End of Swampoodle
By James Croggon, The Evening Star, November 25, 1907 [p. 13]
The establishment of the new Union station north of the Capitol, the enlargement of facilities by the laying of additional tracks and the erection of buildings for business allied to the roads completely changed the physical features of old, and obliterated "Swampoodle." A section of Southwest Washington is undergoing like experience. And now what was the old Long bridge section is known only in the scant records of the past and in the traditions of the few families whose homes were once "down by the bridge." All south of D street, between 12th and 14th streets to Water street, is occupied by the Southern railway with its local station and other buildings, tracks, etc.; and needless to say a not very old citizen would find it difficult to point out the site of any of the old landmarks.
The absorption of the land for its modern uses has been progressive. It was first commenced by the Baltimore and Potomac railroad more than thirty years ago. Being made defendant in suits for damage to property on Maryland avenue, judgments were obtained. But while appeals to the United States Supreme Court were pending an agent quietly bought up the property between 13-1/2, 14th and D streets north of Maryland avenue and constructed there a coal dump. Later other squares were acquired and with the arrival of the Southern railway eight squares in all changed ownership and have been put to uses other than the original.
The appearance of this land as known to our grandfathers, when the streets were more on the plans of the city than in reality, showed plainly that some of it had been used as farming land and that some of it other than in streets lines had not been cleared, and indeed there remained a few trees supposed to have antedated the city. From about 12th in D street was a gentle descent to the west, but it was comparatively level south of Maryland avenue. High banks were at the river, some distance west of 12th street, but at 13-1/2 street and above was a gentle declivity to the shores of the river. Maryland avenue for a long series of years remained a dirt road, though then there was considerable travel by the Long bridge, but about 1850 by an appropriation made by Congress it was graded and graveled. South of Maryland avenue, until after the civil war, there were next to no street improvements.
Old Time Shipping Section
It was in colonial times a part of the extensive holdings of Notley Young, and, in his possession when the city was laid out in 1791, it was conveyed to the Commissioners and became the squares known as numbers 2 to 7, southeast 267, 268, 269, 270, 298, 299 and 300. In the division between the United States and Mr. Young in 1791, the squares west 13-1/2 street, 267 and southeast 267, went to Mr. Young. Square 300, facing the river between 12th and 13th streets, allotted to the United States, was included in the contract made with James Greenleaf, passing to him in 1794. The first improvement in this section was a small frame house, assessed in 1802 to W.M. Duncanson.
Owen McCue had a lease in square southeast 267, in the lines of Maryland avenue, 13-1/2 street and the river, in 1808, and Catherine Connell and E. Quin title on the square. Two years later William Fitzgerald owned on Maryland avenue and the year following J.W. Wight and George Moore were on the square. No further transfers were made for fourteen years, but in 1820 the wharf was assessed one-third to Mr. Moore and then to A. McWilliams for $450, and A. Cheshire, the owner of one-third, for the same. McWilliams' title was in 1826, and P. Semmes at the same time. In 1830, A. Shepherd, father of the governor, with Mr. Semmes, owned there. The ground was assessed then at 30[?] cents, and Semmes and McWilliams were charged on $2,000 each. Peter Cazanave had title in 1832, and in 1838 J.S. Harvey & Co. bought there.
In the Greenleaf Litigation
Square number 300, between 12th and 13th streets, has a similar history to the foregoing. After Capt. Duncanson's death in 1812 it went to Charles Glover, in 1814 to William Campbell, in 1817 to Walter Jones and in 1821 to W.A. Bradley.
Between the squares described and Maryland avenue, 12th and 13th streets, square 299 was platted for eighteen lots and vested in the commissioners in 1797. The early history is connected with the names of Greenleaf et al., and the first transfer was made by O. Carr as trustee to Samuel Elliott, a nephew of Greenleaf, of lots 9 to 16, the north front of the square, in 1817. Robert Brent, the first mayor of Washington, the next year bought lots 1 to 8, on E street front, and 17 and 18, on 12th street. In the twenties there was charged to A. Lyon a $1,200 improvement, which passed to Joseph Abbott in 1828. John Pickett had lot 12, on Maryland avenue, the same year, and the improvements are later listed at $2,500. In 1829 Capt. Lenox acquired lot 11, the adjoining lots 13 to 16, the northwest part of the square, going to the Bank of Washington, from which lots 14 and 15 were acquired by Edward Mattingley. John Pickull took lot 16 and bought lot 8, on 13th street. In 1836 Ignatius Mudd bought lots 13 and 14, at the corner of 12th street and Maryland avenue.
The square west, No. 269, also has a similar history. It was laid off for nine lots, between Maryland avenue, E, 13th and 13-1/2 streets, which were bought in 1817 by Capt. Peter Lenox, who, as stated, was the owner of the square south. About 1840 it was in possession of Col. W.B. Randolph. The ground was valued at 10 cents and improvements at $4,000 in 1820, and $3,500 later.
Development Was Rapid
R.C. Washington and Jesse Hurdle in 1831 had parts of lot 15, on 13½-1/2 street; John Purdy, lot 9, corner 14th and D streets, and A.B. Waller, lots 10, 11 and 12, on D street. Peter Cazanave had lots 8, on 14th street, and part of 15, on 13-1/2 street, in 1832, and William Douglas bought in the first the same year. The next year Chauncey Bestor bought part of 15; William Radcliffe, jr., lot 8, and H. Howison, jr., part 14. In 1839 W.A. Bradley bought lots 10 to 13, on D street, and shortly thereafter made a subdivision.
Eleven Original Lots
The early history of the square in the lines of Maryland avenue, 12th, 13th and D streets, 298, is about the same as the preceding-transferred from the United States to Greenleaf and associates in 1794 to its sale by a trustee of the court in 1817 to Samuel Elliott, jr. In 1820, in the hands of James M. Varnum, the one lot was subdivided into thirteen and he contracted with Aaron Van Coble to build certain houses for three of them, and three years later the deed was given. A. Cheshire bought lot 13 of this subdivision and at that time a valuation of $900 was placed on the house. In the twenties Josiah F. Caldwell was taxed on a $2,700 improvement on lot 8. Isaac Collins and B.C. Smith, in 1830, owned in lot 1. Varnum heirs were assessed $250, Caldwell $2,500 and Cheshire $900 for improvements.