Old Washington
Judiciary Square – Part II

By James Croggon, The Evening Star, May 10, 1913 [pt. 2, p. 4]

The location of the jail in the center of Judiciary Square had given it the popular name of the "Jail Lot," and for nearly twenty years it had stood there, the solitary improvement in the square. Its location had not been conducive to the appreciation of property thereabouts, the price of which was from a half cent per foot to 5 cents, and few and far between were the houses; scarcely any in view to the northward, a few straggling ones to the eastward, and until 6th street was reached large spaces separated them. Southward the two squares flanking 4-1/2 street showed scarcely any more improvements until about 1820. The public grounds had extended along C street and 4-1/2 street to the Avenue.

Before the war of 1812 a small house at the northwest corner of 5th and D streets was owned by James Hoban, and there was also a small brick building on the northwest corner of 5th and F streets, and this was occupied in the twenties by Francis Brooks, grocer. On the north was a house occupied by Robert Brown, and west of Mr. Brooks Mary Johnson lived in 1820; and on the square south fronting the city hall were J.D. & C.W. Boteler, gun and lock smiths; John Varden, who at one time kept the museum at 4-1/2 and D streets, and was the curator of the museum in the patent office, the forerunner of the National Museum, Giovanni Andrie, one of the Italian sculptors engaged on the Capitol, from about 1816, and south Jonathan Appler had opened a boarding house.

Used as Pasture Land
Before the year 1800 a city hotel was started on 3d street above D, and north of this the land had been used for farming purposes, and that portion of the square appeared to have been used as the pasture. At the corner of 3d and D streets Moses Young, who had served in the revolutionary war and been associated with Benjamin Franklin and Col. Henry Laurens in diplomatic service and for many years a clerk in the State Department, had his home, and his son David resided there afterward.

Most of the ground east of 4th street was given over to brick making. On E street James Eslin was an early butcher, but subsequently had a brickyard near by, and afterward kept a public house on Columbia road near the old national race course, popularly known as Holmeads, which flourished from 1804 to the late fifties, and as is the case with champion baseball games the faces there often drew public men thereto, the House and Senate frequently adjourning early to enable the members to hasten to the course.

About the year 1816 Nathan Cook, a popular English bricklayer, erected a home on the east side of 3d street between F and G, and his countrymen were in the habit of gathering about the place, and this, together with the fact that during the British invasion of Washington a detachment had camped not far off, near the intersection of Massachusetts and New Jersey avenues, caused that locality to be named “English Hil,” which name has survived to this day. South of this were James Story and Joseph Scoffield, and John Wilkinson was on G street between 2d and 3d and William H. Sweeney on E street between 3d and 4th. There were east of the square the brickyards of John A. Wilson, and subsequently those of William Degges, the father of the well known family of bricklayers.

Charles Pettitt, a carpenter, in 1818 built a small dwelling on E street a few doors east of 6th street, and some time afterward became attached to the office of Secretary of the Treasury, and for many years was in that department. He was the father of the late C.W. Pettitt, an octogenarian, who also served in that department to 1861.

Early Capital Hatter
At the corner of 6th street Ambrose Lynch kept a grocery for many years and above him on that street was Mason Piggot, a hatter, who subsequently for many years was a police officer, and on this street were Mrs. Mary Edmonston, John and James Bowen, a jail guard and constable, respectively. Near the corner of D street was the residence of William Hewitt, who was register of the city from 1810 to 1838, as also the secretary of the board of aldermen from 1812 to 1838, the said house being a large, three-story brick building erected about 1802 and demolished a few years since to make room for the Stewart house. On the east side of 6th street was the residence of Charles Bulfinch, architect of the Capitol for many years, and nearby was the carpenter shop of Aaron Van Coble, a leading builder of that day. On the south front of the square west of Judiciary Square fronting Louisiana avenue, now occupied by the Police Court building, was the Welch property, occupied by Thomas and Valentine Welch, and that of Reuben Burdine, long a clerk in the ordnance office, and on the corner of 6th street there was his fine flower and vegetable garden.

About 1820 the American Theater was erected on the south side of Louisiana avenue by Messrs. Warren and Wood of Philadelphia, and here it was that the father of Joe Jefferson was the manager when this celebrated actor was a small child. In its early days it was the scene of many triumphs of the actors of that day, among them the Elder Booth, Messrs. Warren and Wood and Mrs. Chapman. Later it became the assembly rooms and during the civil war it was the Canterbury, probably the best known to the soldier element during the civil war, for soldiers crowded the house nightly when such performers as Agnes Robinson, Julia Mortimer, Kate Pennoyer and Jim Mulligan were the nightly attractions. Adjoining on the west side was the Shakespeare Hotel, under the management of Ernest Guttschilch, a place patronized by actors, but it is related that a few times when business did not pay and room was demanded the actors utilized the green room of the theater.

First Unitarian Church
At the corner of 6th street was the livery stable of Jim Smith, colored, east of whom was the public house of J.S. McCubbin and the homes of William Thumlert, a shoe merchant; Robert Moffit, a grocer, and Mrs. Prudence Aiken, who kept the public baths. Over them was a room known as the long room, in which amusements were given and meetings held, and it was here that the congregation of the Unitarian Church held its initial meetings, John Quincy Adams and the Bulfinches being the leading members. At the corner of 4-1/2 and C streets was the boarding house of Mrs. Ann Polk, who had as her guests Senators E.A. Brown of Ohio and James Noble of Indiana, Representatives Jonathan Jennings of Indiana, George Plummer of Pennsylvania, Thomas E. Ross of Ohio, John Todd of Pennsylvania and Joseph Vance of Ohio and others. On the opposite side of C street was the circus building, where many entertainments were given. The Havenner bakery and the residence of Thomas Havenner had been located since 1815. On the site now occupied by the Fendall building, 4-1/2 and D streets, was the boarding house of Mrs. Franzoni, widow of Giuseppe Franzoni, the sculptor, who had done much work on the Capitol. South of Mrs. Franzoni lived Thomas Stanley, who for a lifetime was a leading house and sign painter at the corner of 12th and E streets, in which business he was followed by his son, who made the record of the family extend over three-fourths of the century, each of them reaching ripe old age.

The real estate market in this vicinity lagged until it was known that the city hall was to be located in this square, and then the prices advanced beyond the mills per foot to 4 cents and over per foot, those for corner lots being a few cents more.

Increase Was Permanent
It was not, however, a spasmodic increase, but a gradual, permanent one, and within ten years of the corporation and courts being established in the city hall the vacant spots, especially westward, were rapidly improved, albeit there were few buildings of any magnitude other than churches and the Masonic Hall.

The Masons, whose principal hall was then on 11th street near the corner of C street, the site now included in the Post Office Department, before 1820 looked to the erection of the new hall, but no definite action was then taken. The city council was then meeting in Masonic Hall on 11th street, and the courts were located in the old Capitol building, 1st and A streets northeast. The corner stone of the city hall was laid August 22, 1820, and the Unitarian Society built a church at the northeast corner of 6th and D streets and was formally opened by Rev. David Little, the pastor, in 1821.

The Masons had for several years been looking to the erection of a permanent hall in a more central location, and selected the southwest corner of 4-1/2 and D streets, on which they erected the building yet standing. The corner stone was laid September 19, 1826, by Grand Master J.N. Moulder, on which occasion P.G.M. W.W. Seaton delivered the oration. The upper story was used for Masonic purposes and the others sublet for amusement and meeting purposes. Here was held Andrew Jackson’s inaugural ball in 1833, and also one attended by Gen. Harrison in 1841. A popular museum was in this building, and Signor Blitz, a boy of eighteen, appeared here as a sleight-of-hand and ventriloquist performer.

April 10 of that year the corner stone of the First Presbyterian Church, Rev. Reuben Post, which had been formed on South Capitol street in 1812, was laid with Masonic ceremonies a few yards south of the hall above described, and it was the church of Rev. Dr. Byron Sunderland for about half a century, and is now served by Rev. Dr. MacLeod.

Home of Wesley Chapel
Wesley Chapel, formed mainly of Methodists from the Foundry, then at 14th and G streets, on the site now occupied by the Colorado building, in 1828 erected a small chapel at the southwest corner of 5th and F streets and over fifty years ago it gave place to the present edifice. During its existence the present pastor, Rev. W.I. McKenney, has been preceded by some of the most efficient members of the Baltimore conference. Till near the middle of the last century there was no improvement north of the square other than about 5th and G streets. In the 30's the Lords, Catons, O’Donoghues and others settled thereabout and the name of Lord’s corner attached. A high bank immediately north of the pension building was the scene of some executions. Before the 20’s a scaffold was erected for the hanging of a soldier for the murder of a comrade and a large crowd gathered. Just as the prisoner was led from his cell en route to the gallows, Mr. Brent, chief clerk of the State Department, appeared with the commutation of the sentence to life imprisonment. The crowd became much excited and in a little while became clamorous for the life of the prisoner, but it was induced to disperse.

Near the corner of 4th and F streets in the 40's was the home of a family given to quarreling daily, and the eruptions caused the house to be known as Mt. Etna, not far to the eastward was a neat cottage, from its shape taking the name of "Ace of Diamonds."