Old Time Burch Hill
Historic Section Around New Jersey Avenue and I Street
First Settled in 1812
Capt. Burch’s Residence at That Time Considered a Mansion
Famous "Minnesota Row"
Houses in Which Lived Breckinridge, Douglas
And Other Noted Men -- Civil War Hospital

By James Croggon, The Evening Star, July 11, 1909 [p. 11]

"Burch’s Hill" was the popular name for that part of the city about the intersection of New Jersey avenue and I street northwest for the greater part of the last century. The surroundings of the residence of Capt. Samuel Burch at that point gave it the appearance of the country seat of an old-time landed proprietor.

At the time settlement was made there by Capt. Burch, about 1812, there were no improvements whatever between 1st, 4th, H and K streets, no streets opened for travel, and it was well toward the middle of the century ere he had a neighbor, if we except the Rodbird residence north and Bailey, Burr and others southeast, from about 1830. About it there were a number of forest trees, as also here and there within the lines named much scrubby growth. The house, being for that age a stately one, on a commanding site, for very many years afforded and unobstructed view for miles around. From the natural grade here there was a gentle incline eastward toward the Tiber, but more abrupt southward, and round and about it the sportsman with dog and gun found small game as late as the early fifties.

This house, which is yet standing on the south side of I street east of New Jersey avenue, originally a two-story and attic brick, is in square W, of 623, north of H street and west of 1st street, which in the plan of the city was of but one lot. In the division with the proprietor, Benjamin Oden, in 1796 it was vested in him and in 1811 it was purchased by Capt. Burch, who erected a home there, occupied by the family for forty years or more. The place was an ideal one, the grounds being, with the noble trees and well worked gardens, an attractive one, and the family, one of the leading ones of the District, was prominent in the social life of the District. Capt. Burch was for very many years chief clerk in the office of clerk of the House of Representatives; in military prominent as the commander of a local artillery company which saw service in he war of ’12; and a member of the city council, president of he lower board and board of appeals-in fact, an all-round, useful citizen.

Fourth of a Cent a Foot
Many years a fourth of a cent per foot was the corporation valuation of the ground, and the house was listed at $2,800. About 1840 the square north between I, K and 1st streets, east of New Jersey avenue, became the property of Capt. Burch, the consideration being $400. The United States had held the six lots from 1796. In 1852 Stephen A Douglas, then a senator from Illinois and prominent among the presidential timber, bought the two squares of J. Cuthbert Burch, et al. for $5,000. It was stipulated in the deed that if when the corporation opened the streets any portion of the buildings should fall within the lines of the streets such portion should go with the property. As a matter of fact when I street was opened the northwest corner of the building was found to extend over the building line. Mr. Douglas lived here several years, later moving opposite, and while here the house was the scene of a number of brilliant functions in society life. In 1861 the Burch mansion being vacant the young men of the neighborhood were allowed to use a portion to organize a military company, but a number went to fill the ranks of other companies.

The triangle formed by New Jersey avenue, 3d and H streets, known as square north 563, in 1794 was included in the Greenleaf holdings. In 1811 Charles Glover was the owner; three years after N.H. Heath; S. Ellitt, jr., from 1815 to 1844 had title, which he sold to D.W. Middleton for $25.78.

Twenty-two lots on H, I, 2d and 3d streets formed square 562, and though included in the contract of Mr. Greenleaf in 1794, were vested in Mr. Oden in 1796. In 1827 John P. Ingle had title, and in 1836 John B. Kerr and Anthony McLean were the owners. Long did it remain open ground, and as such during the civil war it was taken by the government as the site of Stanton Hospital.

Between 3d, 4th, H and I streets, square 528, of twelve lots, was, in 1798, vested in Mr. Oden, though a Greenleaf square. John Pelty was the owner in 1812, and Judge Buckner Thurston, who came here as a senator from Kentucky, and served on the Circuit Court bench in 1816, invested here. A $400 improvement near 4th and I streets was listed to him in the thirties, when much of his square was a garden. The ground in 1802 was listed at half a cent a foot, but was soon after reduced to a fourth; and in 1830 it was rated at one and a half cents. In 1855 lots 9 and 10, near 3d and I streets, were sold to Jerry Dorsey.

One of Greenleaf Squares
The square north 527, of same dimensions, was another of the Greenleaf squares from 1794, and title was in him and assignees till 1844, when it went to W.B. Todd and John P. Pepper for $1,100, less than 2 per foot. Matthew Gault and M.G. Emory purchased the west half of the square for $1,000 shortly after. In the fifties Middleton Birkhead became the original settler, buying a lot on 3d street at about 5 cents per foot and building a home.

One lot in the lines of I, K, 2d and 3d streets and New Jersey avenue made square 560 vested in Mr. Oden. Its early history included Greenleaf’s contract; and but an eighth of a cent was assessed on the ground. Title passing to Mr. Ingle in 1827, back to Oden in ‘29, W.G. Cranch succeeded in ’42, H.N. Moffat in ’45 and Maj. A.A. Nicholson, was the owner in 1851. No permanent improvement was made till after 1847. Two years after the fine row of dwellings at the northwest corner of 2d and I streets came into existence, under he name of Minnesota row. H.M. Rice, the firs delegate and senator from Minnesota, bought here and erected the buildings, and for some years resided in the center of the row. Senator Douglas bought the corner house, moving into it from the Burch mansion, above described, taking up his residence, and Vice President John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky took one of the houses, living here till he left to enter the service of the Southern Confederacy.

Became Well Known
That Minnesota row was soon one of the best known places in the District needs no telling, for both Douglas and Breckinridge became candidates of the northern and southern wings of the democratic party, respectively, for the presidency, while Senator Rice, from his wide experience with the Indiana and popularity in Congress and with the general public, was not any less prominent than the others. They were as well known as hosts as legislators, and in those exciting times many were the enjoyable occasions in these houses. Mr. Douglas became very popular with the patriotic young men of the neighborhood by the encouragement he gave to them in their efforts to raise a military company for the service of the government under Mr. Lincoln, against whom he had been a candidate; and one at least of his strong Union speeches made then to the boys is yet remembered in the neighborhood.

During the civil war Douglas Hospital was located in the row, and the rest of the vacant ground was covered by frame buildings in which many thousand sick and wounded were treated. Later Gen. Grant, Gen. Sherman, Mayor Emory and the papal legation were among other occupants.