Old Slye’s Orchard
Use of Part of Square 316 in City’s Early Days
Ground Values Increase
Present Public Park Was Playground for the Boys
Tobacco Barn Blown Down
Settlers About 1840 Regarded as Fine Gardener – Incident Involving an Ugly Man

By James Croggon, The Evening Star, February 2, 1908 [pt. 2 p. 3]

Slye’s Orchard from 1810 till in the twenties was partly on square 316 between K, L, 11th and 12th streets, though in 1803 some lots had passed to Thomas Snowden. In 1796 there had been but eight lots laid off, but in 1810 Davidson’s heirs made twenty-four of them. A cent to two cents was the increase in corporation value of the ground in thirty years. In 1830 Johnson Hellen had half of the K street lots 1 to 4 and in 1832, James A. Kennedy, 9 and 10, on 12th a store; Richard Possey, part 11, adjoining D.W.W. Billing, part 11 and lot 12. The next year the latter lot went to E. E. Evans and E. F. Brown had lots 9 and 10, which in 1836 went to Mary Whitney; W. C. H. Waddell, acquiring 5 and 6 on K street. In 1839 Isaac Goddard owned lot 18 on L street, and G. W. Stewart, 19, and extending to 11th street. Mr. Goddard three years later acquiring the corner lot. In 1840 Thomas Pickrell bought lots 9 and 10 on 12th street, and David Munro lot 17 on L street. Two years after John Plant had the adjoining lot and the next year Thomas H. Langley, lot 19, next east, and Thomas B. Griffin, lots 9 and 10, on 12th street.

In the thirties there are no improvements listed here, and it is believed that Posey’s house, a two-storied frame, was the first erected. In the forties the ground on the southern part of the square, as well as in the streets was being worked, and some of the land was in garden truck, but the greater portion grown thistle and other weeds. At the northeast corner of the square Mr. Goddard erected, 1842, a large two-storied frame house, in which he lived some years. Thomas Pickwell, in 1840, built a two-storied frame residence on 12th street, and lived there a year or two. Thomas B. Griffin, a dealer in boots and shoes, father of the assessor, bought this house, and the one adjoining, making his home here. Later James W. Dexter, well known as police officer and a lieutenant of the Washington Light Infantry, lived here, and Elijah Ourand, long a Treasury employee, bought the house on lot 10, and it was the home of that well-known family many years. Mr. Langley, in 1843, erected a small brick dwelling on L street, having his home there a few years. He was a bricklayer, and erected, as a contractor, many houses. Later he went into the wood and coal business. Afterward a colored family named Dodson was here. In the Goddard house, at 11th and L streets, lived Dr. James Talley for some years, and a slave woman in the family, known as “Aunt Delia,” was a feature of the neighborhood equally as well known as the popular doctor and his sons. She was a very stout, yellow woman, who made few acquaintances with her color save through errands of mercy, and it seemed as if anyone were sick or had been hurt she was the first to aid. She was wont to say, “My skin may be dark, but my heart is as white as anybody’s.” A doctor’s gig at the door was sufficient to bring her out with some little knickknack and the cry of a child who was hurt distressed her the more if she was unable to respond at once.

Playground for Boys
The open space, now parked, at the crossing of Massachusetts avenue and L street, was before the civil war covered with grass, in which one or two wagon tracks and some well-worn foot paths marked the short cuts. In the late forties it was the scene of bonfires and was the usual playground when the boys were acting in the open.

North of Massachusetts avenue and L street between 11th and 12th streets, south of M street, was square 315, laid off in eleven lots, and in 1796 the lots were vested in Davidson’s heirs and the United States. Originally one cent per foot in value in 1807, half a cent in the twenties, reaching one and a half, with no improvements charged save $100 to Davidson’s heirs, there was little change of ownership till 1820. In 1810 Davidson’s heirs subdivided lots 2 and 6 into fourteen parcels. Greenleaf and John Dickerson, with the Davidsons, had been interested before. Then James A. Kennedy had lots 1 and 7 to 11, the east front of the square. The next year Leonard Harbaugh had lot 10, W. McL. Cripps lot 7, northeast corner of the square, and Wm. Coltman, lots 8 and 9 on 11th street. Lewis Johnson bought lots 1 and 11 on southeast corner in 1833, and in 1835 J. F. Callan had lot 7 at M street.

In 1839 John R Nourse had lots 1, 7 and 11, which included the south and northeast corner of the square. Mr. Nourse erected near 11th and L streets a two-storied building as his residence and lived there for years, spending office hours at the Treasury and others beautifying the grounds. In 1840 W. H Clampitt, a carpenter and builder, bought sublot 2, on the south front of the square, and substantial improvements followed. Clampitt improved his portion and Charles F. Wood and John P. Hilton, carpenters, who purchased the lot adjoining the same year also, three fine two-storied and dormer frames appearing. William Campbell the same year bought lot 10, on 11th street: in 1841 Philip Atwell, sub 7, and P. Jackson, in 1842, sub 8, on 12th street. Arthur L. McIntire in the latter year bought lot 7, corner of 11th and M streets, and a few years after erected a fine three-storied brick residence. In this year Marie W. Van Zandt bought the frame dwelling at the northeast corner of Massachusetts avenue and 12th street, and here resided for many years Col. J. B. Van Zandt, a veteran Treasury clerk, secretary of the city councils in the early days and justice of the peace. Two sons were officers of the navy – Joseph, an engineer who died long years ago, and N. B., who had reached a lieutenancy in the United States navy before the civil war and then high rank in the confederate navy.

Erection of Residences
The same year William Pope, in early life a butcher, in middle life connected with the National Era and later a Treasury clerk, bought on Massachusetts avenue and erected a two-storied building, yet in service as the back building of one of the residences erected after. Adjoining Mr. Pope on the east Jonas P. Keller, than a patent agent, erected a three-storied house and afterward Maj. Nicholas Vedder was a resident here. Rev. John Robb, at one time chief clerk of the general land office, and Mason Campbell were on Massachusetts avenue in the fifties.

Near the northeast corner of lot 316 there was standing in the early days a huge tobacco barn or stable, which during a high wind nearly seventy years ago was blown down. It was this, probably, which was listed on the tax books in 1802 to Davidson’s heirs at $100 value. Near it was a story and a half frame occupied by Edward Murphy, whose widow lived there long after. Samuel P. Robertson, well known as pressman on the Congressional Globe and in other office and popular in local politics, as well as a volunteer fireman and in the District military, was a stepson of Mr. Murphy and spent his boyhood here. The settlers about 1840 in some instances proved fine gardeners, numbers having fine shows of fruit, flowers and vegetables, which not only were given much care, but required eternal vigilance, for the to taste of youth stolen fruit is sweet. The garden of Col. Van Zandt was an attractive one, for it received constant attention and water-troughed from Wilkins’ pump opposite to reservoirs kept constantly filled.

Personal Incidents
Mr. Pope was musical, for a long time attached to McKendrie Church choir and in his young days clarionetist in a Baltimore band. He was wont on pleasant evenings to pass the time with that instrument, often with family and friends engaging in singing. The neighbors highly appreciated the music. There was other music heard – piano, flute and accordion – and with the exception of the singing of a young lady there was applause for all. It was the custom of the vocalist when people were retiring to sleep near 11 o’clock to strike the high C’s and render sleep impossible. This was endured for a few nights, when from a neighboring house came forth the most unearthly shrieks and bellowings, which would do credit to frightened cattle and swine, completely drowning her voice. The hint conveyed had its effect and after a few weeks she resumed her practice, but in seasonable hours.

A young man grew up in this neighborhood who had the reputation of bring the ugliest man in Washington. It is said he was once told by a man similarly afflicted that a knife had been given him to hold as the ugliest man in his state till he found one more worthy, and our Washington man agreed that the knife belonged by rights to him and accepted it good naturedly. The two during the stay of the stranger became chummy and together enjoyed the attention given them. So clever was he that in the intercourse with the general public his looks were forgotten and it is doubtful if any more popular young man grew up in Washington.