By James Croggon, The Evening Star, August 10, 1907 [p. 8]
South of M street between 2d and 4th streets southeast, are a few building squares, two of which are one the Anacostia river, or Eastern branch, and at one time they were the center of commercial activity.
In the infancy of the city this section had St. Thomas bay on the east side, but when the navy yard was extended to 4th street the last vestige of the bay disappeared. On the west was a small stream which had its rise near the south line of Garfield Park. With the surface water it broadened and before it reached the Anacostia some portions of the building lots fronting on Canal, or 2d street, were under water. When the canal, authorized by the act of the Maryland legislature in 1795, was projected, this stream came within the lines and was by it absorbed.
The canal has had its day, and on its site and grass plots and the pumping plant of the District. A complete metamorphosis has been worked. The mouth of this stream became the rapacious basin of the canal and with the water front affording the wharfage, owned by Carroll originally, and Law, Barry and other early promoters becoming interested, this section was one of the leading neighborhoods a hundred years ago.
In the presidential campaign of 1840 the Jacksonian democracy, several hundred in number, took a steamer here for a barbecue at Bladensburg, and without mishap returned at night.
Though there was some marsh about this section much of the ground was several feet above the present grade. Some of the original terra firma, especially that of the streets, was long since converted into bicks and used elsewhere. It may be said that from Georgia avenue northward there was a gentle ascent to the street when the ground sloped and some marsh was encountered. This may be designated as the southeast corner of the Carroll tract, and it became in the plan of Washington squares 770, 771, 801 and 802, with south of Georgia avenue, No. 803 designated a water lot.
Division of the Lots
Square 770, between the canal and 2d street an M and N streets, was in the hands of Morris, Greenleaf and Law before 1797, when Mr. Carroll owned the lots fronting M street, Nos. 1 and 2. In 1798 R. Grigley owned lots 5 and 6 on Canal street, covenanting with Law to build a two-story brick house before the year 1800. No improvement is noted here in the first quarter of the century.
Two Early Leases
In 1826 the corporation valued the ground at 4 cents per foot, and the improvements were assessed as follows: Lot 3, J. Kreaglar, $150 changed to A. Cochran, $100; lot 4, Wilson Bryan, $300, reduced to $200; lot 4, Wilson Bryan, $300, reduced to $200; lot 7, Ephram Mills, $600; lot 9, Wm. Howard, $700. All these were on the canal. Lot 1, northwest corner of 3d and M streets, James Middleton, $850.
In 1807 Nathaniel Brady leased in lot 14, and the following year Thomas Allen was in 11 and 12, on 3d street, and Joseph Varden bought in lot 1, corner 3d and N streets. In 1809 Mr. Tietjen bought in lot 10, corner of 3d and M streets, and T. Howard bought in the southeast corner of the square. J. W. Lowe had a lease in lot 15. In 1809, and in 1811 D. Kealy and Albin Howe had leases nearby on 3d street, and D. Cooke had a deed in lot 4 on the canal. In 1814 Joseph Johnson was in part of lot 16, and W.R. Maddox, the following year, came on lots 11 and 12. In 1816 Ariminta Bean was on lot 15, and in 1821 S.N. Smallwood owned at the southeast corner of the square.
Land Four Cents a Foot
In ten years there was slight increase of the value of the ground, six cents being the minimum.
The square opposite, between 3d, 4th, and N streets of thirty two lots, was slow in growth, and for years was unproductive, save that the taxes on ground valued at three and four cents per foot went into the coffers of the corporation. The first conveyance in the square was that of Mr. Carroll to the corporation of Washington, on April 9, 1807, of lots 13 and 14, fronting on 3d street, on condition that a warehouse be erected upon it. The councils by act of November 10, 1806, authorized the mayor to receive this, and appropriated $2,000 for the construction of a warehouse with a capacity of 600 hogsheads of tobacco, and in May following provided for the appointment of an inspector.
In 1811 Griffith Coombe bought lots 4 to 7 on N street, nearly half the south front, but no improvement appears here except one of less than a hundred dollars. In 1819 Mr. Coombe made a subdivision of these lots into A, B, C, etc., and in 1825 sold subdivisions A and B to W.R. Maddox, who was taxed on $2,200 improvements that year, and on $2,500 later; while the ground was valued at 5 to 8 cents. In 1832 Thomas Howard had lot 12, on 3d street, Mr. Coombe’s lots adjoining, 18 to 22 on M street, and 28 to 30 on 4th street. In 1836 George B. Smith had 15 and 17 on 3d and M streets, and Mr. Maddox, 1 to 4 on M street, eight on 3d street, 24 to 27, 31 and 32 on 4th street, and in 1839 D.S. Griswold, 19 to 22, on M street.
The improvements were valued as follows: Craig Crawford et al., $5,000, lots 1 and 2, and Berg Waters, $2,000, lot 3, in 1802. In 1807 P. Miller was assessed $4,000 on lot 6, and Craig et al., $4,000 on lot 7. In the 20’s and 30’s the ground was valued at 10 cents and under and the improvements were charged as follows: Barry and Coombe, $4,500, reduced to $400 in 1835, and on wharf, $1,800; E.B. Caldwell, $2,500, reduced to $1,800; George Sanford, $250, reduced to $1,800; Eli Cross, $150; Bank of Washington, $1,400 and Foyles, $100.
In square 802 facing Georgia avenue, between 3d and 4th streets, below N street, nine lots were platted and allotted, 4 to 7 to the United States and the balance to the government in 1795. In 1796 James R. Dermott bought lot 7, on 3d street, and the next year found Thomas Law in possession of lots 4 to 6, the southwest part of the square. Mr. Carroll had lot 7 and lot 6 went to W. Moffatt and Ebenezer Nesmith. The latter were house joiners and builders, and improved many lots for Mr. Law and others and lot 6 went to them on account of work. When the partnership was dissolved title in this lot was vested in Mr. Nesmith. This lot was improved, and in 1806 became the property of Thomas Wheat and appears listed at $900 in 1806, the ground being rated at 5 and 6 cents. At this time the southwest corner of the square, lots 4 to 6 was leased by James D. Barry and Griffith Coombe, who bought full title some years later.
Blagden’s Water Rights
In the thirties Thomas Blagden bought the water right of lots 4, 5 and 6, thus having the whole water front. N. Brady had subdivisions of 4 and 5 fronting on Georgia avenue and George B. Smith had lot 8 on 3d street.
In the twenties and thirties the ground had a value of 8 to 10 cents, and the improvements were listed as follows: George Blagden, $3,750, later $5,000; S.N. Smallwood, $1,900; wharf, $1,800; Mr. Coombe, $1,900, afterward $2,500; Rachel Wheat, $1,500; Wharton’s heirs, $4,000; G. Mattingly, $5,000; Van Reswick, $1,000.
Great expectations prevailed as to the future of this section, for, with fine wharfage sites on the south and the basin of the canal on the west, a profitable trade was counted on.
Bridge and Ferry
G. Blagden had, in 1802, bought the east part of the square between 3d and 4th streets. Thus the wharves were owned by Barry between 2d and 3d streets for years, and Barry & Coombe and Mr. Blagden owned between 3d and 4-1/2 streets. The Barry & Coombe wharf was, from 1813 to 1816, the property of Col. Wharton, then going to Mr. Coombe. In 1821 S.N. Smallwood bought in the lots east and a wharf was known by his name, but in the thirties Mr. Blagden owned the whole water front of the square.
The lumber yards of Coombe, Blagden and Smallwood were here, as well as Dyer’s saw and planing mill.
On 4th street were Mrs. Charles, Mrs. Sarah F. Boyce, F. Burley and King & Foyle’s slaughterhouse. Facing the canal was Joseph Johnson’s wheelwright shop.
On Georgia avenue resided George Sanford and John Ferguson, the former a wood and coal measurer and the latter clerk at Smallwood’s wharf.
Twenty years later, in the forties, Williams & Jolly had a wood yard near the corner of Georgia avenue and 3d street, and the store was conducted by them. Capt. Jolley lived north, as did Dr. James Coombe, in the Coombe mansion. George B. Smith, brickmaker; and M. Williams, Wilford Van Riswick, long a carpenter and builder; Amon Woodward, who in early life was the contractor for sinking wells, etc.; J.H. Wise, plasterer; John Wheat, printer, descendant of an old settler; H. Teachem, carpenter, from old stock; George Bean, a grocer; and E. Mattingly, who kept a tavern and grocery, were also on 3d street.
On N street was Blagden’s lumber yard and George Moore, A. Emerson and W. Bary. On M street were William Bayliss and George Collard, the latter a native of Carrollsburg, engaged for very many years in the lumber business. On the canal was Thomas N. Fugitt and on Georgia avenue Nathaniel Brady and John Ferguson, then a wood corder, long a clerk on Smallwood’s wharf, also the saw and planing mill of Alexander Dyer.
In the twenties there were the taverns and grocery of Edward Mattingly and the grocery of Joseph Fugitt.