Part of Proutís Farm
By James Croggon, The Evening Star, June 29, 1907
Near the navy yard inclosure, east of 8th street, south of K street, are city squares which have an interesting local history closely connected with the legends of the yard. These squares were, as was the yard, included in Proutís farm, and within these lines when the Commissioners laid off the city were the dwelling, barns and stables of Mr. Prout, as well as the graveyards of the Prout and Slater families. It would appear from the fact that in the original plan some squares were not platted for building lots that either a thickly settled community was not anticipated or that they were so left that the ground could be sold by feet and inches. Thus in the early deeds the ground sold or leased was described by metes and bounds. And though the establishment of and work in the navy yard date from 1800, and no record appears of transfer of building sites for a few years thereafter, there is little doubt that some settlement was made simultaneously with the opening of the yard. There is well-founded tradition that some of the pioneer mechanis, ship carpenters and blacksmiths resided close to their work; and as in that day menís promises were as good as bonds, houses were erected on mere verbal assurance that deed or lease would be forthcoming. Then again it was early in our career as a nation, and an age when there were "wars and rumors of wars," and there were few willing to make permanent investments. Indeed, it is stated that most of the original improvements were of frame, when within a short distance there was an abundance of clay suitable for brick.
Title to the square between 8th and 9th streets and L street and Georgia avenue, No. 930, was vested in Mr. Prout in 1795. To the 8th street front Samuel Baker, F. Herbert and J. Ford, ship carpenters, had deeds in 1802, Robert Brown, blacksmith, the following year leased on 8th street, and Samuel N. Smallwood, carpenter and later in the lumber business, leased on Georgia avenue. William Parsons in 1865 had a deed for ground on Georgia avenue and John Vint leased on 8th street. Charlton & Armstrong and G. Jarrad, or Gerard, in 1806 were leasees on 9th street property.
Residents Along L Street
For eight years, during which there were busy times in the yard because of the war of 1812, during which destruction was wrought by the British, there was nothing doing in the real estate line in that square. In 1817 Richard Charles owned on 9th street and Samuel B. Ellis bought on Georgia avenue and Mary A.M. Hilton on 8th street. A dry goods store was then established there by Samuel Hilton. Thomas Reynolds in 1821 owned on 9th street, and the following year Philip Otterback owned on L street. George Adams in 1824 bought at 8th and L streets. He was an auctioneer, and for a long time he was collector of taxes for the fifth and sixth wards. Adamsí grocery was known here for nearly half a century.
The assessment books of the corporation in 1825, showed a ground value of 6 to 8 cents, and improvements valued at $9,500. R. Brown, Ford & Herbert and S. Hilton each had $1,300 and W. Elder $400 on 8th street; G. Higdon $1,700, P. Otterback $1,250, B. Bryan $500 and Jarradís heirs $650 on L street; S.B. Ellis $600 and Thomas Howard $500 on Georgia avenue; R. Dillon $200 and Thomas Reynolds $400 on 9th street.
Owners on 8th Street
In the square to the north, No. 929, between Virginia avenue, L, 8th and 9th streets, there was no division into lots, and the title on the allotment by the commissioners remained vested in Mr. Prout. The first transfer was to James Waugh on ground at the northeast corner of 8th and L streets. Though no other records than those of a deed to Zephorah Corning to a house and lot on 8th street, and leases to A. Waugh and J.B. Potts, appear till 1808, the corporation books show improvements listed in 1803 to 1807 to Mary Yates, $150; Robert Clarke, $300; John Gibbons, $250; William Prout, $800; Cartwright Tippett, $900; J.B. Potts, $1,500.
Mr. Tippet had a lease on Virginia avenue property in 1808, Mr. Clarke on L street and Virginia avenue, and F. Kean on L street in 1810. In 1814 Daniel Kealey and G. Higdon had property on Virginia avenue; in 1815 George Adams had a frame house on L street and Philemon Moss a lease on Virginia avenue ground. The title to the Slater graveyard in 1816 was vested in B.G. Orr, later mayor of Washington, by the heirs of Joseph Slater, who had resided on the square north. The exact location is not given. In the same year William Ensy, a tailor, was on Virginia avenue and later on 8th street; Mrs. Sarah Brison owned on Virginia avenue and leased on 8th street. Edward Casteel had a lease on a Virginia avenue house and ground, and Helen Gilmour a lease in L street. James Spratt in 1822 owned in L street. James Spratt in 1832 owned a house and lot in 8th street, and in 1825 Jacob Smull had a lease on a brick house and lot on L street.
The improvements about the period in question were listed as follows: E. Casteel, $50 and $175; G. Higdon, $150; P. Moss, $50; R. Clarke, $500; C. Tippett, $100, on Virginia avenue; James Sprattís heirs, $650 and $250 on 8th street; Helen Gilmour, $1,000, and G. Adams, $200, on L street.
Laid Off in Three Lots
The ground value in 1825 was 7 cents, and the improvements were: E.M. Grant, $650; D. Dick, $700; Ann Purnell, $150, and A. Cheshire, $850, on M street; W.D. Aiken, $1,500, and R. Rose, $200, on 9th street, and R. Brown et al., $200 and $150, on Georgia avenue.
George Marshall, James Gordon and Ann White were located on lot 1, Charles Miller on lots 1 and 2, and Adam Gaddis on 3, in 1827.
The Aiken family was on Georgia avenue a third of a century; the Gordon, among them James A Gordon, a blacksmith, member of councils, and president of the Anacostia Fire Company, a half century on M street. The Gaddis family of blacksmiths and grocers is still represented on Georgia avenue. Mrs. White, a widow, was on M street for a long time.
Title to Square 953
In 1800 lots 15 and 16 passed to Commodore Cassin and back to Prout, as did lot 14, on which was a house. In 1813 Philip Otterback bought the corner of 9th and M streets, lot 15, and G. Marshall part of lot 13, on 9th street. William Campbell bought lots 1 to 9, 9th and N streets fronts, and lots on 10th street, in 1815, and Mr. Otterback, in 1818, bought lots 14 to 17, the northwest part of the square, and two years later added lots 18 and 19 and 22, and James Rhodes, in 1818, bought lot 19 on 10th street. During that period, the twenties, the ground was valued at 4 cents, and improvements were valued as follows: James Rhodes, $300 and $600; C. Granger, $200; Charles Miller, $1,700 on lot 14, 9th street; Mr. Otterback, $2,000, lot 19; Proutís heirs, $150, and T. Lusby, $400 on M street.
In the square to the south, 954, between N and O streets, the twenty lots were apportioned to Carroll, Prout and United States. Capt. Duncanson and his partner, James Ray, were owners in 1796, but there was little doing for half a century. About 1840 Messrs. Otterback and Miller owned most of the ground, which up to that time had been mostly utilized for the butchering business.
Still further south, between 9th and 10th streets, south of O street, was square 955, laid off in lots facing the latter street, and having water privileges. In 1802 it was assessed at 2 cents per foot, and $500 for improvements, to M. Carroll, John G. Adams was the purchaser from Mr. Carroll in 1847.
Seventy-Five Years Ago