Home of Post Office
By James Croggon, The Evening Star, September 13, 1908 [pt. 4, p. 1]
The general post office, on the transfer of the government to its permanent abode, became a tenant, renting a house at the northeast corner of 9th and E streets northwest, and for ten years it was here located.
This was one of the three-storied brick buildings which were standing a few years since and known as Buzzard's Roost.
By the act of April 10, 1810, provision was made for the purchase or erection of a building for the general post office and the keeper of patents. Twenty thousand dollars was appropriated therefor. This act also directed that the city post office and the offices of the superintendent and the surveyor of the city should be removed to such building.
Under this authority was the Great Hotel, on the north side of E street between 7th and 8th streets, purchased for $15,000. The building was the project of Samuel Blodgett, who came from Philadelphia and was an early operator in Washington real estate. The corner stone of the hotel was laid on July 4, 1793, and through the proceeds of lottery the work was carried on.
But it was not finished through his agency. It was a three-storied structure of brick and of ample size for the offices named, but parts of the building needed finishing, and over $13,000 was expended in repairs, etc., to the rooms put to use by the officers named and four rooms occupied by the superintendent general of military supplies during his tenure, 1813 to 1817. The Washington Library, incorporated in 1814, was also here for several years, and the offices of the superintendent of the city were vacated in 1814, when he and the surveyor were legislated out.
Building Spared by English
For the protection of the building a fire engine was bought in 1820 and located in a small frame building. The chief clerk, Andrew Coyle, with other clerks and citizens, formed a volunteer fire company, taking the name of Washington, and until house and apparatus was burned some years after it was an efficient fire company. The engine house was on 7th street, adjoining the city post office, of two stories, and in the upper one were kept the arms of the Washington Guards, Col. Seaton's company. This was much too small for meetings and drills, for, composed of many of the clerks and citizens, it was a full company, and vacant ground was used for drilling.
Such was the increase of business, postal and patent, that an additional building was provided in 1828-9. This was erected at about the southwest corner of the present Interior Department at a cost of over $20,000, and was largely devoted to the exhibition of models. For cases and fixtures over $6,000 was expended. This location suggested the name of "Model House" for a neighboring tavern. With the erection of the new patent office noted below the government model house became a thing of the past.
Fire Destroys Building
There was, of course, activity in looking up new quarters and in a few days business was resumed. The Postmaster General, Mr. Kendall, arranged with Col. B. Ogle Taylor, the owner, and A. Fuller, lessee, for the occupancy of the City Hotel property at the northwest corner of Pennsylvania avenue and 14th streets on the site of the New Willard, and the following day officials and clerks were busy with the postal business. The city post office found lodgement at the house of Jonathan Seaver, on the west side of 7th street between D and E streets, included in the site of Lansburgh's, but in a few months moved to the Masonic Hall at the southwest corner of 4-1/2 and D streets. Next it was on the northeast corner of 12th street and the Avenue, occupied before by the Madisonian and later by the Irving House, the Kirkwood, and now included, in the site of the Raleigh.
The ground floor of Carusi's assembly rooms at the northwest corner of 11th and C streets, now the site of the Lyceum Theater, then became the city post office, and was here till 1815, when the government, having bought the remainder of the square between 7th and 8th and E and F streets, it took one of the houses of McLean's row on 7th street and occupied it until the extension of the new general post office led to its demolition. The patent office on the invitation of the corporation occupied rooms in the west wing of the city hall or courthouse, as also a house on 5th street opposite.
New Edifice Planned
The organization of the home or Interior Department under Gov. Thomas Ewing was in March, 1849. The general land office, pension, patent and Indian offices, its bureaus, were in different locations, and the Secretary's office apart from either in a rented building at the southeast corner of 15th and F streets. For the patent office an imposing structure had been erected, and it was so located that it could be enlarged as additional accommodations were called for. An appropriation of $50,000 had been made toward the erection of wings by the act of March 3, and before 1850 excavation for the foundation of the east wing had commenced. Other appropriations followed and the work carried to completion about 1851 at a total cost of over $600,000. Then the Secretary with his clerks moved from rented quarters, and the Interior Department was settled in its own. In the meantime an appropriation had been made for the west wing, and the work commenced in 1853 was carried to completion in 1859 at a cost of over $700,000.
Ten Years in Building
The various portions were occupied as the rooms were made ready, the east wing in 1854-5, the west wing in 1858-9 and the north wing in 1864-5. The saloons in the upper story were used for the exhibition purposes, but long since have these become serviceable for clerical purposes. The land office came here from the Treasury, the pension office from rented quarters on 17th street and Indian office from a house on the present site of the Second National Bank. Though the pension bureau, the land office and Indian office are in other quarters, the many rooms of the building are occupied and some of the bureaus are tenants of Washington landlords.
Prior to the government taking this site this was the reservation designated for a national church, but at the time was occupied by one Orr and was known as Orr's farm or orchard. Near the corner of F and 7th streets was a frame house in which James Caden taught school. He afterward was a clerk in the sixth auditor's office and lived long enough to be known as "old Jimmy Caden."
For the general post office, whose home was destroyed by fire in 1836, the erection of a new building on the old site was projected, this taking shape in the act of March 3, 1839, appropriating $150,000 therefor. This, with other sums voted till 1842, was sufficient to erect the marble structure now the general land office. It has not been much changed from the original plan of four stories, save the basement has been arranged for office rooms and the roof raised, it cost about $500,000, and when the department resumed business it was thought the building would meet the requirements for years to come. Nevertheless authority was given fr the purchase of additional ground, and by 1845 the government owned the entire square, with the buildings. McLean's row, before noted, was among them, and the city post office moved to and was located here for some fifteen years. It occupied one of the three houses and private families the two others. Before many years additional accommodations were required and the extension of the building on the three remaining fronts was determined on. By act of March, 1855, $300,00 was made available to commence operations, and by other appropriations the work was continued, and was so far advanced that in 1858 some of the rooms were occupied, but it was not fully completed till war times. In the meantime the city post office had vacated the 7th street house, which, with others, was demolished to make room for the building, and was located in the Seaton House, now the Central Union Mission, on Louisiana avenue between 6th and 7th streets, till quarters in the new building, fronting F street, were fitted up for it. Over a million dollars was spent on this work. As a rule there was but little renting other than that stated above done by the department or its auditor.