IN OLD WASHINGTON (Northwest of the Capitol)
By James Croggon, The Evening Star, February 18, 1911 [p. 5]
Northwest of the Capitol grounds, with the exception of building sites on the west side of North Capitol street, common waste would describe the conditions between the picket enclosure of the Capitol and the Tiber creek during the first half of the nineteenth century. As previously noted, while B and 1st streets were the bounds of the Capitol reservation, a semi-circular wooden picket fence and, afterward, an iron railing enclosed less than half of the grounds west of the building, consequently the neglected conditions of square 633, whose lines on New Jersey avenue, B, C and 1st streets could only be approximated, which prevailed.
The ascent of Capitol Hill on the north side was more pronounced and comparatively little traveled when the people were more given to walking than now. There was, however, a well worn path about on the line of New Jersey avenue, a continuation of what was known as the "ridge route." This route was from the west end of the city, by F street, to the City Hall and then, flanking the stream down Indiana avenue, east of 3d street and at 1st street, a crossing was made on stepping stones, afterward on a wooden bridge, which was superseded about 1850 by a culvert.
The grade of New Jersey avenue at that time was fully fifteen feet below the present grade, and, therefore, it was an uphill pull from C street to the Capitol. That portion immediately north of the Capitol was elevated ground, about on the level with the Capitol plaza. The soil was of a tenacious red clay. The descent was very gradual to as far north as D street, and westward the fall was somewhat abrupt.
Site Bought by Washington
Washington planted quite a number of trees about this house and also in the Capitol grounds, one of which, an elm, is pointed out today as a survivor. Historic as the property of the father of his country, it became more so from the British burning it during the invasion August 23, 1814. Washington never occupied it himself, as he died just about the time of its completion. John T. Frost, a clerk of the House of Representatives, lived there during the war, and when it was known that the British were en route to the Capitol he and a fellow clerk, P. Burch, succeeded in saving a number of papers and documents, which were sent to the country. The current papers, however, he brought to this house, and they were destroyed with the building. The bare walls left standing and the ground extending through to New Jersey avenue were sold by G.C. Washington, trustee in the suit to settle Washington's estate, in 1817.
The following year two houses were constructed by Peter Morte and John G. McDonald, who had come to the neighborhood a few years before, a clerk in the office of the secretary of the Senate, had his residence there, before building at the northwest corner of Delaware avenue and C streets. In the thirties the property passed to Nicholas Callan, and a few years later to the then Lieut. Charles Wilkes, U.S.N., who made his home here till about 1860, in the meantime adding to his holdings.
In Command of Expedition
Adjoining on the south lot 17 was bought by William Elliot about 1818 and used as the family home for sixty years or more. Mr. Elliot, a native of England, was a man of high scientific attainments and a friend of Dr. Thornton, the superintendent of patents and for years the only clerk in that office. A small family residence he had here at first, later erecting a three-story brick building, which is yet standing as the upper portion of the five-story building now on the site. Immediately in the rear of his house he had an observatory where there were wont to gather those interested in the sciences, especially astronomy, and these included Dr. Thornton, the professors of Georgetown College and the Washington Seminary. He was a public-spirited citizen, devoted to the interests of the national and local government, and to him is credited the design of the Treasury building, with its colonade, and the patent office, which were for years regarded as the city's handsomest structures. For many years he was the surveyor of the city and after leaving the patent office became a successful patent agent.
The above-noted buildings were the only improvements on this and the square west down to 1850, if we except the stabling attached to those houses on New Jersey avenue. About this period three or four houses were on the east side of New Jersey avenue, the most imposing being that now used as an oyster house.
First Beer Saloon Opened
The square west of New Jersey avenue had on the B street front a blacksmith and wheelwright shop in the late fifties, subsequently destroyed by fire. On the northwest corner of the square, 1st and C streets, there were three frame houses, the property of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, occupied by its employes. South of these, on 1st street, lived David King and N. Murphy. There were four or five sheds or stables in the northwest part of the square.
At the southwest corner of Arthur place and C street a three-story brick hotel in the fifties became widely known as Christy Doyle's and during the war there were many gatherings there.
The first real use of the east portion of the square was by the Washington and Georgetown (now Capital Traction) Company. This was in 1862, when it erected its car sheds and stables there. This with the location of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad nearby, led to other improvements in the neighborhood. In 1863 the emergencies of the war demanded railroad communications between the north and the south, and the track was laid in C and 1st streets, down Maryland avenue, connecting with the Alexandria railroad.