Early Days In City
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
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
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
Playground on Reservation
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
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
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.