The Old Water Front
Improvements Were Slow in the Last Century
Big Bluffs in the Way
But They Made a Fine Vantage Point to View the River
Building First Wharves
Those Who Owned Them and the People Who Lived Near Them Years Ago

By James Croggon, The Evening Star, October 25, 1908 [pt. 4, p. 1]

Within 6th, 9th, G and M streets, facing the Potomac river, there was little city growth in the last century, for the water front, since become the steamboat landing, was hampered for commercial purposes by a bluff whose base was washed by the river. From the height of thirty feet this decreased gradually southward, and nearly a hundred years ago there was a wharf below the intersection of 7th and L streets, the nucleus of the extensive wharves of the present day. The travel to and from this wharf was by a dirt road in M street, cut through the bank, first 6th street and then 4 ½ street being followed to reach the central portion of the city.

There was some activity about the foot of 9th street, due to the location of Kelly Lambell’s shipyard or marine railway here about 1840. It was ten years later when there was an impetus given to the improvement of the river front here by the establishment of Page’s shipyard north of the wharf first noted and the establishment of a new line of ferryboats to Alexandria. Within this section, however, there was scarcely any improvement until about 1860, but in the thirties and forties one or two brickyards were in operation near the foot of 7th street.

Formed Natural Grandstand
Though they had long retarded water front improvement, the bluffs were appreciated by the few residents, especially in warm weather, for on them were a few trees where they could sit in the shade and enjoy the cool breezes from the river; and by hundreds as a grandstand whence to view the many regattas, rowing matches and other sports in which the island boys were wont to engage.

Within Notley Young’s farming lands adjacent in his mansion some of his barns and other buildings were in existence when in 1802 corporation jurisdiction was given. These were in the two squares south of H street between 8th and 9th and in that between 7th and 8th south of H street, and in the apportionment between the United States and the proprietor in 1796 they were vested in Mr. Young. Mr. Young also took title in others. The United States took those between G, I, 6th and 7th street and they were included in the contract with James Greenleaf to purchase and improve. To these squares the names of Robert Morris, John Nicholson and Thomas Law were attached, but no building followed. They, however, afforded good grazing for horses and cattle, and there was also some parts worked in corn, etc. In 1818 ten lots fronting each of the streets G, H, 6th and 7th, on square 468, were bought by Richard Hendley, and in the forties Henry M. Moffet and Benjamin Pollard owned the square, which remained minus improvement many years after.

In the squares south there is little history other than that connected with Greenleaf. In that south, 469, Samuel Byington, then master armorer at the arsenal, invested in six of the thirty-four lots in 1845; the year before John Adams and David A. Hall owned lots in square 470 south.

Held by the Youngs
The square between K and L, 6th and 7th streets, 471, remained in the Young family till 1840, when Alpheus Hyatt bought lots minus improvement. The square south, 472, was owned by the Youngs until 1821. This, between L, M, 6th and Water streets, had water rights which have been greatly improved. Prior to 1820 there was a wharf, the land opposite being in 1821 owned by Frederick Cana, Joseph Pearson in 1823 owned part of the wharf and and property in the square, including the corner of 6th and M streets. Six years later part of the square and wharf were owned by William Stettinus, and in 1838 Alpheus Hyatt owned in square and wharf.

In the thirties there was a brickyard in the northeast part of the square, worked by Thomas Crown, and there had been some improvements made. R.Y. Brent was listed for $2,000, W. Stettinius et al. $3,000, and $1,000 for wharf. Included in these is the brick building at the northeast corner of 7th or Water and M streets, known during the civil war as the "Powhatan House," yet used for a public house.

It was in 1850 that George Page bought in this square and established a shipyard, adding to his industries elsewhere, and with George Mattingly in 1851 he bought square 471, north. The shipyard was located north of M street, and it led to the opening of 7th street for, as before stated, a new ferryboat line to Alexandria was established, for which the steamers Union and George Page were built. The steamers William Sheldon, Champion and other boats were constructed here. There had been cut through the bluff in 7th street a narrow wagon track, but pedestrians made their way to and from the wharves by a long flight of steps on the face of the bluff east of 7th street which Mr. Page had constructed. The necessity of widening the carriageway and laying a foot pavement was now apparent, and naturally Mr. Page, who had been elected an alderman in 1851, was an earnest advocate.

The dominant issue for some in the municipal campaign of ’53 was as to which side of 7th street should be given a foot pavement, it being conceded that the corporation would not then provide for pavements on both sides. Mr. Mattingly having established a brickyard on 6th street between K and L streets, the travel east of 7th street was augmented, and the improvement of that side was urged by many, including Mr. Page. This was fatal to the ambition of Mr. Page to succeed himself, for D.B. Johnson was elected, and the pavement went to the west side.

About 1800 the steamboat business became more firmly established by Messrs. George and Thomas Sparker buying wharf property, and in addition to other boats landing here was the steamer Thomas Collyer, which ran to Mount Vernon.

The First Square Settled
Of the squares on the west side of 7th street tha between H, I and 8th streets, No. 439, is believed to have been the firs settled. In 1813 it was leased to William Moore for seven years and in 1820 George E. Ironside, a State Department clerk, was living in a frame house at the southeast corner of 8th and H streets. This house, in the boyhood of some gray-haired people, had an aged appearance and is thought to have been erected by the Youngs, who were succeeded in the ownership of he square by Dr. C.B. Hamilton, U.S.N., in 1828., In the thirties V. Camilear, S.B. Harper, Benjamin Bean, R.J. Walker, J.G. Robinson, J. Green, G.W. Way, Josiah Essex, James Nokes, L. Harbaugh, James Richey, W. Corcoran and S.J. Todd were owners of twenty-eight lots. There were, however, no improvements listed.

Square 415, between 8th, 9th, H and I streets, was in the Young family thirty or more years as of one lot, but in the twenties fourteen lots were made. In 1831 Thomas R. Riley bought near the corner of 8th and I streets, though Ignatius Mudd and Edward Dyer owned lots. Thomas R. Riley afterward acquired the entire square. In 1830 there was an appraisement of $400 on the lone house upon it. As Mrs. Ann Riley’s the place was known for many years and with its gardens, fruit trees, etc., was an attractive one. William R. Riley, remembered as a leading dry goods merchant and as president of the West End Bank, and Thomas W. Riley, long engaged in business at the wharf, foot of 12th street, hearing his name, and now conducted by W.W. Riley, his son, were raised here. ‘Tom’ Riley, as he is popularly known, is wont to recall how he as a boy followed the plow and raised fine crops on what are now improved streets and building sites.

The Old Flatiron
The flatiron made by 8th, I and Water streets square 415, from the time it was laid off to civil war times was vested with unchanged conditions, in the Youngs, but is now used for commercial purposes, with a wharf in front. For some years it was occupied by C.B. Church and S. Wimsatt, in the lumber business.

Square S 439, in the lines of 7th, 8th, I and K streets, of but one lot, figures but little in old records, having passed from the Youngs to Joseph Fenwick in 1806, 1821 to J.H. Blake, and in 1834 to Thomas Lucas. In 1839 James Gill owned in the square. It was in 1844 that J.P. West bought the square and engaged in the brickmaking business, in which he was followed by W.H. and Thomas, his sons, as the West Brothers, in other localities. In 1854 Eben and John H. Bird bought at the corner of I and 7th streets and erected a sash, door and blind factory, and in he sixties Col. James T. Close erected a foundry on 7th street. Much of the square is now occupied by Uhler’s lumber establishment.

In square west 471, between 7th, K and Water streets, six lots were vested in Mr. Young in 1800, but four years previous it was in the possession of Ignatius Ball and Standish Ford. There is, however, no record of change of title till 1830, when N.P. Poor’s name appears, and six years after William Dewees owned it. Since war times its water front has been improved, the wharves of Stephenson Bros. Being here, and a number of steamers and sailing craft dock here regularly.

The First Settler
Between 7th and 8th, G and H streets fourteen lots were platted for square 438. These were in the Youngs’ possession until 1800 and then assigned to Georgetown College. The first action settler was Robert Mahony, who, in 1844, bought lots 8 at the southwest corner of 8th and G streets. He erected a modest frame house and lived there a long time, following the painting business. In 1845 George Herbert bought a lot which later he would to S. and P.F. Bacon. About 1850 the well known family of VanSciver, prominent in the trade in Maine products, were on the east side of 8th street. Peter Garrison, a ship carpenter, moved from the west and in he fifties erected a home on G street, and here was raised the well known Emma Garrison, a school teacher and afterward a popular writer of stories for the magazines and literary papers as was also William Garrison, a stage carpenter and later a deputy United States marshal.

The six lots of square 414, between 8th, 9th, G and H streets, were in 1797 vested in Mr. Young and were in the family till 1823, when Joseph Pearson owned on G street and three years after E.S. Brooke. Later W. and J. Clarke, W. Galloway, C.B. Danford, Thomas Blagden, D. Pancoast, Mary Robertson, W. Douglas and A. Nacher are the names which appear. The square was bare of improvement until the fifties, when the family of which were the Stumph Brothers, furniture dealers, lived on G. street.