Old Washington.
The Baltimore and Ohio Depot and Surroundings

By James Croggon, The Evening Star, October 25, 1913 [pt. 2, p. 2]

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Square No. 632, between C and D streets and North Capitol street, and New Jersey avenue, which is one of those to be included in the park extending from the plaza in front of the Terminal station and the Capitol, became the property of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad about 1832. The railroad, however, established its depot at the northwest corner of Pennsylvania avenue and 2d street, and from 1835 to 1852 passengers and freight were landed there. About 1850, in consequence of raising the grade of Indiana avenue a few feet, the track west of New Jersey avenue had to be abandoned, and then the company prepared the square for its terminal facilities. Originally the Tiber Creek flowed northwestward and nearly cut off the northwest corner of the square. In the archives of the old corporation of Washington there is evidence that the south side of D street east of New Jersey avenue was one of the places designated by Mayor Smallwood in 1822 and a place for cleaning and putting up fish, shad and herring . When the railroad went into operation, the city corporation erected the engine house and other buildings about the corners of the squares, and when the depot was erected at that point in 1852 freight track and warehouses were built along the northern side.

It may readily be supposed that this depot, being that of the only railroad leading into Washington, was a prominent place, but for many years there was little settlement around it. In a previous article we have stated some of the residences in the square south along New Jersey avenue, but soon after the commencement of the civil war business sprang up.

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On the spot where the Hotel Engle is now located, once a pond, the Emmett House was conducted by Dan O’Brien. It was a very popular place, for its proprietor for a long time was a stonecutter on the Capital extensions, and having a very extensive acquaintance, it was liberally patronized. On C street eastward, Bill Lee opened a refreshment saloon and poolroom and it was a great place for the colored race. Bill was as well known to the whites as to his own race because of his heavy weight, nearly three hundred pounds, when half that weight was the proportion to his height.

South of the Emmet House was the Senate House, a small two-story building, in which Jack O’Leary conducted a saloon, and it was said that he amassed a fortune. Later Lazari, an Italian, opened a candy and fruit store and in a few years retired from business with a competency and returned to his native country.

Others on this side of the avenue were the Dahlers, who conducted a tobacco business and resided there for over forty years; Litz’s boot and shoe store first at 231 and since 1877 at 241; Lambrecht L. Pabst, C. Deitz and J. Clay Colson, who was said to be of the mountaineer family of that name in Kentucky, were in the saloon business, and Wetzel Bros. were barbers there for a long time.

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Besides the trade from the depot, and the travel to and from the capitol, the location there of the stables and car sheds of the Washington and Georgetown Railroad Company about 1862 helped the neighborhood. These stables and car sheds were on the site of the Brevoort row of dwellings erected some years since by Thomas W. Smith.

On the south of these is standing the Maltby building, now occupied as an annex to Congress, which with other property east of Arthur place will be taken in the parking. The street cars then ran from this point up Pennsylvania avenue, first to near the corner of 13th street and later to 15th and G streets, and after this place was abandoned by the railroad company a base ball park was conducted here for some years, and to some extent this site was used by circuses and other shows.

The old tavern stand, first a frame, now the brick known as the Plaza, at the southwest corner of Arthur place and C street was the famous Christy Boyle’s Hotel. It will not be disturbed. The old Four Gun Battery, a row of four bricks south of it, has long disappeared.

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Especially during the war were there scenes which it is to be hoped will never be witnessed again – troops passing through the city by thousands, most of them being debarked a few yards north of the station. After the first battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1864, and when the call of Mr. Lincoln for 500,000 men was being answered, the far-famed “soldiers’ rest” was established just outside of the station.

Some years before Mr. James Crutchet, who resided in a house at the northeast corner of North Capitol and C streets, had erected a long frame building, in which he established a factory for making canes from wood from Mount Vernon. About July 2 the government took possession of this building for the purpose of subsisting and quartering United States troops arriving and departing from Washington. The subsistence under Col. Beckwith was placed in charge of Thomas H. Donohue, now living in South Washington at the age of eighty-three years, and under him James H. Searle was assistant, with a corps of cooks and waiters. Meals were prepared and served to soldiers, and at one time no less than sixteen regiments and smaller bodies of troops were furnished with meals within twenty-four hours.

Under Gen. Rucker a Capt. Smith of New Jersey superintended the quartering and directing of the troops. Subsequently John Wurdeman, long an employe of the quartermaster’s department, who had recently returned from the west, took up the duties of Capt. Smith. Later Capt. E.H. Camp was the military officer in charge for soldiers, who were disinclined to obey any one not wearing shoulder straps.

Soon after the cane factory became the feeding hall other buildings were erected and here the war closed the “rest” had become quite an attractive place, convenient fencing having been placed to facilitate business.

It need not be said that the scenes here were often varied and some especially pathetic. It was not only soldiers’ wants supplied in the way of sleeping and eating, but occasionally civilian prisoners from the south were brought here, and it is remembered that a number of Washingtonians, after spending months in southern prisons, were among them, it was not always orderly about the “rest,” and once or twice there came near being a riot. The “rest” finally closed, when, about the fall of Richmond in 1865, the arrival of troops had ceased.

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At one time there was a question of authority between the civilian officials of the rest and the lieutenant colonel of a regiment, who threatened to arrest them. The “bucktails” of Pennsylvania were there, and for a time it looked as if a battle was impending, but when the latter took sides with a show of superior force the threat was withdrawn.

On one occasion a regiment arrived soon after the murder of a soldier at a house on Maine avenue southwest, and the soldiers, without more ado, at once got beyond control of the officers and mobbed the house. First of all, they threw out the furniture and piled it against the frame building, set it on fire, and then formed a cordon around the house and prevented the old volunteer fire companies from reaching the scene. After the house was completely destroyed the soldiers were dispersed by a squadron of cavalry.