WHEN CITY WAS YOUNG
By James Croggon, The Evening Star, August 22, 1908 [p. 14]
Between B, D, 9th and 12th streets southwest are areas of the city not devoid of interest. Within these lines were some of the pioneers in the capital's development, interested as investors a hundred years ago, though the sole benefit derived from their holdings was to be seen in the charging of taxes against the unimproved land.
And indeed years passed when there was not a single reference made to lots within these bounds on the land records. That there was some progress made is apparent, but little was there till about 1840 when a volunteer fire company came into existence for the protection of property.
Little public improvement had then been made. No brick pavements had taken the place of the few gravel walks which had followed the worn footpath through mud and grass. With the exception of Maryland avenue from 9th to 12th, that being grraded about half its width, other roadways were unimproved and of more utility for grazing than for other purposes.
The squares in the lines of Notley Young's farm, whose mansion was south, numbered 325, 326, N. 351, 352, 383 to 386, divided into lots, were apportioned between him and the government about 1796. But in 1794 six squares, which after were vested in the government, had been included in the contract with James Greenleaf and they were not developed.
Square 325, between 11th, 12th and C street south of Virginia avenue, was in Greenleaf's name. Before 1800 it had passed to Morris and Nicholson, been mortgaged to William Deakins and was then in the names of Joseph Ball and Standish Ford.
There were nine lots, Nos. 1, 3, 6 and 9, at the corners. In 1800 John Meany had lots 1 and 6, the southeast and northwest corners of the square. A valuation of 2 cents was soon reduced to 1 cent and there remained for twenty years.
In 1821 Charles Price had the Meany lots with lots 2 and 5. In 1829 numerous tax deeds were recorded. W. Douglas had lots 3, 4 and 9, William Deming 2 and 7, selling the latter to John Dix, who later had lot 8, and Benjamin Williamson lot 5.
At this period the assessors fixed the value at 6 to 8 cents. In 1833 Michael Nourse had lot 7 and J.L. Skinner 2, Mr. Douglass buying from the latter. The next year George Mattingly bought lot 9 and B. Milburn lot 5, the latter passing to C.P. Sengstack and in 1837 to John L. Smith and L. Shepherd.
In 1838 John N. Ford bought lot 7, Virginia avenue and 14th street, and here built his residence, a comfortable frame building, with the west side of brick, for from the northwest the winds had a clean sweep. Mr. Ford, a well known carpenter, became a messenger of the Interior Department for years and resided here a long time. In 1841 W.B. Norris bought lot 5, Joseph Fitzgerald lot 8 and J. O'Hare on 9th street, the latter erecting a two-story home here. In 1842 four lots, including the corner of 12th and C streets, were owned by E. Coolidge, and shortly after William R. Berryman had two of these lots 2 and 3. The latter, a clerk in the register's office, resided in a neat frame cottage on the corner some years, and Leroy H. Berryman of the Indian office and F. Dankworth, a draftsman, lived on 12th street.
The square south between 11th, 12th and C streets and Maryland avenue. No. 326, of ten lots was in 1797 assigned to Mr. Young, but in 1794 had passed to the name of Jacobus Merson. For fifty years there was no material growth, though for some reason it appears that the early valuation of the ground was the same as in the square north. The appraisement in 1830 was from 7 to 12 cents per foot. In that year it was owned by H.T. Weightman and John F. Webb under tax deeds, three years after going to Joseph Gales, and later the heirs of Merson redeemed it.
Used for Lumber Yards
The triangular space within the lines of Virginia avenue, 10th and B streets, square No. N.351, of two lots, was divided in 1796, one going to Daniel Carroll. The west lot, No. 2, went from the government to F.D.d May in 1797, and through S. Elliot, jr., and John Law it passed, till in 1828 it was vested in John A. Smith, Anthony Preston succeeding to the whole square. Three cents, the first rate of ground value, was reduced in 1807 to one cent, but in 1839 it was six cents.
In 1829 John H. Tucker, who, through his long connection with the city post office as a &penny post" or letter-carrier, had become generally known, bought in lot 1 and improved the property, making his home here many years. In 1831 Samuel Crown and J.L. Peabody owned in the square, as did Francis B. Lord, in 1833, and M.O. Buck and N. Tastet in the forties. The latter, long a clerk in the sixth auditor's office, had his home in a three-story brick residence at the corner of 10th and B streets, and next lived John McPherson.
Square 351, between Virginia avenue, 10th, 11th and C streets, of sixteen lots, was vested in Mr. Young in 1797, but here Greenleaf was interested three years before, and afterward came Morris I. Nicholson et al. The valuations were the same as noted in the square north for forty years, and until 1846 it as a whole had passed successively to S. Elliot, jr.; T.H. Gillis and A. Benning. Though no improvements are noted before this time, William Harkins, a painter, is said to have been on C street in 1820. John W. Shiles and Thomas B. Entwisle in 1846 bought in the southeast section of 10th and C streets and were in business some years as carpenters and builders.
The names and values mentioned in the last named square can be repeated in square 352, between 10th, 11th and C street and Maryland avenue, to 1820. There were but five lots, of which William Hewitt, the city register, owned four in that year; Lewis H. Machin, chief clerk in the secretary of the Senate’s office, buying lots 1 to 4 the same year. Mr. Machin erected here a fine brick residence and lived here till about 1840, his place, with its well-kept gardens of flowers, fruits and vegetables, being a most attractive one. Later S.M. Edwards of the post office, known as Gen. Edwards, lived here several years. In 1830 William Douglas bought lot 4, and the following year J.A. Bender had part of lots 1 and 2, erecting a home here.
In 1839 William M. Morrison, long in the book and stationery business on Pennsylvania avenue, bought at the corner of 10th and C streets, and this was long the family home. A large garden was attached, in which was a cocoonery, Mr. Morrison, being interested in silk culture, made the place attractive to the curious as well a s to the many friends of the family. It was in the cocoonery that some of the meetings were held which led to the establishment of first the Sunday school and later Grace Episcopal Church. Later there were on Maryland avenue Ephraim Wheeler, then in the hardware business; W.A. Linton and W. Latham, treasury clerk.
No Buildings in 1830
In 1811 J.H. Howell owned in the square, and the next year J.W. Wise and J.W. Shiles owned in the southwest part of the square; and here had a carpenter shop; Thomas Davis, long a painter, lived here; Mr. Shiles and L.A. Cook were residents on B street, and John L. Fowler of the city police on 10th street.
Square 384, the triangle in the lines of Virginia avenue, C and 10th streets, lay in the open well down to the civil war. It was laid off into eight lots, and these in the allotment went to the United States in 1796 and were included in the Greenleaf contract. As to progress, there appeared nothing to warrant the valuation of 6 cents per foot reached in 1830. The records to this time name Greenleaf, Law, Morris, Nicholson, Elliott and O. Carr, and in 1834 Dr. William Gunton has tax title for seven lots. In 1835 John A. Donoho has lot 8 on Virginia avenue, and the Bank of Washington owns all the square which in 1843 was acquired by Dr. Gunton.
The square south had till 1820 the same shape, size, value and ownership as the preceding, Maryland avenue bounding it on the south. At that time the Bank of Washington acquired six lots, and the same year John McAleer, Mrs. Mary A. Elvans, C. Longdon and Samuel Stewart each had building sites. In 1830 B.F. Nourse had a lot which later went to Michael Nourse, and the following year George Hercus had a lot. At this time the lot at the corner of 10th street bore a value of 12 cents and other ground 6 cents, and buildings were listed at $800, $150, $800, $150 and $50 in the name of the United States Bank. In 1855 G. Crandell, Samuel Devaughn and the Bank of Washington owned property. In 1834 B. Fales bought sublot C of lots 3 and 4. George Hercus had bought a lot on Maryland avenue. In 1841 W.C. Bamberger owned near the east of the square, and later Benjamin McQuay had a home with feed store on Maryland avenue. Mrs. Elvans, the mother of the well known John R. Elvans, hardware dealer, and Miss F. Elvans, long a public school teacher, resided on Maryland avenue, as did W.C. Bamberger, whose wheelwright shop faced C street; John Sinclair, machinist; George Hercus, pumpmaker, whose shop was near by; G. Crandell and one or two others.
On 10th street were the home of William H. Bartlett, bricklayer, and a blacksmith shop of George stock, wheelwright, who was succeeded by Tom Bogus, who was the reverse of his name in many attributes.
Government Once Owned It
The Union Company of the first ward, having a new engine, the old apparatus, a large engine of the P.Lyons make, known as a "Padelion" and "big yellow engine," was turned over to the Island boys. A small frame house with a bell was erected, and in a few weeks was prepared for service.
Others than those above named were William Bird, W.T. Doniphan, and J.T. Cassell, vice president, secretary and treasurer, respectively, and E. Doniphan, captain of the hose; the following year Tom Bogus, whose home and blacksmith shop being near, assumed the care of the property; George Strobel, stock wheelwright; Gwynne Harris, who deceased a few years since, and practically every able-bodied man of that section. Hauling the ponderous engine to fires or alarms, oftentimes getting stuck in the mud, became at last too much.
Finally, after dragging it in answer to a false alarm, and returning it to the house when it broke tracks in the snow, the enthusiasm died out and the company disappeared, most of the members going to the Perseverance Company. The little house remained there a number of years, shortly after being used on Sunday afternoons for religious services. Rev. French S. Evans, W. Ryland and other Methodist ministers preaching.
It was here that the Ryland M.E. Church came into life, Mr. Evans serving as pastor, and Mr. Ryland furnishing the site on the opposite corner the church took his name.
It is related that when a salary for the minister was suggested Mr. Evans said that they need not bother, but as he lived at a distance and in his pastoral duties he would do much walking, the gravel walks would be hard on shoe leather. Therefore, he was willing to serve them if they would but pay his shoe bills, and his services were accepted.
The little building is also connected with the infancy of Grace Episcopal Church, the little band which was its nucleus, served by Rev. Alfred Holmead, worshiping here for a time ere the little frame Gothic church was erected at 9th and D streets. So the failure to keep up a company to extinguish fires was followed by successful churches, through which eternal fires may be avoided.
Boys will be boys, and those in this neighborhood had their adventures, but it was as orderly here as anywhere. Now and then one who lived alone who was regarded as a hermit was hooted at, the bell on the engine house stoned or some mischievous prank played, but no serious harm done. Two of the residents, Ephraim Wheeler and W.C. Bamberger, oft were in the city councils, and as before noted, some were in official as well as business life.
Much of Maryland and Virginia avenues in the fifties was occupied by railroads, and to a greater extent today, and little remains of the once familiar ground and but few of the old families can be found.