Real Estate Ventures Of George Washington

By James Croggon, The Evening Star, February 19, 1910 [pt. 2, p. 2]

When the cty was being prepared to the occupancy of the national government George Washington became interested in it as a property owner, at the time of his death having in possession a few hundred yards north of the Capitol, a lot improved by a building about completed; a square of ground near the mouth of Rock creek and several lots near the foot of 1st street west, on the ancient Buckman's point, in the locality known as Carrollsburg. The property on North Capitol street between B and C streets was the only piece improved; that in square 21, west of the observatory grounds, laid bare till about 1880, and the lots on the point are yet devoid of improvement.

It was the intention of Washington, after having served as the first citizen or President of the nation, to maintain a residence near the Capitol, in the city which bears his name, and he preferred to call it by its original name of "The Federal City." He left full evidence of this in the building erected on North Capitol street a few hundred yards north of the Capitol and the walls of which now form the upper stories of a hotel, but he died about the time it was ready for occupancy.

Washington had in 1793 bought two lots in square 734 fronting on New Jersey avenue between B and C streets, for $306.66; and on October 3, 1798, he bought the lot east, No. 16, fronting 54-1/2 feet on North Capitol street of Daniel Carroll of Duddington, at 8 cents per foot, $428.40. The latter lot was bought probably in speedy improvement, for two months later he wrote to Dr. William Thornton on the subject of building, and it appears from a letter wrtten in May following to Gen. Lincoln of Boston that he had been induced to build two houses for the accommodation of members of Congress. It also appears from his letters that Dr. Thornton was in charge of the work and that they were erected by Messrs. George Blagden, master stone cutter, and John Lenthall, clerk on the Capitol works, and December 20 he sent a check for $500 to enable Mr. Blagden to lay in the material.

There is little doubt but that the brick used in the walls was made in the vicinity, the material being at hand, and the walls were commenced in the spring. The erection of the building was not completed till about the time of his death in December, delays having occurred in the delivery of the glass. In the meantime there was deviation of the plan, Washington wishing to use it as his winter residence. It was for that day a palatial building, covering the entire front of the lot, fifty-four-and-one-half feet, three stories in height, wide entrance in the center and the apartmet large and well lighted, on the brow of the hill, and commanding an extensive view. There is little doubt, had Washington lived, it would have been the leading private dwelling in the District.

Washington died December 15, 1799, and it was not occupied by any of his family, and a few years after it was, with little alteration, restored to its original plan of two buldings and became congressional boarding houses. They were listed at $8,000 and the ground at 5 cents per foot by the corporation, and in the schedule of property attached to his will he placed the value at $15,0000. One house was occupied by A. Frost, who, with Philip Gadsden and Mrs. Ann Brodeau, owned unimproved lots nearby. John T. Frost of the office of clerk of the House of Representatives, with a fellow clerk, S. Burch, on the approach of the British in August 1814, saved may of the records by sending them out of the city, and others he removed to his house. The enemy destroyed the papers there and set fire to the buildings, completely destroying them and leaving only the blackened walls.

Under a decree of the court the property was sold by G.C. Washington, trustee, August 27, 1817, to David English and W.S. Nichols for $7,446.12 -- 13-1/2 cents per square foot -- and the former transferred his half to the latter November 18 following. Subsequently P. Morte, using the old walls, built two houses, which were rented in the twenties to John G. McDonald, long a clerk in the office of the secretary of the Senate, and John T. Frost, who held a similar position in the clerk's office of the House of Representatives. It appears that the improvement of this lot had little effect on the upbuilding of the neighborhood, for these houses with that of William Elliott, adjoining on the south side, for half a century alone marred adjacent rural conditions. In 1830 Messrs. Morte, Nichols had Baker were interested, and in May the houses and lots were offered at public sale, but there were no bidders then. In December following Nicholas Callen bought the property for $3,000, and in December, 1833, sold it to Admiral Charles Wilkes for $3,900. The latter at the same time bought from Mrs. Brodeau lot 15, adjoining on the north, 5,782 feet, for $300. The admiral was then a lieutenant in the navy and about 1840 was in command of an exploring expedition to the Pacific and antarctic expedition to the Pacific and antarctic regions, and he made his home in one of the houses several years before moving to Lafayette Square.

The street was lowered somewhat before the civil war, rendering steps necessary to reach the doors; and in the days of Shepherd, when the present grade was established, they were left still higher. Then two full stories were constructed beneath these and the Elliot building adjoining. Many years ago it was bought by the late John Talty and for some years after the war was conducted as the Hillman house. Though the property was never occupied by Washington it is a historical building, and its present condition attest the faithfulness of the masons of over a century ago as well as of the mechanics who added the lower stories.

Washington was interested in other portions of the city. It seems, however, that his nephew, William Augustoe Washington, had invested here before him and, for that matter, was an owner of Carrrollsburg lots when that town was included as a part of the city. In 1792 the latter bought of the commissioners lots 12 and 13, square 224, on the south side of G between 14th and 15th streets, one at $333.33 and the other at $266.66, or 5-1/2 and 4 cents per foot. Some of this recently sold at near $40 per foot. In 1793, Col. Washington exchanged lots in Carroollsburg for lots 2, square 606; 7, square 607, 9, square 609; 7, square 663; 3, square 664, and 8, square 704. In 1795 he sold these for 800 pounds, $2.66 to the pound to Armand Gouger.

In the Carrollsburg section Gen. Washington in 1793 acquired lots 12, 13 and 14, square 667, for $1,066.66, and 4, 5 and 6, square E. 667, for like amount. These are on the east and west sides of Water street between U and V streets southwest, and cost about 8 cents per foot. About this time it was supposed that this section, already known as the "Port of Carrollsburg," would continue as the maritime portion of Washington, for the water was quite deep in the channel near the shore and east of Buchman point was a good harbor. Though there is recovered evidence of vessels clearing for the Port of Carrollsburg from foreign countries, but of little importance was it as to trade, and but few of the lots were utilized for building purposes. These lots were in the schedule of the property of Washington filed with his will and he estimates the value at 12 cents per foot; but they were listed for taxation at 3 cents. In the sale of them by George C. Washington, as trustee, in 1817 they brought but 3 cents per foot, the purchaser being Charles Glover. This ground then was valued by the corporation at but half a cent per foot, and is yet unimproved save by a frame building.

To Washington's will was attached a schedule of his property, lands, buldings, stocks, etc., aggregating a value of $530,000. In Washington he names under the head of lots "2, near the Capitol, square 634, cost $63 and with the buildings, $15,000," and "No. 5, 12, 13, and 14, the last water lots on the Eastern branch in square 667, containing 34,438 square feet, at 12 cents, $4,132."

In notes he states that he was favored to the price of the lots in square 634, on condition of building two brick houses of three stories, otherwise they would have cost about $1,350. As to the lots on the Eastern branch, he says they are advantageously situated on the water, and although many lots less convenent have sold higher, he rates them at 12 cents only.

His other property in the city, square 21, between D, E, 25th and 26th streets northwest, he bequeathed to Col. G.W.P. Castil, grandson of his wife and his ward. As stated above, this square through tax sales passed to other parties. About 1880 this was subdivided and since has been partially improved, near $10,000 worth of dwellings being there, and the ground is taxed on a value of twenty to thirty-five cents per foot.

The greatest appreciation has been in square 634, between New Jersey avenue, North Capitol, B and C streets; his building being now included in the Hotel Burton, 215 North Capitol street. This is now the property of the John Talty estate and is assessed at $12,000 and now leased to H.E. Burton. The improvements on the square are listed for about $200,000 and ground at from $1 to $3 per foot.

In the squares on the point, No. 667, the ground is listed at 3 and 4 cents and a frame building on Water street, betwee U and V streets, near the lower end of 1st street west, is valued at $100. The water lots in square E 667 opposite are charged $1.80 per front foot.