East of the Capitol
By James Croggon, The Evening Star, June 1, 1907 [pt. 2, p. 1]
In the early years of the city’s existence the ground adjacent to Pennsylvania avenue east of 2nd street, which was platted on the maps for business and residential purposes, was put to such use only slowly. About the Capitol grounds there was some settlement, and also on East Capitol street, but until 8th street east, then popularly known as Garrison street, was reached, the improvements could be numbered almost on the fingers. The avenue and 8th street was not then the ordinary route to and from the navy yard and the course of the employes from the center of the city was by way of New Jersey avenue and M street south, or over a ravine west of St. Peter’s Church, and across the commons to about Virginia avenue and 6th street. Until the forties there had been but little done toward improving Pennsylvania avenue, but about 1845 Congress recognized it as a road to Congressional cemetery and provided for grading it. Under these conditions much of the land was held at figures disproportionately high as compared with the valuations shown on the assessment books.
The square south of the Library between 1st, 2d, B and C streets, except as to location, was not topographically inviting for business or residential purposes. A stream of water flowed from the northeast to the southwest corner of the square, and about the center of the block it was joined by a smaller one from a spring on the present Library site. The water made its way through a ravine to the low grounds. Some of the lots were not sought, because filling was necessary to prepare for building and others needed to be graded down. The Carroll tract was platted for forty-four lots, fourteen of which faced on the fifty-foot street to which the name of Mr. Carroll later attached. In 1795 these lots were assigned between the government and Mr. Carroll, and the following year those in the name of the United States were included in the extensive purchases by Morris and Nicholson and eleven went into the hands of Thomas Law. In 1799 Stephen Cook assigned an interest in the ground at the corner of 2d and C streets to Samuel Cook, and in the first assessment was rated an improvement of $200 value. Thomas Ewell acquired the northeast corner of the square, lots 23 to 28, fronting B and 2d streets, in 1812, and subsequently sold them to Commodore Decatur. The same property, through John P. Ingle, passed to John Marbury in 1828. Two of the lots, 23 and 24 were bought by John Queen, a master bricklayer in 1827, and Ellen MacGregor bought lot 25, on 2d street. In 1829 Patrick J. MacNantz, a carpenter, who had been in the neighborhood some years, bought lots 23 to 25, and shortly afterward he sold the first lot to Edward Rice and the corner lot to D. Pancoast and John Johnson.
During the Twenties and Thirties
In the twenties the ground was valued at but two and three cents per foot, and the improvements listed were as follows. Lots 15 and 16, John P. Parker, $150; William Joyce, $250; P. Rice, $200, and L. Flinn, $200. S. Cook established a blacksmith shop near 2d and C streets and William MacCarthy was in the same business here as late as 1840. The Rice family lived for years on lot 16 at 1st and B streets. Mrs. Rice conducted a grocery store. Mrs. Joyce, widow of William Joyce, stone cutter, lived on B street until the fifties.
Lot 24, corner of B and 2d streets, early in the thirties passed from Daniel Pancoast to John Johnson, and the adjoining lot south, 25, to J.L. Clubb, who later sold t Mary and John Fagan. W.W. Corcoran owned lots 26 and 27 in 1834. In 1835 the interior lots on what is now Carroll street found a purchaser, W.C. Orme taking Nos. 32 and 34, and John P. Ingle Nos. 38 to 40. Still later John Cook’s heirs owned No. 44 and Elizabeth P. Lewis Nos. 41 to 43.
The square between 2d and 3d streets south of A street and north of the avenue, known as No. 761, was also slow in improving. Up to the beginning of the civil war less than half a dozen buildings appeared. The block was laid off for eighteen lots, which were assigned equally to the United States and to Mr. Carroll. About 1805, when the public school system had been inaugurated, lot 6, at the northeast corner of 2d street and Pennsylvania avenue, was selected for the site of the Eastern Academy, but in 1810 an exchange was made with Mr. Carroll for a site at 3d and D streets southeast. Elias B. Caldwell, clerk of the Supreme Court of the United States 1800 to 1826, was perhaps the first actual settler on the square. He bought the southwest portion, lots 4 to 8, fronting B street, the avenue and 2d street, in 1808 and 1809. Three cents per foot was the ruling ground valuation about 1810. Twenty years later the rate had increased to 7 cents per foot. Joseph Gales, jr., of the Intelligencer bought lot 3 on B street, in 1812; Commodore William Zantzinger, lot 5 in 1816, and Griffith Coombe, lots 1, 2, 3 and 18 in 1819 For a dozen years no other transfers occurred.
Several Prominent Residents
Commodore Zantzinger resided here a few years, and after him came Lieut. Col. Broom of the Marine Corps, who won an enviable record for service in the Florida war.
Col. Robert Beale, a member of the bar, bought several lots on the A street front of square 761, on which he erected a number of houses. Col. John G. Nicolay, private secretary and biographer of President Lincoln, for some years resided in one of the houses in the block, and it was there much of his literary work was performed. In war time an army hospital was located on the ground north of the square.
The Coombe property at the southeast corner of the square, lots 1, 2, 3 and 18, was improved in the twenties by the construction of a two-story brick house and another smaller dwelling. In 1840 this property passed to Maj. George W. Walker of the United States, who for many years made his home in the larger house.
The ground value was 4 cents per foot about 1820, and in 1830 7 cents. The improvements were listed to G. Coombe, $300 and $1,900, and E.B. Caldwell, $2,500.
The square between 2d, 3d, and C streets and Pennsylvania avenue was platted for fifteen lots, of which lots 4 to 11, including all the west half of the square, remained in the name of Mr. Carroll. The two lots 12 and 13, on the avenue at 3d street in 1799 were vested in E. Plowden. Within a year or two George Collard had lot 1, corner 3d and C streets; James Middleton, lot 15; W. Veitch, 14 on 3d street; A. Kerr, lot 2; G. Burns, lot 3, and H. Densely, lot 4 on c street. Only two improvements were listed in 1803, and those were $120 each to Mr. Collard and Mr. Middleton. The ground was then valued at 4 and 5 cents per foot, but it was reduced to 3 cents. As in square 731, no transfers occurred for a score of years and improvements were tardy. In the twenties on from 5 to 7-cent ground the improvements listed were: A. Kerr, lot 1, $100; George Watterson, lot 3, $100, and lot 7, $1,800; D. Carroll, lot 11, $100.
Transformation of a Ravine
From a large area east of 4th street the drainage crossed the avenue in a ravine on the south side of C street, which was afterward utilized for the basements of a row of brick dwellings. Between 5th and 6th streets north of the avenue in the twenties the ground was assessed at 2 cents per foot, and the only building was a frame house, occupied from time to time by various colored families.
On the triangular square west of the present Wallach School, Bernard Parsons, a carpenter, owned a frame dwelling and shop. M.D.C. Marche, master armorer at the navy yard, settled on lot 7, facing the avenue, in 1825, and half a dozen years later Louis Marceron became his neighbor. Descendants of this trio are still represented in East Washington. South of the avenue between 3d and 4th streets, George Hicks was the sole occupant of the square in the thirties, and between 6th and 7th streets William H. Gunnell owned a $700 house.
Rev. Robert Little, pastor of the Unitarian Church, and William Austin, bricklayer, resided along the avenue in the twenties. In the forties Horatio R. Merryman, a constable, lived on the avenue between 2d and 3d streets; John A. Lynch, a clerk, and Capt. O. Carr, U.S.N., at corners of 2d street, and John Lee between 4th and 5th streets By the middle of the forties the population of 2d street between the avenue and C street was materially increased. Among the residents were Mrs. Thompson, J.E. Millard, clerk at the Capitol; T.J. Mackey, John Johnson and C. Greenwell, carpenters; J.M. Jamison and J. Jones, and Mrs. French and Mrs. E.C. Greenwell, dressmakers.