Early Days In City
History Given of Three Washington Squares
Low Values Century Ago
Between Massachusetts Avenue, H, 5th and 7th Streets
"Phillip's Row" Still Stands
Business and Building Progress Began About 1840 – Residents of the Section in Review

By James Croggon, The Evening Star, May 22, 1908 [p. 23]

Within the lines of Massachusetts avenue, H, 5th and 7th streets northwest three squares and a reservation were laid off by the projectors of the Capital city over 100 years ago. Much of it was still unimproved down to the middle of the last century, though many of the lots had passed out of the hands of the original owners to homeseekers and business people. By 1840 both the 7th street and the H street fronts were showing the effects of progress, and on Massachusetts avenue a row of fine brick dwellings offered evidence of the faith of the builders in the future. This, too, when the streets were not much more than mere wagon roads, and the footways were only well beaten paths. Frequently after heavy rains the surfaces of Massachusetts avenue and 6th street were disfigured by miniature ravines.

In the division between the United States and the original proprietors in 1797, square 453, within the lines of 6th, 7th, H and I streets, was subdivided so that one-half of the twenty lots went to David Burns and the other half to the United States, the latter taking the western portion. Benjamin Stoddert, the first secretary of the Navy, acquired the government’s lots in 1802 and sold two lots, Nos. 5 and 6, fronting on H street, to Capt. Peter Lenox, father of the later mayor of the city. Capt. Lenox was a carpenter and builder, and for many years he held the position of master carpenter at the Capitol. Another lot, west 7, was purchased in 1804 by David Shoemaker, and Patrick Frazier took a lease on it. There were improvements made in the square which, in 1820, were listed as follows: Lot 1, corner of 6th and H streets, $125 to Burns’ heirs; lot 5, $200, to Capt. Lenox, and lot 7, $350, to David Shoemaker. The ground assessed in 1802 at 1 cent per foot was then rated at 5 cents to 8 cents.

Some I Street Owners
Jeremiah Elkins in 1825 bought lot 17, on I street. In 1826 George Gibson owned lots 12 and 13; G. C. Grammer, 8 and 9; J. A. Smith, lot 10; J. R. Nourse, No. 14, and leases were held on lot 2 by William Phillips and Josiah Essex. In 1828 Joseph Sands held a lease on lot 1 and James Lewis on lot 2. Jonathan Seaver had a $200 improvement on lot 7, and the owners of other property in the block were: Henry Hunt, lot 10, and John A. Donoho, Lot 11. Abijah Smith held a lease on lot 15. In 1830 C. D. King owned lot 7, Gen. Van Ness No. 17 and S. Phillips part of lot 1, while W. T. Griffith had a lease on lots 1 and 2. In 1831 W. Adams owned lot 11, Col. Bomford, William Beedle and Josiah Essex, 14 and John H. Goddard and William Bond, 15 and 16. In 1832 John Tretler owned lots 1 and 2 and J. B. Phillips and N. Osborne had leases on lot 1. In 1835 C. A. Howle owned lot 13 and Cornelius Cox 14. In 1836 C. Baum held a lease on lot 18. In 1837 David S. Waters owned lot 2, William Hoover 15 and 16, H. N. Henning 19 and 20 and C. Spence had a lease on 19 and J. B. Phillips on 20. In 1838 H and W. Truman, A. B. Gladman and W. H. Gunnell owned lot 17, Ulysses Ward 18, R. R. Goldin 15 and 16 and Emory Osborn lot 1.

In the thirties there were on H street Jos. Sands, John Tretler, a bookbinder; W. T. Griffith, tailor; David S. Waters, and few others. In the forties besides Mr. Waters there were W. D. Wallach, afterward editor of The Evening Star; Samuel Fitzhugh of the Post Office Department; John E. Holland of the Treasury; James Grimes, carpenter; Theodore Wheeler and Nathan Herbert.

Happenings in the Thirties
In the thirties Wm. Adams, grocer, was on 7th street, corner of I street, and to the south were the residences of James Shreve, who for years was engaged in the livery business; William Hunter, a clerk in the fourth auditor’s office; the blacksmith shop of Thomas Griffith; cabinet shop of James Connelly; wheelwright and wagon shop of James A. Wise, who afterward engaged in the feed business; and the tailor shop of Henry Eberly.

On I street in the early thirties Josiah Essex erected a frame residence with a carpenter shop in the rear. On this street in the forties the residents were: J. G. Klenck, editor of the German Gazette; Samuel Grubb, better known as ‘Squire Grubb’; N. Halter of the post office; Joseph Radcliffe, clerk at city hall; Robert J. Roche, who succeeded his neighbor, Mr. Rothwell, as collector of taxes; Benjamin Giddings, employed at the Capitol; and E. Woltz, a carpenter, who was employed at the Smithsonian Institution from the date of its opening until his death; Capt. J. H. Goddard, chief of the Auxiliary Guard, which was superseded by the metropolitan police, justice of the peace and alderman, was another dweller in the square, as was also Mr. Werden, a baker, from whom “Werden’s alley” took its name. Werden’s alley afterward became “Goat alley,” and now it is named Essex court.

On the 6th street side of the block some improvements were made in the late thirties, and in the following decade the house owners were Mrs. Sarah Gary, Charles Baum, a carpenter and builder, and William J. Simmons, prominent in later years as a master bricklayer. Shreve’s livery stable, which was on 6th street, was for years one of the leading stables in the city. One of the characters employed at the place was a slave known as Jim Darkey. In his boyhood days he was a jockey on the old National race track, but having served as an officer’s servant in the Mexican war and showed his bravery in battle he had friends without number. David S. Waters was an auctioneer and for many years he had rooms on 7th street north of Pennsylvania avenue. His forte was in selling horses, and his mart was about the spot where Gen. Hancock’s equestrian statue is located at the present time.

Square 485 as One Lot
East of square 453 was square 485, which was laid out as one lot, facing 5th, 6th and H and I streets, and in 1796 the title stood in the name of a Mr. Oden. The property was owned by Micajah Tucker, Thomas Booth, Peter May and Hanson Gassaway in succession, and in 1827 it was purchased by Samuel Packard. At that period the ground, which had been listed at one-half a cent, was rated at 2 cents. One of the first dwellings in the block was a fine two-story frame cottage, with covered porches extending across the whole front. It set back a few feet from the street, with the front a mass of growing vines. The lawn was decked with cherry trees and the whole square, used as a garden for vegetables and flowers, was one of the beauty spots of the city during Mr. Packard’s occupancy. On the north front of the square was a smaller house occupied by one Hatch, the gardener. In the thirties the improvements were listed at $3,000 and in the name of Mr. H. Gassaway. Though not until 1856 was a subdivision of the square recorded parts of it were sold during the forties and improvements were made. In that decade Capt. Sam Wroe occupied a frame house at the northwest corner of 5th and H streets, using part of it as a grocery store. James H. Moore, well known as a carpenter and builder and later as a grocer, succeeded to the Wroe residence and business, and for many years his was the only grocery store in the neighborhood. On the west side of the square in the forties there were several frame houses in which lived D. A. Baird, upholsterer; William Murray, a stone cutter, and Henry Bishop, shoemaker. A fine three-storied brick dwelling on the 5th street side was the residence of B. S. Bayly.

Playground on Reservation
The reservation formed by the lines of Massachusetts avenue, I and 6th streets was merged in the bed of the streets and its three lines were difficult to locate. As a playground it was appreciated by the boys. In the presidential campaigns the boys and men of whig proclivities usually raised a flagpole to throw the names of the candidates to the breeze and the welkin was made to ring with the political songs of the day. In the campaign when Clay and Frelinghuysen were the standard bearers the boys had a favorite turn, to which the following words were written:

     “Clay, clay, ’Hysen too.
     What will Polk and Dallas do?
     China cups and china saucers
     All of them are made of clay.”

From 1840 to 1860 the political rallies in municipal campaigns were also held in the reservation.

Square 452 was platted for eleven lots within the lines of Massachusetts avenue, 6th, 7th and I streets. In the eastern portion lots 1 to 4 and 10 and 11 were vested in the United States, 5 and 6 in David Burns, and 7, 8 and 9 in Dominick Lynch and Comfort Sands. Before 1800 Joseph Cavorchichi, J. Atkinson and L. Sands had lots 7, 8 and 9, respectively, these forming the northwest corner of the square. The government lots were sold to Henry Massey in 1802 and for some years the real estate market was dormant, and but half a cent per foot was the assessment on the ground. In 1817 David Shoemaker owner lot 7 and in 1819 he sold a part of it to William Stewart. Nathan Smith and C. McWilliams were among the first owners of lots 5 and 6. In 1820 E. and J. R. Dyer owned lots 5 and 6. Lot 9 had a varied history between 1820 and 1830, and in those ten years it was owned in succession by David Ott, Edward De Kraftt, Nathan Smith, David Plowman, Thomas Magill, James T. Davis and W. H. Harrison. Some improvement had been made prior to this period, because J. R. Dyer was assessed for a $2,000 house on lot 6; Charles McWilliams, $800; N. Smith, $80 and David Plowman, $200. The ground increased from 2 to 5 cents in value per foot between 1820 and 1830.

Sale of Subdivision
In 1832 Andrew Rothwell purchased parts of lots 5 and 6; in 1835 Edward Dyer, part of 7, and in 1837 W. McL. Cripps and John F. Callan lot 9. The next year William Hoover owned lot 9. Mr. Rothwell acquired the eastern portion of the square, lots 1 to 4, 10 and 11 in 1839 and made a subdivision. He soon disposed of the lots, five on I street to J. C. McKelden, T. H. Havener, J. H. Long, J. Sexsmith and B. W. Beall; two on 6th street to F. Iddens, and eight on Massachusetts avenue to J. B. Phillips. By this time the ground value was slightly increased on the assessment books and the improvements were listed to J. R. Dyer, $2,200, lot 6; C. McWilliams, $2,000, lot 7; David Plowman, $250; Nathan Smith, $1,200, and Thomas Magill, $200.

Mr. Phillips erected on his sublots facing Massachusetts avenue the brick buildings, which are yet standing, known as Phillips’ rows. At the time they were regarded as one of the finest improvements in Washington. Tenants and purchasers were soon found for houses in Phillips’ row. John Marron, an assistant postmaster general, being one of the investors. Among the occupants were James Phillips, Prof. Charles J. Nourse, principal of the Central Academy, 10th and E streets, and Rev. W. A. Harris of the Church of the Ascension. Other residents on Massachusetts avenue were Jesse Plowman, who succeeded his father, David, as carpenter and builder; Thomas Triplet, book binder; Joseph Peerce, Isaac Iddings and Charles Johnson.

A neat cottage was built at the corner of 6th street by Mr. Phillips, and after he had vacated it, the cottage was rented in the fifties to James Moore of the United States treasurer’s office.

Mr. Rothwell’s Activities
Neal’s wood and coal yard was located on lot 9, corner of Massachusetts avenue and 7th street, in the forties, and some years later both the property and the business were purchased by George W. Utermehle. South of the woodyard Mr. Rothwell who owned the I street corner of the square, conducted a printing office. Mr. Rothwell worked as a printer at the case early in his life and in the thirties he published a paper and carried on a job printing office on the avenue near 4½ street. In 1839 he was elected collector of taxes and filled the office for twelve years, being succeeded by R. J. Roche.

Late in the forties Mr. Rothwell built a store at the corner of 7th street and I street. Dr. W. J. C. Duhamil, who was as well known in corporation matters and in local military affairs as in the medical profession, lived in the dwelling above the store. McIntire, McPherson and Dr. E. M. Chapin were some of the druggists who conducted a store in the premises.

Columbus Drew, a well know typo, who afterward was prominent as an editor and publisher in Florida; F. S. Dunham, a teacher, and R. Griffith, a carpenter, were among the residents on the I street side of this block.