Slow In Developing
Vicinity of Convention Hall Once a Marsh
Held At Low Valuation
Half a Cent Per Foot in Early Part of Nineteenth Century
Colored Man First Settler
North of New York Avenue Between 6th and 7th Streets

By James Croggon, The Evening Star, May 17, 1908 [pt. 2, p. 3]

Within that portion of Washington lying between 5th and 7th streets on L street, north of Massachusetts avenue, the first actual settlement appears to have been made about 1831, at the southeast corner of 6th and K streets, by Andrew Sommerville, a colored man. At that period there was little to induce development, for the undefined squares had only the small cornerstones, numbered, marking the southeast corners of the building lines, as evidence of their transition from primeval conditions. Much of the surroundings was not even suitable for farming purposes, and the square west of the present K street market, or Convention Hall, between 5th, 6th, and K streets and New York avenue, was well covered with marsh. This square was utilized nevertheless, and became the leech farm of Samuel Devaughn, long a cupper and leecher, and the source of the leech supply when blood-letting was much practiced by the medical profession. With some of the ground cut by gulleys, quite a ravine crossing 7th street above K street, taking a southeasterly direction down Massachusetts avenue into 6th street, which in heavy rains was flooded, the fact that 7th street only had received the attention of the corporation in the matter of improvements is somewhat accounted for. Much of the land had in 1794 passed to Greenleaf and associates prominent in the early real estate operations, but no development resulted; and it may be said that it was not till the forties was there the semblance of city life there. Up to that time it laid in the open, few lots being inclosed; while some of the fencing encroached upon the streets, and in the latter the wagon tracks were not well worn.

In the early part of the last century half a cent per foot was the average appraisement of the ground, with some as low as an eighth of a cent. In 1820, from 1 to 2 cents was the prevailing rate, but in the thirties, from 2 to 5 cents was the range in the squares west of 6th street.

“Blue Goose Saloon”
In the forties and fifties a saloon gained popularity as “Dutch George’s,” and, in the civil war, as the “Blue Goose,” which was famous for beer-drinking bouts. The fact forms no criterion from which to judge the neighborhood’s character. The patronage came almost entirely from elsewhere, the market and engine house attracting crowds. In fact, until the time of the war the section was so sparsely settled that it could not have supported a saloon if all the residents were drinkers, and they were not.

Originally (in 1796) in the Lynch and Sands portion of Port Royal mainly the lots were shared with the United States, but two years before squares 483, consisting of seven lots; 484, of eight lots; west 484, of five lots; 450, of twelve lots, and 451, of five lots, were included in the Greenleaf contract for 500 lots, and in a few years Godfrey and others held title to them. In square 484, between Massachusetts avenue, K, 5th and 6th streets, in 1797 Benjamin Odin and Joseph Covarchichi each had one lot, Thomas Atkinson and the United States two and George Lewis three. The original assessment was 1 cent a foot, which was reduced to half a cent in 1806. But few transfers of title followed till the thirties, and those were to James Taylor, T. Cottrell, J. Martin, M. Ward, Joseph Eastburn, S. Miller and A. Somerville. The latter came in 1831. He was the lone settler there until 1839, when, on the Massachusetts avenue front, William G. Deale, a carpenter and builder, commenced to improve and erected the two-story frame residence now No. 515. This dwelling, with the ground part of lot 2, was bought by William Woodward, who was from 1826 to 1862 a printer on the old National Intelligencer, and he resided there from 1839 to his death. The late Mark Woodward, long a printer, occupying a responsible position at the government printing office, was the son of William Woodward, and with Dr. W. C. Woodward, the health officer; Thomas P., J. Morris, Frederick A. and Mark D. Woodward, grandsons, are well known in the business community.

Shortly after Mr. Deale erected two frame houses on the west and lived there for a time. In 1842 George H. Plant and Thomas Jarboe owned lot 2, and Jarboe, a carpenter, erected some two-story frame houses and took up his residence in the house at the northwest corner of 6th street and Massachusetts avenue. F. A. Hall then owned lot 3 on 6th street, and M. P. Callan, lot 8 on 5th street. Mrs. Ellen Burch in 1843 owned and lived on lot 1, east of the Woodward house. Edward Clements, a carpenter, was also on this lot. William Mann owned property facing 5th street and James Laurenson on 6th street. Anthony Stewart, a stone cutter, lived in what is now No. 505 Massachusetts avenue. In 1845 William Gallant, twenty years before a carpenter and builder, who was located near 8th and G streets, bought lot 1, corner of I street and Massachusetts avenue, and built there a frame dwelling for his home. He also erected the frame school house, in which his daughter, Miss Rosa Gallant, started many children on the road to knowledge. Mr. Peter Gallant succeeded his father in business, continuing in it until very recent years, and the family is represented in the Association of the Oldest Inhabitants by him, at the age of eighty-two.

Has Similar History
Square W 484, between 6th and 7th streets, Massachusetts avenue and K street, has a similar ancient history. In 1815 lot 1, on the southeast corner of the square, was purchased by H. A. Edwards and a few years after, Alexander Suter and James Greer owned lot 2. In 1830 Ulysses Ward owned lot 1; W. W. Corcoran, in 1834, had the west lot of the square; Percy Packard lot 2, in 1837, and in 1840 John West, a colored plasterer, owned lot 5 on the northeast corner of the square. The latter, who was the father of Bernard and Marcellus West, prominent in the early days of negro suffrage, erected some brick tenements fronting on both K and 6th streets, and lived in one of them. James Bowen, long a bricklayer, came on the square about 1840, buying a part of lot 1, corner of Massachusetts avenue and 6th street, and erecting thereon a brick residence, in which he lived to a very old age. Mr. James G. Bowen, now in the hardware trade, and the late popular Dr. Charles H. Bowen were reared there. In 1841 John Little had a lease of part of this lot on 6th street, and afterward a deed to lot 5. David Little, who was engaged in the collection business, lived on 6th street. Henry Ellis, a stonecutter, in 1842 bought lot 2 on Massachusetts avenue, and erected two frame houses, later opening a grocery in one of them. He afterward erected a brick store and dwelling adjoining, in which business was carried on for a long time. Other houses were built and occupied by George Gordon, for many years a pressman; Franklin Edmonston and W. E. Morcoe, both printers, from the thirties, for many years – Morcoe for a half century – and Thomas Mitchell, a shoemaker. At that time P. T. Ellicott owned lot 4 on the west end of the square.

The square north of 451, bounded by New York avenue, K and 6th streets and facing Mount Vernon square, was divided into five lots, but for over fifty years remained intact, all being included in the transfer to Greenleaf and others until after 1847. In 1845 Henry M. Moffatt obtained title from the commissioner of public buildings, and two years later he sold part of lot 4, on the west end of the square, to Henry Hoffman. The latter erected there a three-story brick house and opened a tavern, moving there from 7th street opposite the “Marsh” or Center Market. This was later known as Charley Shuster’s, and still later as Dutch George’s. For a long time, is was the only house on the square.

Early Transfers Noted
Between L, 6th an 7th streets north of New York avenue lay square 450, divided into twelve lots, and in the hands of Greenleaf in 1794. A transfer of lot 3 in 1806 was made to James Taylor and of lots 5 and 11, running through the center of the square, to Thomas Wannell in 1817. Lot 7 at the southwest corner was passed to R. R. Ward in 1825; lot 6 on New York avenue to John A. Smith in 1829; lot 10 on L street to George Cover in 1830, and parts of lot 10 to W. Martin and L. Ashton in 1832.

As far as can be ascertained there had been no improvements attempted in this square till the advent of Joseph Straub in 1837. Mr. Straub bought part of lot 10 and afterward lot 9 at the southeast corner of 7th and L streets. He erected thereon a modest home and kiln and went in to the pottery business, at the same time conducting a flower garden. The family lived there many years and the business was conducted there till war times. In 1838 James Hanley, a printer, bought lot 1 at the east end of the square and there was afterward erected on it a neat frame dwelling. In the forties the well known Joseph Narden lived there, and subsequently George Forbes, a pressman. The former when a youth was employed at the old American Theater and traveled some with a company as a property man, but at this period he was a wheelwright. It was, however, as a caterer that he was best known, and when managing an eating house he served his patrons without stint.

It is related that he once had a customer whose gastronomical feats gave him much apprehension, for the fellow was accustomed to consume at his meals enough for three ordinary men besides being of no benefit to the house. After weighing the subject a day or two, Mr. Nardin mapped out his course. One morning as the fellow was en route to his breakfast Mr. Nardin hailed him with “Here Tom, take this quarter and go in there (pointing to a neighboring saloon and proffering the coin). Besides saving me money, you’ll save your health, too, for they will not allow you to overeat yourself there.” Thinking that it was intended as a joke, the money was accepted, used to pay for the breakfast in a neighboring saloon, and Tom remained away from Mr. Nardin’s several days. When he returned it was with a subdued appetite. The lesson proved a lasting one and beneficial one doubtless, for he lived to an old age.

Old-Time Owners
In 1838 J. A. M. Duncanson owned lot 8 on 7th street, while Elias Kane had lots 4 and 12. The next year Philip Otterback owned the corner of 7th and L streets, and S. Jerome Degges owned the adjoining lot south. Mr. Degges was one of the well known family of that name. For years he was engaged in bricklaying. On his lot he erected a two-story brick dwelling, in front of which was a flower garden. He made his home there for some years. John W. Tonge, a tin and stove worker, lived there afterward. He is now about ninety years of age and living in Baltimore. In 1839 there were a number of changes in title, H. Howard, W. Flaherty and G. Hill owning lot 1; David A. Hall, lots 3 and 4; B. D. Sheckell, R. M. Griffith, E. Ellis and B. Henning lot 8 and S. W. Handy, lots 3 and 12. The next year O. J. Collins owner lot 1 and Mr. Griffith leased lot 6. Later on 7th street there were a few shops. A frame building north of New York avenue, 1861, was converted into a saloon, which became well known as the “Blue Goose.” The painted front suggested the first part of the name, but the wherefore for the latter part was never explained.

The square east of the preceding, known as Square S. 482, on the lines of New York avenue, 6th and L streets, consisted of but one lot, which, in 1796, was vested in the United States, and 1833 was conveyed to the Columbian College. It was undeveloped for many years, but in 1857 it was purchased by the corporation of Washington and a building erected for the public schools and a fine engine house. The Northern Liberties fire company was located here for a few years, but later the building for many years was and has been devoted entirely to school purposes under the present name of the Abbott School building, so named in honor of Prof. G. I. Abbott, long a teacher of a private school at I and 17th streets and trustee of the public schools in 1844 and long after.

Another square in which Greenleaf figured, square 483, between 5th and 6th streets and K street and New York avenue, was a long time coming into use. In 1838 the title to it was in Samuel Devaughn’s name. Today it is largely occupied as a lumber yard, while on the K street front are some small buildings devoted to business of various kinds.