Old Time Burch Hill
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
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
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
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.