Early River Front
By James Croggon, The Evening Star, September 20, 1908 [pt. 4, p. 1]
That portion of Southwest Washington between 9th and 12th streets south of F street and skirting the river has in its transformation from the original conditions undergone many changes. Though a passably well settled neighborhood, with improved streets, etc., there are to be found there some of the primeval conditions to remind one of the high banks which were once along the river's edge.
In colonial times it was the seat of Notley Young, who owned much of the land marked out for building squares, as well as many acres in the northern and southern portions of the District. For years from the appearance of steamboats was it the landing place, and there was some West India trade and much coast and river trade, the latter permanently established.
The most prominent object in the neighborhood was the mansion house of Mr. Young, which, built in 1754, on the platting of the city, fell in the lines of G street between 9th and 10th streets and was sured to remain till about 1807 when it was demolished by the corporation, as it stood in the way of improvements. It was a fine specimen of the mansions of the landed gentry of the province, an oblong structure of brick, two lofty stories with wide halls, and fronted the river southwest, affording a view of many miles in any direction. There were many buildings connected with the farm, and within these lines were four log houses for the white hands between the mansion and the river, near the west line of 9th street, and south was a garden and graveyard. On the west side of 11th street between F and G streets was also a smaller graveyard.
The Old-Time Society
The original lay of the land from the high river bank was very nearly level, and it was nearly cleared and in cultivation when it passed to the government for city purposes. And, indeed, much of it, including the streets, was worked in corn, rye and potatoes till near the middle of the century, so tardy were the city builders. And there can yet be found men who made crops where now are well paved and lighted streets. It is true that before 1820 the foot of 11th street and become a landing for steamers and other vessels, and that street had been cut through the bank, but it was merely a dirt road. This, with the fact that some of the Georgetown and Eastern branch trade by sailing vessels was being shared with this point, was an incentive to settlement along that street, but it came slowly, and, indeed, vacant building sites may yet be found.
The water front for half a century was not very well defined, for over a part of Water street the tide rose and fell. About 1818 the Bradleys came on the scene, William A. Bradley of the Bank of Washington, afterward mayor of the city, being interested in the Southern Mail line service, in which the steamer Washington was engaged, built a wharf opposite square 356, between 10th and 11th streets, in which he had interests. This was long used by the Southern Mail line, which from giving a triweekly service finally before the war ran day and night boats. In front of the square between 11th and 12th streets in 1830 F.N. Kennedy owned a wharf, and six years later James. E. Thubert also built a wharf west. Thomas R. Riley succeeded to the Kennedy wharf in 1840, and it remains Riley's wharf to the present.
At these wharves the Chesapeake from 1836, the Osceola, Columbia, Paul Jones, Hoosatonie, Joe Johnson, Phenix, Augusta, Powhatan, Mount Vernon and others docked, making trips to Norfolk, Baltimore and to river points, the ferry boats to Alexandria three or four times a day.
First Modern Steamboat
The old Columbia is pleasantly remembered by the older Washingtonians. She was a fine excursion craft, whose broad decks afforded facilities for the dance. Having an off day Tuesdays in her schedule, as regularly as clockwork did she then make trips to Indian Head and return. An old lady who has enjoyed a hundred such trips recently said:
"These were about the only outings on the water for us in the forties.
"Such resorts as Marshall Hall, River View, etc., for a single day's outing were unknown, and save by an occasional picnic to Pye's Landing or to Fort Washington, when only a caretaker was there, the young people had to rely on the Tuesday afternoon excursions of the Columbia. Oh, how we did enjoy them, and how sociable were they! They were given by military, fire companies, associations and clubs, and the invitations to the ladies contained a note asking a reply that the stage or bus might call.
"Wasn't it fun for the girls to be packed in a bus and driven to the wharf to meet our escorts, who came afoot, and how we enjoyed the dances! I have participated in various excursions, picnics and other entertainments, but the Columbia's excursions, especially the moonlight ones, shine brightest in my memory."
Builds a Marine Railway
Facing the wharves in the thirties were a few taverns or hotels. At the northwest corner of 11th and Water streets a frame cottage was the tavern of John Foy, and afterward was occupied by E.F. Valentine, William Thomas and others. It was known a long time as the "Pigeon Hole," and until a late day was popular with water-men. At the northeast corner of 11th and Water streets in the middle of the thirties a three-storied brick building was erected for hotel purposes and is today a substantial building. It was leased from J.E. Foulkes about 1816 by John R. and H. Washington Queen, and for eight years it was Queen's Steamboat Hotel. Then, as above stated, Capt. Peter Jones, having suffered reverses by the burning of his steamers, entered the hotel business here. The warehouse on Water street, near the corner of 10th street, having been burned Capt. Jones took a long lease of the site, as well as Bradley's wharves, and built on the walls a three-storied hotel building, where for sixteen years he conducted the Steamboat or Jones' Hotel. Capt. Jones had also the contract with the mail steamers for wood, and nearby was his wood yard. In the yellow hotel on the ground floor was for years a ship chandlery, Richard Wimsatt being located here some time.
Advance of Values
Originally Notley Young's land in square 329, between 11th. F and Water streets, was cut into four lots, three going to Mr. Young in 1797, and his name attaches till 1817, when E.S. Brooke acquired lot 2. In 1828 John E. Smith had three lots, and next year G.C. Grammer had two. F.X. Kennedy, owned in lot 1 in 1830, and the next year W. Lambell and J.E. Foulkes owned in it. John W. Maury had the three other lots which in 1839 were owned by James E. Thumlert, who owned the wharf, and in 1840 Thomas R. Riley owned at the corner of 11th and Water streets. Mr. Thumlert erected on Water street the building now Neitzey's restaurant.
Early Building Lots
A small triangle formed by G, 10th and Water streets, marked as square 356, of one lot was assigned to Mr. Young in 1797, and in 1802 was in the name of Nicholas Young, from whom it was bought by William A. Bradley in 1820. Its valuation was similar to that above given. This was once occupied by Radcliffe & Waller, grocers, afterward by A. Clark, and finally Capt. Peter Jones' hotel occupied the site. A fruit stand was also here in the forties, known as Capt. Bill Tyler's.
Nothing But Taxes
The mansion house was occupied by some of the Young family till the thirties. In that decade the rooms were sublet to families. In one of the rooms was a tenant occupied in the manufacture of United States mail lots and for a long time a Mrs. Goddard was an occupant.
The square between 9th, 10th, G and H streets, numbered 399, had a small frontage on Water street. It was assigned to Mr. Young and was more profitable to the corporation than others for, chargeable with taxes on ground value at 1 cent in the early days to 4 cents in the thirties, the house on G street was early listed at $5,000 value, and after at $3,000. Of one lot originally before 1820, it was cut into thirty-four, with frontage north and south, but not till 1821 was any sold. The heirs of J. Forrest then had lot 22 and the next year J. Talbott lot 20 on G street. In 1832 W.A. Bradley owned 15 and 16, on H street in 1839 Thomas Carberry 20 and in 1811 Richard Wimsatt 18, on G street. Some parts of this square have been undisturbed and the Thomas residence at 10th and G streets indicates the original grade.
No. 391, between H, 9th and Water streets, until 1838 was undeveloped ground upon which the Youngs were assessed at 4 cents per foot. W.A. Bradley and W.A. Foulke then owned lot 2 and William Lambell lot 1, heretofore described as having become the marine railway, which in war times as known as Thomas Allen's shipyard.
Other residents than those named included William Hicks, Hackman; Mrs. Jacobs, Robert Walters, steamboat pilot, on F street.