In Old Washington

By James Croggon, The Evening Star, February 25, 1911 [pt. 2 p. 3]

There is only a little of the original topography of that section of Washington between the Capitol grounds and the Union station to be seen, owing to the streams having been changed to sewers, the low places filled in, hills cut down and the plats of squares changed by the alteration of street lines to conform with the lines of the plaza in front of the station. And though there was but little settlement north of C street until long after the middle of the last century, much of this territory has an interesting history, dating back to the days when in front of the station flowed a stream which had its source near Kendall Green, and the Tiber, from a spring near Rock Creek Church, coursing through Swampoodle, flowing between the present station and North Capitol streets and at F street taking a southwest course.

The descent from the high ground to these streams was irregular, as may be seen from the elevation at the northeast corner of North Capitol and C streets and the depression east of Delaware avenue between C and D streets, which alone remain at the natural grade. It was country then for the city boys who wandered along the banks of the stream, and were interested in watching the few trains of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, but, owing to the location of the depot, at New Jersey avenue and C street, it became an important locality.

Laid Out for Building Sites
The square between New Jersey avenue, C, D and North Capitol streets was laid out for eleven building sites in the original plan of Washington, but it was never used for residential purposes, and in the early days it was totally unfit therefore. In about 1852, however, it became the site of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad depot. Situated at the base of Capitol Hill, which sloped down to the Tiber, it was only a few feet above its waters. In 1835, when the Baltimore and Ohio railroad was laid across this square from the northeast to the southwest corner and by way of C street, it crossed the Tiber and ran into a depot at the northwest corner of Pennsylvania avenue and 2d street, which, until 1852, was the sole outlet for travel by rail from this city.

There was little settlement near this square, a small frame house near the corner of New Jersey avenue and F street, occupied by John Logan, who then operated the mill on Tiber creek near L street; the residence of Ignatius Boone near North Capitol and I streets, and the fine old mansion of Sam Burche, chief clerk of the House of Representatives, on the southeast corner of New Jersey avenue and I street, which yet stands, being ??? to the northward in the 30s. The ???west there were perhaps a half ??? houses in the neighborhood of 3d ????, the nucleus of "English ???? on Indiana avenue near 6th ??? here was, in the thirties, Mrs. ???? grocery store.

Stream Was Unsightly
A stream which crossed Judiciary Square and struck Indiana avenue at 3d street united with the yber at 1st and Indiana avenue, and, being in an unsightly gully, did not add to the appearance of the neighborhood, although it was in keeping with the hog pen on the north side of the avenue east of 2d street.

To add to the inconveniences, both the Tyber and the Indiana avenue streams overflowed sometimes, and on at least two occasions considerable damage was done. In 1838 the first broke from its banks in the neighborhood of the census office, and, sweeping the square south, carried away the fencing of houses fronting on Pennsylvania avenue, and so undermined the back building of the noted Andrew Jackson tavern as to wreck it. In 1856 th eTyber again broke loose, and Foy's Hotel, at New Jersey avenue near D street, was completely wrecked and washed down the stream.

In 1852 this square was taken as the site of the depot, for at that time, Congress having determined on grading and graveling New Jersey and Indiana avenues, and covering the stream in the first named, the grade was raised several feet, rending the use of the avenue depot impracticable. The business of the railroad had increased,d more room being needed, and, owning this square on which before had been located an engine house, a depot was erected thereon. This was completed in 1854 and was the city's only outlet north for nearly thirty years, and one of the two until the opening of the Union station. Not long after the opening here it was necessary to expand, and freight buildings were erected on the square northeastward. Some little settlement followed the location of the depot here, but there was no great improvement until war times.

Important Point in War
Needless to say that from 1861 to 1865 it was an all-important point. President Lincoln had been inaugurated, but there was a spirit of unrest in the community, while relatives and friends were being separated, espousing the cause of the north or the south, and there were frequent clashes. Along in April, 1861, when in every portion of the District military companies were being formed, the arrival of every train excited interest, and there was uncertainty as to whether the trains were bringing in friends or foes. It was then the center of itnerest, and large crowds were about the depot day and night. A number of Pennsylvania troppos had gotten safely through Baltimore, but Aprilo 19 the 6th Massachusetts Regiment met with resistance there, a few being killed and several wounded. To say that there was excitement would be putting it mildly. Blanched faces were seen, and a feeling of uncertainty prevailed in the community when it was known that the way to Washington was blocked.

Several days passed and here were no arrivals and in the meantime the railroad tracks were guarded for some distance north of the city by District troops. The 3d Brigade of Massachusetts, under command of Gen. Butler, after the encounter in Baltimore, landed on the Naval Academy wharf at Annapolis and the troops were quartered on the old frigate Constitution (Old Ironsides) and in other places. This command was joined here a few days after by the 7th Regiment of the New York state militia, Col. Lefferts. They at once marched up the Annapolis and Elkridge railroad and at Annapolis Junction met a train accompanied by District troops. On their arrival here a large crowd greeted them at the depot and they were heartily cheered as they passed up the Avenue to the President's House. After this the arrival of troops from the north was almost continuous.

Home of James Crutchett
Just east of this square was the residence of James Crutchett, as was also a large frame building in which Mount Vernon canes were manufactured. A company of the 6th U.S. Infantry took quarters in his house and during the war other commands were stationed there. The building above referred to as a cane factory was used as the Soldiers' Retreat and the government soon errected a large frame building, to accommodate the tripps, known as the Soldiers' Rest. During the war the place was in charge of Maj. E.M. Camp and thousands of soldiers, refugees and paroled prisoners here were fed and afforded rest. Among other incidents which took place here was the placing on trains of suspicious persons ordered out of the city by the military authorities. Such persons were corralled at the central guard house and when the time came, they were marched out and placarded "Thief," "Swindler," "Beat," etc., and headed by drum and fife corps under guard of soldiers, were paraded on the Avenue and on the principal streets before being sent off. The "Rogues' March" became thus well known to the boys of Washington.

After the war was over there were busy seasons in this section until the completion of Union station. No improvement of North Capitol street had been attempted north of C street and the latter was simply a dirt road during the war. Forty years since, however, the grades of New Jersey avenue and C street were raised under the board of public works and the grade is now fifteen feet or more above that of the old depot.

Mr. McDonald's Fine Home
In the square east of the depot, the southwest portion is still on the original grade, twenty-five feet or more above the pavement. As early as 1816 John G. McDonald bought the lot on the northwest corner of Delaware avenue and C street, the present site of the Senate stables and No. 3 engine house. Mr. McDonald lived in the Washington house on North Capitol street at the time, but about 1830 he built a fine three-story brick residence, which was his home and that of his son, William J. McDonald, for many years. Father and son were clerks in the ofice of the secretary of the Senate, and their home was a very attractive one, surrounded by trees, plants, etc., making it one of the show places of Capitol Hill.

Overlooking the railroad tracks near the corner of North Capitol and D streets was the residence of John Skirving, an architect, for about ten years, from 18??. This was also a pretty place on the brow of the hill, surrounded by gardens.

About 1845 James Crutchett bought at the northeast corner of North Capitol and C streets and erected on the summit of the hill a frame cottage, yet standing as part of the Yznaga home. Mr. Crutchett called the place he Bethesda cottage and it was set out with trees, flowers and plants. He was the originator of a solar gas which he manufactured on the premises, lighting his home therewith, and it is believed to have been the first place in the District where gas was used. Regarding his experiment as a success, he secured an appropriation to light the Capitol building, as well as the grounds, and on the old dome of the Capitol a mast surmounted by a lantern eighty feet above the dome was used. The light was one of the brightest ever seen in the District, but for some reason, probably he cost, the project was abandoned and the following year contracts were made with the recently incorporated gaslight company.

In the square east of the above, between Delaware avenue and 1st street east, north of C street, Ephriam French, in the late forties, erected at the southwest corner of the square a three-story building, yet standing there. Mr. French lived there several years, and is well remembered by man older residents for his work at tile setting in the Capitol. Just east of the above the three-story frame house now there was erected soon after, and for many years was a residence of David McComb, who had spent nearly his entire life in the navy as captain's clerk, and in his old age was for many years commandant's clerk at the navy yard. Later on at the corner of 1st and C streets Roth's brewery was established.