Early City Schools
By James Croggon, The Evening Star, November 14, 1908 [pt. 2, p. 8]
It was not till the forties that there was a public schoolhouse in South Washington, or “on the Island.” At the eastern and western academies, at 3d and D streets southeast and 14th and G streets northwest, the three R’s were taught, and there were one or two private schools on the Island, when, about 1845, two additional schools were provided under an act dividing the city into four districts, the fourth district being south and west of the canal. This potion of the city was of slow growth and few were the habitations, which in some instances formed isolated villages. From these pupils had gone to the eastern or western academies, known as McCormick’s and Henshaw’s schools, over a mile from their homes. Under the new order the schoolhouse for the fourth district, or seventh ward, was located on the east side of 6th street between D and E streets. From the beginning tardy progress had been made in building up the southern or Island section of the city, and settlement was in spots down to 1850. Tom Moore’s description of Washington as “a city of magnificent distances” was accurate as to the “Island,” for a large portion was open common. When the school house was built there were but few dwellings near by and within the lines of 3d, 7th, D and G streets. They could be counted on the fingers. Nevertheless the location was a convenient one and there was plenty of playground in the long stretches to the Long bridge point. As may be supposed, little had been done in the way of street improvement and that had been made by the national government, if the few gravel footways made by the corporation and the zigzag sources made by carts and wagons and footpaths worn by the travel incident to the brickyards south and east be excepted. The activities of the United States arsenal from about 1816 and the penitentiary from 1828 had led to 4-1/2 street becoming a much traveled road, but it was of Mother Earth and at times travel was difficult. During the wa with Mexico, when hundreds of people were employed at the arsenal in the preparation of munitions of war, there was so much hauling as to call for improvement. In 1848 Congress appropriated nearly $5,000 therefor and 4-1/2 street was granted, from Maryland avenue south graveled and the west side was flagged.
Within the lines of D, G, 3d and 7th streets a small part of David Burns’ tract was taken, and a larger part was Notley Young’s land, and by the lines of Virginia avenue, E, F and 4-1/2 and 6th streets ten building squares were made. It would appear from the fact that 263 lots were platted – over fifty to one square – that the projectors of the city looked forward to much settlement. But long it was undeveloped, though a century ago improvements were looked for by Greenleaf, Morris and Nicholson and Pratt, Francis and others. Two cents a foot was the valuation of the ground in 1802, but for years but 1 cent was listed, in 1830 from 2 to 5 cents being the figure. There is no record of improvement to be found prior to 1830, and this for two houses valued at $150 and $100, respectively.
Some of the Early Purchasers
East of the above square 494 was cut into but fifteen lots, of which the United States retained Nos. 1 to 10 and 6th, D and E streets and Daniel Carroll the balance. In 1800 Pratt, Francis & Co. had three lots and Gen. Van Ness two years after, four, but there was no development in the way of settlement for years. In 1833 J.S. Clark bought a lot on 6th street. In 1836 William Prout bought on the corner of 4-1/2 and E streets and Thomas Henry and Mary L. Neale soon after owned here. Two small improvements were here, one listed to Henry Neale at $150, and one to E. Tyler at $100, near 6th and D streets. As far as records show these were the only improvements in the ten squares. In 1836 Allison Nallor had a lot. William A. Bradley, two lots and Pompey Jackson part of lot at the corner of 4-1/2 and E streets. In 1839 Elizabeth Thompson and George M. Davis owned in the square. In 1840 R. Tyler, and after John A. Smith owned in the square. In the 40s Isaac Stoddert was at the corner of 4-1/2 and E streets as a grocer, and after in the wood and coal trade.
The New Schoolhouse
Some Early Pupils
The triangle formed by Virginia avenue, 3d and D streets, square 536, of seven lots, went to Mr. Carroll and in the twenties to Moses Tabbs. In 1830 Clement McWilliams owned four lots and subdivided them into twenty-six parcels. In that decade a number were sold at $100 each, A. Shepherd, S. Maurey, T.F. Semmes, T. Cookendorfer, G. Sweeney, Levi Beach and others buying. At the southeast corner of the square Mr. Beach erected a frame house, and for a long time was actively engaged in plastering. William Beach, a carpenter, lived west of him, as did George W. Ballinger, a carpenter.
The square south, 537, between Virginia avenue, 3d, 4-1/2 and E streets in 1796 was vested in the United States, but in 1802 Gen. Van Ness was the owner of the seven lots, and until after his death, about 1846, they were unproductive, save for taxing. From 1 cent, the value of the ground in that period had increased to 4 cents.
Notley Young’s Land
The forty-two lots into which square 495, between 4-1/2, 6th, E and F streets, was subdivided, were vested in the United States in 1796, and included in Greenleaf’s purchase, they laid unproductive of anything other than taxes till 1846.
In that year George Mattingly, who for a long time was the agent of the southern mail line steamers, bought the square.
On the I street front he built a brick residence as the family home and the entire square was converted into a garden.
Owner of a Coach Line
Square Sold For $60,000
Mr. Page, after leasing square 467 between 6th, 7th, F and G streets, soon had some industries in operation. Mr. Page, a practical iron worker, had here a machine shop, foundry, grist and saw mill, and, being the inventory of a saw mill, engaged in the manufacture of such mills. The grist mill was run mainly by wind power and for many years enjoyed much patronage, turning out as it did a quality of meal which was the favorite. He had his residence near the corner of 7th and F streets.
Between 4-1/2, 6th, F and G streets square 496 was planned for twenty-eight lots which vested in Mr. Young., In the first years of the last century James M. Varnum owned the western half of the square. In 1839 Samuel Byington owned two lots, including the corner of 4-1/2 and F streets. In 1842 William Morrow owned the west half of the square in which Josiah ray bought three lots. In 1843 Martin Buell had five lots and the next year Thomas B. Pumphrey bought in lot 1, corner of 4-1/2 and G streets on which was a two story frame house. Here resided the well known Jackson Pumphrey, a carpenter and builder and a most popular citizen for years. Mr. Page paid but $190 for his three lots on F street which he improved by small frame buildings and lived there some years. There also lived on F street James R. Baylis, Fielder Magruder, a bricklayer, afterward in the wood and coal business, John Wilson and Lewis Disher, a blacksmith, and on 4-1/2 street was Thomas McNarry, with Robert Thompson at the corner of F street.
In square 539 opposite were twenty-eight lots fronting F, G, 3d and 4-1/2 streets, which in 1797 were vested in Notley Young, but soon after Mr. Greenleaf had title. He soon after conveyed to George Harrison and S. Sterrett. In 1805 James Crawford owned three lots and William Read one. The next year C. Paleski and J. Garner owned four and in 1808 F. Harper and J. Waddington had a lot on G street, J. Moyland three lots and Mary Hesenclever. In 1812 K. dale had a lot and in 1822 W. Ingle had lots 4, 8 and 9 on a tax title. In 1840 F. Hall had a lot on G street, James Roach two lots and E. Dyer one. W.G. Cranch in 1844 had title to sixteen parcels. Up to that date there were no improvements.