Away Back In 1796
Early History of a Square on New York Avenue
John Sioussa Built First
Corner of 12th Street Was Often a Lively Place
Stream Along 13th Street
Names of Persons Who Made Early Improvements in Square-
Some Queer Neighborhood Characters

By James Croggon, The Evening Star, March 15, 1908 [pt. 7, p. 12]

The square number 286, between New York avenue, I, 12th and 13th streets, laid off in thirteen lots in 1796, was vested in the United States. In 1800 Solomon Etting had all the lots excepting lot 10 in the name of Benjamin Stoddert and 12 in Samuel Blodgett. In 1802 Dunlap & Charlton owned lot 3 on New York avenue and the names of Morris & Nicholson appear. In 1804 Dr. Thornton had the Blodgett lot and James Ross lot 10, the latter in 1812 going to William Wheelock.

There is no record of any improvements prior to 1820, though one of the lots had passed to a firm of carpenters and builders and one lot was held for a building company. The ground then was valued at but a cent per foot. With a gentle decline west and south to the stream in 13th street which turned eastward near H street there were eligible building sites, particularly in the east part of the square, but it was a long time before there were near neighbors.

There was then little call for public improvement and the adjoining streets were not even graded. The stream in 13th street remained open till the fifties.

John Sioussa's House
The first improvement made in the square was that of John Sioussa on lot 3, fronting on New York avenue. Mr. Sioussa bought this lot in 1819 and erected, sitting well back from the street, a comfortable brick house, in which he lived for many years. This bore a value of $700 in the twenties, and the ground 2 cents or less per foot. Mr. Sioussa was for about ten years the sole occupant of the square, and till the forties the few houses erected were of little cost. The elder Sioussa and his sons are well remembered by the older business people, for he and his son Frederick for over fifty years were messengers of the Bank of the Metropolis, now National Metropolitan, and the son Frederick held a like position in Corcoran & Riggs' Banking house.

In 1828, lot 12, corner of 12th and I streets, passed to Statria Elliott, and shortly to Count Demerou, and lot 10, on I street, went to R.H. Douglas and W.W. Billing. On lot 12 were David Jones, John Hunt, Jemima Moulder and Richmond Posey in 1829. C. Hagon owned part of lot 11 and C.L. Coltman part of 10 in 1830; James Dant, part of 11 in 1831; Basil Shorter, part of 10 in 1832, and R. Brown the same in 1834. In 1836 Michael Caton had lots 1 and 13, the southeast corner of the square. In this decade the ground was valued at 3 to 10 cents per foot and the improvements listed to W.W. Billing, $150 and $300; C.L. Coltman, $200; S. Elliott, $180; Demerou, $100 and $200; G. Etting, $75, and John Sioussa, $700.

Andrew Small, in 1840, owned lot 1, corner of New York avenue and 12th, four years later selling it to Michael Talty. Here were erected two or three frame houses, with a store on the corner, conducted for several years by Mr. Talty, who also had a store on 7th street. After him came a Mr. Weeks and then it became Stoops' grocery. Thomas Allen, a carpenter, long resided over the store, and adjoining the grocery was a shoemaker's shop, occupied by Eli Davis and others.

Improvements in 1844
The adjoining lot on the north, lot 13, was bought by J.L. Elliott in 1844 and improved by two two-story and attic brick houses, one of which was owned by Mr. John E. Norris in 1847 and he made his residence there. There had previously lived in these houses John S. Devlin, clerk in the fifth auditor's office, and John F. Hartley, a trustee of the schools and Treasury clerk for many years, and later assistant secretary. Early in the forties, on lot 2, was a row of several small two-storied brick dwellings erected, which are yet standing and shops of various kinds in them. They were known as Plant's row from the fact that John Plant resided in one of them.

Mr. Plant became prominent in the building world as the inventor a few years after of the first automatic blind hinge. Among the early occupants was a Hoffman family, a Mrs. Richardson and John Gaither.

Col. H. Hungerford bought the west half of lot 5 in 1847, and long resided in the large frame house erected thereon. There were on New York avenue also Jesse E. Dow and Charles S. Jones, both well-known printers and writers, the former on the Union; James F. Halliday and __ Marsh, printers, and Mrs. Thaw. Sixty years ago there were a number of colored families on the E street front, and on 13th street the Hutton family, prominent in bricklaying, was living.

A Place for the Boys
With a good porch at the grocery store, the shoemaker's shop-a favorite gathering place for the craft-and east a wide, open space, flanked by few pavements, the boys of the neighborhood were provided with facilities for sport, in which the cellar under the shoemaker's played an important part. An old gentleman was known far and wide as "All Over," and he resented being so called, beating his tormentors when he could catch them.

One day he was seen approaching, and the boys, seeing that a number of people were in the shop, prepared for him by going down the cellar and letting down the door to within a few inches. As the old gentleman came opposite the boys, a volley of calls of "All Over," etc., greeted him and the door was closed. No one being in his sight but the men in the shop, he soon was heard on the door pouring a tirade on them, and, not being choice in his language, he narrowly escaped a good drubbing at the hands of the shoemakers, the boys in the meantime enjoying the battle of words.

One of the workmen in the shop was first known as "Lame Joe," but when his penurious habits became known he was called "Miser," "Close Fist," etc. He made his home in the shop, sleeping on boards laid on his bench, and his meals were of dry bread, bologna, or dried fish. He therefore was a subject for the boys. After some years he suddenly left the city and in a few weeks the shopmates learned that he had returned to his old home several hundred miles away and had paid off an indebtedness left by his parents on the old home, having earned and saved sufficient funds by his self-denial. This news caused a revolution of feelings toward the old man, and his tormentors, who had known of his mode of living, spoke of him after as a hero with an iron constitution.

Stones for Oysters
An ordinarily harmless lunatic was often made a raving maniac by the boys' pranks and the latter had some narrow escapes. The boys once had an oyster roast and sending him on an errand promised to leave his share in the stove. When he pulled out his supposed oysters he found hot stones. That the boys got out of his way none will deny and it was hours before any boy dared to get within distance of him.