shop and $600 house, and C. Tippett, $600, lot 4, on A street.
Valued at Six Cents a Foot
Square 731, south of Pennsylvania avenue, was of like form and dimensions to the above. In 1796 Edward Langley and the next year John Shute, owned property here. Adam Lynn, in 1800, owned part of lot 2; R. Andrews and H. Polkinhorn a part, in 1808, and John MacCarthy in 1802, had a lease in lot 3, the corner of 1st and B streets. The valuation of the ground was first placed at 6 to 9 cents per foot, but in 1807 was reduced, 4 to 7 cents being the rate, and only improvements were in MacCarthy’s name, valued at $300. This square was sparsely settled and a hay scale was located there for nearly twenty years, being removed in 1820. Zach Hazle was the weigher.
In 1813 George Frank was on lot 2, fronting the avenue, as was Guiseppi Franzoni, an Italian sculptor who came here to embellish the Capitol, and whose handiwork is the pride of his many descendants. George Burns was the owner of lots 3 and 4 in 1817, and the next year Macijah Tucker bought lot 4, on which was the cabinet shop of H. V. Hill. In 1819 John Martin and David Watterson owned the same lot, and Margaret Davidson lot 2.
Settlement was slow, but the land value appreciated, reaching in 1835 7 to 15 cents per foot, and there were then listed improvements assessed to the Franzoni heirs, $1,300; D. Watterson, $400; Hollagan, $400; Watterson, $1,800, and W. Bussard, $150.
In the twenties there was a tavern of Gregory Ennis on 1st street, as also the boarding house, of Mrs. Dorcas Galvin, and the houses of James Neale and Thomas Kingston; on the avenue, F. Iardella and Adam Rene.