Old Wasington. Gadsby痴 Row

By James Croggon, The Evening Star, January 24, 1914 [pt. 2, p. 7]

The announcement in The Star of the 3d instant of the purchase of the Gadsby property, on the corner of 21st and I streets northwest, recalls much interesting history to old Washingtonians, involving also national events and characters. The location was better known in the early days of Washington as the site of the old Franklin House, established by William O誰eale, and, in fact, it was from the first one of the leading locations of the city. This square was settled about the time the famous Six Buildings on the square west and the Round Tops, near Washington Circle, were erected, the first settlement thereon being about at the corner of 21st street, where Jacob Gillchrist and Jacob Welsh purchased, in 1791.

On the 20th street side of the square William O誰eale, who was engaged largely in cutting cord wood on the surrounding squares, had a wood yard, and he also had a house on I street next to the corner of 20th street, and here he first established the famous O誰eale痴 tavern. Philip Barton key owned the corner lot, and about midway of the square in which is now known as the Cleveland Abbe house, was erected, soon after 1800, a residence by Richard S. Briscoe, one of the clerks in the State Department. Joel Brown, a Georgetown merchant, owned lots 9 and 10, on the corner of 21st street, and about 1802 Mr. O誰eale succeeded him, having a boarding house on the corner, as also a small dwelling.

O誰eale Girls Handsome
O誰eale痴 tavern, known afterward as the Franklin House, soon became popular in general, since the family included three handsome girls, a mother of as genial disposition as the head of the family and a son. The house became the attractive place for the young men of that day, there were suitors galore for the girls, and it is unnecessary to say that Mr. O誰eale had many friends among the government officials and citizens.

It was here that Gen. Eaton, senator from Tennessee, became closely associated with the O誰eale family. The beautiful Peggy O誰eale attracted much attention, and it was not long before she married Lieut. Timberlake of the navy, who, on a voyage soon afterward committed suicide. In a few months Mrs. Timberlake was looked on as a charming young widow, and it was soon said she was the fianc of Gen. Eaton, which turned out to be true as she married him shortly afterward. When her husband was called to the cabinet of Gen. Jackson, the ladies of the other Secretaries discountenanced her for being the daughter of a tavern-keeper, and she was not admitted into society. A merry war ensued which resulted in breaking up the cabinet, Gen. Jackson withdrawing from the Second Presbyterian Church (now the New York Avenue Presbyterian), of which Mr. Campbell was the minister. Another of the daughters married Lieut. Randolph of the navy, whose descendants are yet with us, and the third daughter became the wife of the Rev. French S. Evans, and there survives her one son. John O誰eale graduated from West Point and became an officer of the United States Dragoons.

There were also on this square in the early days Joseph Mechlin, Dr. John Bullar, Timothy Caldwell, Benjamin Coombs and Mr. Frisby, all of them connected with the government, and near the middle of the square was an auction and commission house conducted by Mr. Lovell, who a short time before came from Philadelphia; and later the square housed others of prominence, among them Robert J. Walker of Mississippi, senator and once Secretary of the Treasury Gen. J.E. Eaton, senator from Tennessee and Secretary of War; Rev. Dr. Smith Pyne, rector of St. John痴 Church; Gen. J.G. Totten, Col. J.J. Abert, Commodore Chauncey, Commodore Ramsey, Maj. Graham, Rev. Charles A. Davis, long a chaplain in the navy.

Unsightly Rear View
The row had a good front view, being north of the intersection, but the rear view was anything else than a fine one, for the ground descended rapidly to the banks of Slash run a few yards north of street, and for many years it bore the appearance of a public dump.

South of this square were the two triangles on either side of Pennsylvania avenue, which were long unmarked, but about 1807 the Western market was established on the southwest corner of 20th and I streets, and it soon became the center of that ward. It was not only a market, but above it a town hall used for all kinds of purposes; fraternal organizations, temperance societies, club meetings, balls and fairs, and during the time when the famous Laurenzo Dow was preaching the gospel was preaching the gospel here he made it his headquarters.

The Union Fire company also met here and it had in place of a bell for a number of years a triangle which was worn smooth by its frequent use. The latter was subsequently succeeded by a bell. From 1807 until 1852 the market downstairs flourished and did not interfere much with the housing of the fire apparatus on the west end of the building. Phillip Williams was the market master from 1807 until 1835, and he was succeeded by William D. Serren, who served until the destruction of the building by fire February 1, 1852. The market was never rebuilt at this place, and it being about the time when the late William Forsyth was engaged in marking out the triangles and circles, the lines of these triangles were fixed.

There was at this time a sentiment favoring green groceries, and it was some time before any desire for a market in that part of the city resulted in relocating the market house, which was finally located on K street between 19th and 20th and subsequently moved to 21st and K streets where it now stands.

Descendant of Irish King
Mr. O誰eale was said to be a lineal descendant of the last King of Tyrone, Ireland, who had come to this country in the early days of the republic and, with many of his countrymen, settled in the neighborhood of Chester, Pa. About 1790 these people separated, some going west and settling on the present site of the city of Tyrone, while O誰eale came to this city. He was very prominent in the local politics of that day a member of the city council. However, he failed as a money maker, and, popular as the Franklin House had been, Mr. O誰eale, about 1823, was forced to sell. John Gadsby, who had conducted a tavern in Baltimore and in Alexandria for seven years, bought him out. The National Hotel Company, having erected is building on the site of the Weightman building, at the corner of 6th street and the Avenue, Mr. Gadsby was invited to take the management, and he opened the same in November, 1820. The Franklin House was the scene of the dinner given by the corporation of Washington to Lafayette and other prominent events during Mr. Gadsby痴 administration. Mr. Gadsby added to the row, and his family and that of his son-in-law, Maj. John H. McBlair, lived there for years. Among others who lived in the row were Baron Stackelberg, the Swedish minister; Commodore Patterson and Col. R.K. Meade, the father of the general and the admiral of that name.

O誰eale, on the sale of the Franklin House, returned to the frame residence adjoining the corner of 20th street, and continued the tavern business, where his death occurred in 1837 and his widow continued the business and died there in 1860 at the age of ninety years.

About the next improvement of importance was the large house now known as the Cleveland Abbe residence, erected about 1800, and owned by Timothy Caldwell. This was the residence of James Monroe when he was the Secretary of State in Madison痴 day, and he left there for his inauguration as President. He was escorted to the Capitol by a cavalcade of some 300 citizens who assembled at O誰eale痴 tavern on the corner. Subsequently it was occupied by Sir Stratford Channing and Sir Charles Vaughn, ministers from Great Britain, and later by the owner, Frank Marcoe of the State Department.