In Old Washington (Rodbird's Hill)

By James Croggon, The Evening Star, July 1, 1909 [p. 20]

In the neighborhood of Rodbird’s Hill, as it was then known, between 1st street east, 4th street west, K and M streets north, there were many fine building sites projected in the plans for the city, but for years there was no indication of improvement.

The hill had a steep descent from about M street between North Capitol and 1st streets eastward to the Tiber, and gradual in other directions. The view, therefrom, was fine and interesting, for the gradual, scarcely perceptible, change from the state of nature to urban conditions was plainly visible.

Though at an early date Greenleaf and through him, Morris & Nicholson, Pratt, Francis et al., and other extensive operators became interested, material improvement did not appear until the twenties. Nor did he ground appreciate in value till long after, less than a cent being assessed—in some squares but one-fourth a cent.

Unbroken was the land by street improvements. The beds of the streets, cleared of trees, could just be defined. North of Massachusetts avenue corporation laws did not interfere with the shooting of game.

Rodbird’s Hill in the second and third decades of the century was depicted on ancient maps. Around this was open country, with here and there some attempt at gardening. Along North Capitol street was a simple wagon track, as also one to the mill known as Youngs, or Pearsons, on the Atiber.

Indeed, until the civil war the mill was operated. Long afterward its site, with the race, was a favorite goal for young people.

Named After Absalom Rodbird
Absalom Rodbird came to the District of Columbia in 1808 and gave the name of "Rodbirds hill" to the locality in 1823 by settling on the northwest part of square 620 between North Capitol, 1st, L and M streets.

This square, in the Ben Oden tract of twenty-fur lots in 1796, was apportioned, the west twelve lots to the United States and the others to Notley Young and Benjamin Oden. But Greenleaf was interested, two years before.

In 1815 Daniel Bates became owner of lots 12 to 17, and in 1823 C. Venable, executor of Mr. Bates, sold them. A. Rodbird, sr., bought lots 12, 13, 14 and 17 in trust for his children for $50, and A. Rodbird, jr., lots 15 and 16.

A two-story brick and frame dwelling on the corner, assessed at $550 in 1830, was the home for some years. Later the sons, Absalom, Ebenezer and Ephraim and the daughter, Mrs. Jane Campbell, improved their portions.

In 1834 John P. Ingle owned lots 1 to 5 and 24, he southeast quarter, which in 1838 were in Oden’s name. In 1842, A. Stepper owned the northeast quarter lots 18 to 23, and Peter Conian lots 6 to 11, the southwest quarter. In 1853 a subdivision was made by which an interior street was constructed and named for the then President Pierce. Rust Hall, Sibley Hospital and other large buildings now occupy the northeast quarter.

About the time of the settlement noted above square 558 was settled, James Brady building on the east side of 3d street between K and L streets, where he had purchased in 1821 a house listed at $350. In 1830 to A. Smallwood was listed a $150 improvement on 3d street.

Between K, L and 3d streets, west of New Jersey avenue, square 558 was divided into ten lots. In 1796 the government was vested with five, the others going to Benjamin Oden, Greenleaf, and Lynch & Sands. In 1797 George Lewis owned lot 1, which in 1812 went to J. Peltz. In 1818 Thomas Carbery owned lot 5 which went to James Brady in 1821. S. Masi owned 9 in 1830.

In 1832 J.A.M. Duncanson became vesed with 3, and William Peters with 9, A Smallwood owned 3 on K street in 1834. In 1839 a lot each was owned by B. Gwinny, J.P. Donenberg, Elias Kane and D.A. Hall, the first, in 1841, obtaining another. A subdivision was made of this square in 1859.

About 1830 a small house at the southwest corner of 3d and L streets was listed to Batty McCoy, colored. Four years afterward Benjamin McCoy bought two lots there, 9 and 10, of George Coon, for $200. In this square, No. 526, twelve lots went to Lynch & Sands in the apportionment. Greenleaf had interests, and John J.H. Warder bought lots 2, 3 and 4 in 1811, R.C. Sand, 5, in 1814; Alex. Suter, 1, 11 and 12, in 1817; W.H. Harrison and T. Atkinson, 3, and G. Coon, 9 and 10, in 1830; B. McCoy, 9 and 10 in 1834; D.A. Hall, 6 to 8 in 1836, and James Sinclair, west one-half, in 1838.

In 1845 a subdivision was made, and R.A. Hawke bought part lot 3, corner 4th and K, for $50, 3 cents per foot.

In square 559, between New Jersey avenue, 1st, K and L streets, fourteen lots in 1796 were apportioned, Benjamin Oden taking title to four, Lynch & Sands to one and the United States to seven. Prior to 1827 there was little change of title, some of it passing then by ax deed to J.P. Ingle. In 1829 two additional lots were acquired by the government. In 1836 lot 7 passed o D.A. Hall and in 1842 W.G. Cranch owned them, in 1864 a subdivision was made.

Size of Schools in 1860
Square 621, between K, L, North Capitol and 1st streets, was in 1797 divided by the commissioners between Young and Oden and the United States. Here were twenty-four lots and those which fell to Mr. Young in 1802 were vested in his daughter, Eleanor Young. In 1818, D Bates owned the southeast quarter, lots 1 to 5 and 24; in 1827 John P. Ingle, lots 12, 14 to 17, which in 1829 were deeded to Mr. Oden. In 1842 Peter Conlan owned the government’s portion, lots 6 to 11, and 18 to 23.

In 1860 there were many sublots provided, and to accommodate the growing population school buildings for whites and colored, the Blake and Jones, are on opposite ends of the square.

Thirty five original lots on L, M and 1st streets, New Jersey and New York avenues formed square 557, which, by the subdivision of 1853, were cut into many convenient building sites. A street was laid out and named Pierce, after the then President.

W. Deakins, jr., Notley Young, Lynch & Sands and the United States were vested with title at the apportionment in 1786. Mr. Young’s portion, eight lots, in 1802 went to his daughter, Mrs. Cazenove; in 1818 to F. May and S. Elliot and later to the Bank of Washington. In 1817 Philip Mauro owned here, as did, in 1822, Eli Cross, adjoining. J. Eastburn succeeded to the latter’s in 1831, and in that decade William H. Harrison, G. Atkinson and David A. Hall owned lots.

In 1855 many sublots were laid out, the wide alley through the center becoming what is now Pierce street.

Two lots in square 556, formed by lines of New Jersey avenue, L and 3d streets, in 1796 were vested in the government, but, included in Greenleaf’s contract with the Commissioners in 1840, were in the name of his nephew, W.G. Cranch. Four years after they were bought by Hugh B. Sweeny, by whom they were subdivided in 1845.

Land Improved by John Hoover
Between New York avenue, M, 3d and 4th streets there were but two lots laid out in square 524. These in 1796 were vested in Lynch & Sands, but two years before were included in the Greenleaf contract. In 1797 Joseph Cocachichi was the owner.

Twenty years after, Charles Glover owned them, and the next year they were William Cocking’s, in 1820 Anne Blanchard et al. having title. In 1827 John Hoover bought and improved the same to the extent of $2,200 and resided here for some years.

Robert Wallace became the owner in 1851.

Nine lots in square 525, between 3d, 4th and L streets, south of New York avenue, were in the apportionment left with Lynch & Sands in 1790. George Lewis owned two lots and Francis Atkinson one in 1797, and from 1800 to 1817 L. Sands, James Taylor, James Martin, R.C. Sands and Alexander Suter owned lots. In 1829 John A. Wilson owned one, P.A. Jay three, and George Coon bought two of Mr. Jay, which in 1837 went to Peter Kurtz. In 1838 J. Downing owned on New York avenue, Elias Kane two other lots, and in 1840 David A. Hall had two.

Twenty-four lots on North Capitol and 1st streets east and L and M streets formed that square known as A 73, but Riley, Babcock, and Forsyth streets were laid through it in later years. In this division the government retained half of he lots and the others vested in Oden Young and Daniel Carroll of Duddington. In 1815 D. Bates bough on North Capitol street; in 1819 George Adams and G. Watterson each one; in 1822 J. Kedgler, and in 1823 Joseph Pearson et al., one each on 1st street, the latter at the corner of 1st and M streets.

In 1827 Mr. Ingle had title to a lot of which in 1829 Mr. Oden had title. In 1837 the government’s portion was conveyed to Georgetown College. John Farley the next year bought one on 1st street. In 1839 E. Rodbird owned one on North Capitol street and in 1841 David and George Watterson had each one lot on L street.

Through this square ran the Tiber, on which was a mill once included in the Casavere tract, and after the twenties for many years operated by the Pearsons. Needless is it to say that both stream and mill are things of the past, for today in the square Riley, Babcock and Forsyth streets increase to ten the frontages of building sublots.

Between K, L, North Capitol and 1st streets east B Oden and Mr. Carroll shared with the government the twenty-four lots in square 674, the United States taking title to those in the eastern half of the square. John P. Ingle owned the Oden and Carroll portion in 1827, which in two years went to Mr. Oden. The government’s portion was conveyed to Georgetown College in 1837, which in 1846 was included in a conveyance of over forty lots in this section to J.P. Ryon for $339.

A short distance north of K street the Tiber included what was known as the Blue Cork, famous as the bathing place for boys of fifty years ago. Even then there was no interference with their sport by the police, so little settled had been the locality.