Near Navy Yard Gate
When Forest and Field Gave Way to Open Streets
Rapidity of Development
More Than Twenty Buildings on Square 906 in Year 1802
Assessments of Early Days
Names of the Owners and of Those Who Held Leases-Incidents of the Times

By James Croggon, The Evening Star, June 22, 1907, [pt. 2 p. 3]

In the neighborhood of the navy yard gate at an early day forest and field gave way to open streets and human habitations. While in other sections more extensive private improvement was made, probably in no other portion of the District were homes made more rapidly than between 7th and 8th streets south of Virginia avenue. The navy yard having been opened in 1800, the mechanics employed there looked for homes convenient to their work; and in a little time the two squares south of Virginia avenue were dotted with houses of brick and frame. That settlement was evidently not anticipated by the Commissioners of the federal city, for the square known as 906 was laid off for only six and square 907 for only four original lots. By 1802 there were more than twenty buildings on the former square. No. 907, the east half of which is now used by the Capital Traction Company, was behind the former in development, at least in number of improvements, title to the east half long remaining with Wm. Prout, the original proprietor. There were eight buildings on the square in 1802, valued at about $6,000.

In square 906 between Virginia avenue, L, 7th and 8th streets, all of which in the division by the Commissioners was assigned to Wm. Prout, the proprietor, much of the original improvement was on leased ground. Though there appears on the title records nothing prior to 1802 on the assessment books of that date, when the ground. Is rated at 2 cents, the following improvements are listed: S. Fowler, $200; w. Shaw, $300; R. Delphy, $100; J.B. Wimsatt, $500; L. White, $100; L. and E. Edelin, $2,000; L. White, $300; James Friend, $500; Robert Rose, $400 Wm. Brashears, $400; W. Prout, $330; P. Moss, $200; Joseph Johns, $800; S. Nowland, $900; J. Cox, $200; J.B. Parsons, $200; Jeremiah Booth, $350; P. Moss, $350, and E. Perry, $400. Five years later appear the names of Deborah Green, $280; Wm. Smith, $500; J. Vint, $1,200 and $250; W. Shaw, $1,000, and Dr. N. Brashears, $500.

How Squares Were Platted
The square was platted for only six original lots, and but few of the early settlers wanted more than sufficient ground for homes or business places, and consequently there is difficulty in associating the exact location of the improvements, particularly those on the four corner lots. It would appear from the fact that the corporation books of 1802 show assessments for improvements that some were made before the titles were passed; and there is reference to a lease made of lot 4, corner of Virginia avenue and 7th, in 1801 to James Friend, who established a bakery there. In a few years, or in 1808, however, he went to the neighborhood of 11th and M streets, then a point where the trade from Prince George county coming over the bridge was caught.

Benjamin Gilpin in 1803 acquired lot 4, on which Levi White had a lease. In 1804 W. Adams had a lease on lot 2 on L street, which he assigned to George Sinclair, Chas. MacNantz later leasing this lot and lot 1, at the southeast corner of the square, to Philimon Moss. In 1805 the Adams lease was assigned to Jere Booth and J.B. Wimsett. The same year Electus Edelin had part lot 3 on 7th street. In 1806 Joseph Johnson, S.N. Smallwood, afterward mayor, and J.B. Parsons held by lease lots 3 and 4 on 7th street, and the year after Thomas Young and N. Brashears owned there in fee, as did Bernard Bryan on lot I, corner of 8th street. In 1808 Robert Rose, long a master gun carriage maker in the yard, bought the corner of 7th street and Virginia avenue, where he resided; and Dr. N. Brashears bought on Virginia avenue on that lot, as also did S. Russ. The ground was described by metes and bounds until 1849, when it was platted for five sublots.

Holders of Leases
Sarah Brison in 1809 bought lot 6, corner Virginia avenue and 8th street; S. Fowler, part of 1; D. Bates, part of 4, and Wm. Smith, a school teacher, had a lease on lots 5 and 6 on Virginia avenue and T.C. Wright bought the lease of Bryan on lot 1, corner of 8th and L streets, and Wm. Cocking owned the fee the following year, while Col. Wharton had a lease on the property to the west. Wm. Hebb in 1814 had a lease on lot 1 and H. Somerville had it two years after. Wm. Gray in 1814 was on part of lot 5 on Virginia avenue. In 1816 Jas. Herbert had a lease on lot 4 on 7th street, which the year following went to Robert Rose, who bought the fee. About that time G. Carson had an assignment of a lease on Virginia avenue. H. Aukward a deed on lot 2 on L street, Peter Sherron property in lots 5 and 6, D. Kealy, jr., and Sarah Kealy the corner of Virginia avenue and 8th street with a frame house; H. Dorsey an assignment of lease on lot 1 and James Spratt a deed to lot 6.

By the twenties the ground had reached a value of 7 to 11 cents and the improvements multiplied. Samuel Fowler, a carpenter, with a $1,700 property; H. Dorsey, $500; Philimon Moss, tavern keeper and a city councilman, $1,500; A.C. Cazenove, $600; H. Aukward, $850; F. Wharton heirs, $300; Electus Edelin's heirs, corner 7th street, $1,600, on the L street property; J.B. Parsons, blacksmith, $500; J. Johnson, $750; J. Wilson, $600; D. Bates, $500, and Robert Rose, corner Virginia avenue and 7th street, $2,800; Owen MacCue, grocer, $900; Sarah Spratt, $400; Mary Hayes, $50, on Virginia avenue; W. Gray, $200; Mary Kirby, $100; Spratt's heirs, $350; J. Dobbyn, $1,000, tavern on 8th street.

Some of the Residents
Eli Cross, a grocer, in 1830 had a lease on parts of lots 5 and 6 on Virginia avenue. Harvey Crittendon bought a brick house on L street and C. Bentley bought in lot 4 and Jonathan Prout in lots 4 and 5. In that decade George Adams took an assignment of lease in lot 1 and Benjamin Bean one in lot 3 and Mary A. Conner bought part of 6, the Dobbyn property; John Little, a lease in lot 3, and Philip Otterback, part of lot 1 at L and 8th streets.

In the forties James Cull, a justice of the peace, bought on 8th street part of lot 6. John Smallwood assumed the Little lease at 7th and L streets, which later went to Mrs. Pie, grocer. G. Hartman, a baker, bought parts of lots 5 and 6, on Virginia avenue, and John S. Stillings, a cabinetmaker and undertaker, purchased the Moss property, at present known as 720 L street.

Square 907, between 7th and 8th and L and M streets, included in the Prout tract, was plotted for four lots, title to all of which was vested in Mr. Prout, and as in the other square described, little property went to early settlers other than by lease. About the year 1800 there was a brick building on the west side of 8th street, which later was enlarged, in which Wm. Prout, the proprietor, resided for several years, and about 1835 it became the home of Philip Otterback, the butcher. The property fronted more than 200 feet on 8th street and took in the east half of the south front of the square, the grounds being laid off into gardens for vegetables, flowers and fruit. That portion of the square now owned by the Capital Traction Company possibly has been the subject of fewer real estate transactions than any other portion held by private parties.

In The Twenties
On the northeast corner of the square was a brick building owned by Mr. Prout, which did duty as a store and tavern, conducted by Bernard Dougherty in 1803 and F. Deblois in 1811. In the twenties it was the dry goods house of Mr. Prout. In the thirties Wm. Speiden of the purser's office in the navy yard established a large general store there and later it was known as the Maryland Hotel, in charge of Lucket Adams, Lloyd and "Bun" Bryan.

The records show that the first operation in real estate in the square in question was the execution of a lease in 1802 to Nicholas Vass, affecting ground at 7th and L streets, which in 1803 was transferred to Joseph Costigan. The same year G. Higdon had a deed to 7th street property. The corporation records of that date give the ground a 6-cent value, and the improvements charged were to Files and Young, $1,100; G. Higdon, $400 and $600; Joseph Costigan, $1,250; Wm. Prout, $1,000; Sarah Augustin, $400; M. Thompson, $250, and N. Voss, $1,500. Wm. O'Brien in 1804 had property on 7th street which he conveyed in trust for the benefit of his children, during h is absence in Ireland. The same year Ignatius Boone conveyed to Mr. Prout ground on 7th street, with a brick house, and the next year P. Spalding had a lease on 7th street property and B. Dougherty was on the corner of 8th and L streets.

T. Young and T. Fyle, N.L. Queen and Azariah Gatton in 1806 had leases and Augustus Setta owned on 7th street and C. O'Hare had a lease on M street. Jas. Cassin in 1808 had a lease on a house on 7th street, Wm. Wood on L street property and in 1809 F. Whatton had the Cassin lease and J.H. Bentley and W. O'Brien each had leases on L street property.

Louis Deblois in 1810 had a lease on the corner of 8th and L street and Jeremiah Perkins, painter, and J.S. Stephenson, gunner, owned property on L street.

War Has Bad Effect
During the preparations for the war of 1812 and its continuance there was no movement in real estate. However, in 1816, Elizabeth Jolly, mother of the well-known Capt. John Jolly, bought at 7th and L streets. Timothy Winn, the purser of the navy yard in 1821, owned on L street, as did R. O'Hare, Margaret young succeeded to the old Young and Fyle property, with a brick house, on 7th street, which in 1832 went to Philip Inch, who had resided there several years and enjoyed the distinction of being the father of two admirals of the navy. In the thirties D. Robb owned on the corner of 7th and L streets, Stephen Corcoran on M street and Wm. Speiden at the corner of 8th and L streets.

In the twenties 6 to 10 cents was the ground value, and Mr. Prout's residence was assessed for $5,500; Richard O'Hare's, $1,500; James Carlin's, $150; W. Burnes, $1,000; R. Barnes', $300; G. Higdon's, $400; A. Nesmith's, $300; A. Serra, foreman laborer, navy yard, $800; B.E. Clark's heirs, $200; Fyles & Young's, $1,400; B. Spalding's, $1,200; W. O'Brien's heirs, $1,600, Prout's heirs', $1,200 and T. Winn's, $400.

It was in one of the houses on the east side of 7th street that Washington Naval Lodge of Masons held its meetings from 1805 until the erection of the hall at 4th street and Virginia avenue. There is no telling how the house at 8th and L streets figured in the affairs of old. As a store it was the scene of many neighborhood gatherings, and when it was a tavern stand it was the center of neighborhood conferences on many occasions, as well as convivial gatherings. It is related that about twice a year two of the old residents were wont to have a row there. They were prominent citizens, one of whom only semi-occasionally imbibed, and then, berated by his wife at home, would go straight to the tavern, where the usual row occurred. Generally when it was over he went off exclaiming: "That man is always picking up a quarrel with me, and I don't know why, unless he didn't marry my wife before I got her. I wish to the Lord he had married her, for he would have wished himself elsewhere fifteen years ago."

And yet it is said that, except when he was in his cups, his home was a happy one.

Dora Bowen, colored, was the popular shoemaker of those parts, on L street. William M. Ellis, long a master machinist and an alderman, was on Georgia avenue west of 7th street; John Davis, a well-known carpenter, was at 7th and L streets, and Wash. Wright, a tin and sheet-iron worker, on L street, was noted for his fine proportions as also for his genial disposition. For want of a hall, a large room on the south side of Virginia avenue was utilized for the neighborhood dances and amusements.