City's Early History
By James Croggon, The Evening Star, June 13, 1908 [pt. 3, p. 1]
The five squares of ground which the government is about to acquire for a site for the Departments of State, Justice and Commerce and Labor, Nos. 226 to 230, inclusive, south of Pennsylvania avenue between 14th and 15th streets, have an ancient history, although a greater part of the improvements on them have been made within the recollection of the living. As will appear, with the exception of the avenue front, progress was slow and few buildings appeared.
In the olden time, in describing the locality, it would be said to have been bounded on the south by the open Tiber, for the walls confining the Tiber's waters to a canal were not built until about 1832, after the corporation had bought out the old canal company which had constructed the canal from 12th and B streets to the Eastern branch.
Where Tiber Creek Flowed
About the corner of Ohio avenue and 15th street there was a slight rise of ground. Some few houses appeared there in the thirties. A fire here, in the neighborhood of 1840 went into local history through the singing of a song by the firemen in which it was described.
The avenue houses, which at the time were looked on as first class, were mostly three-storied bricks. About 1813 some were known as McLeod's Washington Hotel. In the thirties, after the burning of the Treasury in March, 1833, they afforded a home for several years to the offices. Boarding houses, residences and stores came. Long before this it was an important section.
Square 226, now worth over a million, and well built up in 1792, was assigned to David Burnes and carved into fourteen lots. In 1802 Isaac Pollock owned six of these, mostly on E street. W.H Dorsey owned the same number, including the avenue front. The latter made some improvements and that year was assessed on lots 9 and 10, the site of the Hotel Regent, for $800, $500 and $500 improvements.
The following year Thomas Herty, the first register of Washington, under Mayor Brent, in 1802-11, leased in lot 9, 15th street and the avenue, as did A.S. Joncherez, who assigned to Herty. In 1802 G. Blount had a lease in 10, 11 and 13, and E. Friethy in 11, in 1807 assigning it to Ezra Varden.
The appraisement of the ground had decreased from 10 to 12-1/2 to 6-8 cents. The improvements were assessed to Thomas Herty, lot 9, $1,500; G. Blount, lot 9, $1,000; John McGowan, lot 10, $1,000, and Ezra Varden lot 11, $120.
Benjamin Stoddert then had bought lots 3 to 7 on E and 15th streets; John Tayloe, lot 13 on 14th street and the avenue.
In 1808 Rev. James Laurie was assigned Blount's lease in 10 and 11. There he resided for fifty years or over, during which time he was pastor of the F Street Presbyterian Church and clerk in the Treasury register's office, as also a manager of the Colonization Society.
In 1811 James Moore secured lot 14, on the east front of the square. In 1813 Thomas Buchanan owned in 11 and 12.
Incident of War of 1812
When the work of devastation was in progress Mrs. Suter was called to the parlor and there found a person in uniform who asked if she did not know him. She replied that his features looked familiar. He then gave the name under which she had known him and stated that he was, as she understood, either Admiral Cockburn or one of his officers. He was evidently of high rank.
He assured her that her property as all other private property would be respected, as only the government property would be destroyed, and took his leave. This incident came to the late William Birth from Mrs. Suter's lips.
In 1815 Nicholas L. Queen owned lots 3 to 7, the southwest part of the square. In 1817 it passed to J.H. Blake, then mayor of Washington.
Mr. Dorsey then made a subdivision of lots 8 to 13, in which, besides the Herty, Joncharez, McGowan and Blount lots were those lettered A to I. These were bought then and in the next few years by David Ott, Daniel Randall, Michael Nourse, Thomas Munroe, Margaret G.G. Handy, E.G. Handy, David Shoemaker, Col. John Tayloe, T. Randall, Mrs. Isabel McDonald, John Stith, William Patterson, Thomas Cookendorfer, John McDuell, Eliza Braden and L. Shepherd.
In the twenties the ground was valued at from 6 to 10 cents and the improvements were assessed: To Herty's heirs, $3,600; McGowan's heirs, $2,200; James Laurie, $2,200; T. Cookendorfer, $2,200; John Tayloe, two houses, $2,200 each; W. Patterson, $2,200; Eliza Braden, $2,830; Mary G. and E.G. Handy, $400. Mr. McGowan was a master painter, one of the founders of Dr. Laurie's church, a member of the councils, a volunteer fireman in 1804 and a public-spirited citizen who long resided here.
Capt. Peter Faulkner lived in the Herty house, and after him came Hiel Peck, who conducted a boarding house, as did Mrs. Braden, near 14th street. Mrs. McDonald carried on the millinery business and E.G. Handy the manufacturing of hats, and later a son was long in the grocery business here.
William Cox had a wine cellar Thomas Davidson, Jacob Janney and Charles White were in the boot and shoe business, Dr. R. Randall had his office and residence here, L. Shepherd was long a leading barber and George Mattingly a grocer.
The office of the American Colonization Society was near 15th street and in charge of Rev.. R.R. Gurley as secretary, with John Kennedy as clerk. Justice Bushrod Washington of the Supreme Court was then president, and Henry Clay, W.H. Crawford, F.S. Key prominent in the management of the society.
In the thirties the ground was taxed for a value of 7 to 35 cents, and the improvements to Herty's heirs, $4,000; H.K. Randall, $3,000; Mr. Nourse, $3,000; L. Shepherd, $2,500; James Saum, $4,000; Bank of Washington, $2,200; T. Cookendorfer, $2,400; John Tayloe, $2,630 and $2,500; E.G> Handy, $2,000 and $800; Eliza Braden, $2,800; on the avenue, J.H. Van Ness, $400; on 14th street; M. Nourse, $150 14th and E streets, and Blake's heirs, $200 on E street.
Late in the decade Joseph Abbott owned lot 1, on which were a frame shop and two stables. There Andrew J. Joyce, long a coach builder, opened business in the forties.
Treasury Department Finds New Home
At this period there were on the avenue front, George Lamb, saddle and harness and trunk store; E. Sheriff, tailor; McCormick and James Alexander, with some before mentioned; Purdon's city lunch, at 14th street. In the forties Dr. Randall had been succeeded by Dr. J.M. Thomas and there were J.H. Nevitt & Co.'s stove and tinware store; D. Brown, cabinet maker; Prof. F.C. Labbe, dancing master; James Shakelford, Thompsonian doctor; S.W. Handy's grocery store; Mrs. C. Stilson's boarding house and others.
When Stephen A. Douglas entered on his congressional career in 1843 he took rooms at Mrs. Stilson's and made his quarters here during several sessions. On the east front of the square was S. Stephen's coach shop.
In the square south, 227, there were sixteen lots which in 792 were shared equally by the United States and Barnes. In 1802 Isaac Pollock bought seven which in 1803 went to Van Ness. Richard Cutts, then a representative in Congress from Massachusetts, later a controller of the Treasury, had several.
The ground was valued at 6 cents and there were no improvements to be listed. In 1818 E.G. Handy had lot 1, corner of 14th and D streets, and David Carroll leased the north half of 15, on 14th street. The next year G. McHugh leased in the same lot, and W. Patterson part of 11, on E street. In 1823 Elizabeth Vallatte leased in lot 15; in 1827 Daniel Parker bought in lot 1, at 14th and D streets. J.P Van Ness acquired nine lots and William Wormley bought in lot 13, fronting on E street. Five to 8 cents was the ground value in the twenties, and, the improvements were listed; D. Parker, $500, lot 1; Van Ness, $50, lot 3; R. Young, $100, lot 7; G. McCoy, $300, lot 11; E. Pack, $250, lot 13, and Mrs. Vallatte, $450 lot 15.
By the thirties some small houses appeared and the ground was taxed for a 7 to 13 cent per foot value. Daniel Parker was taxed on $500 value on lot 1, D and 14th streets; Mrs. Vallatte, $300, in lot 15, 14th street, and Gen. Van Ness, $150, $400, $500, $50 on D street and $200 on 14th street.
The triangular square formed by Ohio avenue, D, 14th and 15th streets-228-was in 1792 assigned to Burns, and in 1797 was owned by Thomas Law and by his estate for many years.
By the thirties the ground on the 14th street corners was valued at 10 cents per foot ad a small frame building was taxed for $50. It was owned by John Law in 1808, and the first direct deed was made in 1844 to Margaret Pettibone for part of a lot on 14th street. A neat two-storied frame residence was erected by William Pettibone, a well known book-binder and a popular citizen, who served as a representative in the councils.
The angular square south-No. 229-formed by Ohio avenue, C and 15th streets, consisting of five lots in 1799 was apportioned to Burns' heir, Marcia Burns, and the United States. In 1802 a value of 4 cents was placed on the ground. Law had acquired three of the five lots in 1797, and one of these, corner of C and 15th streets, went to Richard Cutts in 1818 and to M. Keene in 1821.
Then the ground value per foot was 5 to 7 cents, and the improvements were charged: N. Keane, $750, on lot 4, corner of 15th and C streets, a pretty cottage; Lavinia Phillips, $125, lot 5, north of the above.
In 1827 Sally McDowell bought part of the same lot and was after assessed for $400, when the ground was from 8 to 12 cents per foot. About these houses were some sycamore trees and south was a pond of generous dimensions. After a fire George T. Raub took a lease on lot 5 and later acquired full title. Moving his soap and candle works from the neighborhood of the Long bridge, he erected a residence and carried on business till war times.
Tiber Creek Confined
After the ground was filled in about 1832, a small warehouse was erected on the corner of 14th and B streets, and later was for few years used by William Morrow, a grocer, on F street near 13-1/2 street, as a broom factory. This in the late thirties was destroyed by fire.