Old-Time First Ward
By James Croggon, The Evening Star, June 10, 1906 [pt. 2, p. 10]
The southern portion of what was in the days of the old corporation the first ward, particularly that portion west of the President’s grounds and south of F street, long after it was mapped out in streets, avenues, etc., presented a distinctly rural appearance, this, too, despite that the town of Hamburgh, projected before the revolutionary war, was included in this section, and there had been some attempt to build up industries, such as the manufacture of glass and similar enterprises. That Hamburgh had made some progress toward becoming a town is easily inferred from the names of the lot owners, and there are a few of the original settlers represented in the ward through whose descendants come the traditions of Funkstown, as Hamburgh was commonly known.
At or near the intersection of New York and Virginia avenues, according to tradition, there was quite a vineyard in the colonial days, and wine making was engaged in. It is known that when the name as well as the lots in Hamburgh were absorbed in the projected city that some of the Hamburgh people figured in the real estate operations in Washington. In the acts for the transfer of the lands for the purpose of establishing the capital this village, as well as that on the point at the foot of South Capitol street, was fully recognized, and provision made to protect the interests of lot holders. That Hamburgh, with its wharf near the foot of 21st street in the infancy of the city, was regarded as a point of importance is seen by the act of 1806, fixing the rate of hack fare from the President’s house to Hamburgh wharf at 25 cents.
The town of Hamburgh was laid off by Jacob Funk in 1771 on land he purchased six years previously, and its location may be described as a parallelogram extending from the river to between G and H streets and from 19th street to 26th street. This was laid off in squares and such streets as High Arch, Market, Persimmon, Walnut, Locust and Mulberry were designated, running nearly east and west; Water, Front, Alley and 2d, 3d, 4th and 5th streets, nearly north and south.
Land Partly Submerged
The Washington city canal was for many years in process of construction, and it was not till 1815 that the Tiber east of 12th street was confined in its walls. In that year it was formally opened from 12th street to the Eastern branch, that portion west of 12th street remaining for some years in a state of nature. With the west end of the wall, now the Monument grounds unimproved, and the south “grounds of the President” an open country, there was little promise of a city coming into existence. But the hand of man was at work and slowly and surely the city has been built up.
That portion south of F street between 17th street and the observatory grounds notwithstanding what has been said as to the settlement called Hamburgh or Funkstown, was of remarkably slow growth in the infancy of our corporate existence, excepting the eastern and northern edges. It appears that the streets were not graded and but few were as good as the old-time county roads. All improvement in this section seems to have halted at the door of the Octagon house, Col. Taylor’s, at the corner of 18th street and New York avenue, until after 1840. Seventeenth street south of New York avenue had foot pavements early in the century as far as New York avenue, and below to the wharf, early known as Burns’ and afterward as Van Ness’. It was graded in 1805. There was a slight point here on which the wharf was located, and near it a warehouse, used subsequently as a cocoonery. There was some busness done here in the days of sailing packets, and about 1820 it was a landing for the Alexandria steamboats. There were, however, few buildings in sight – only a house here and there.
Some Early Improvements
By 1800 the following persons had purchased New York avenue lots: George Small, Alex. McDonald, William Foxton, Lewis Clephane, William Simmons, J. Southgate --- the latter at the corner of 17th street – and C. Lovejoy and J.R. Gant on F street. The first valuation of the ground was six to eight cents per foot. Col. Taylor’s house was assessed at $15,000; A. Bradley’s, at the corner of 17th street, at $800, William Foxton, $400, and A. McDonald, $600, on New York avenue; and Leonard Harbaugh, $400, on F street. By 1820 Charles Glover, Commodore Decatur, J.B. Timberlake and Thomas Munroe had invested here, and the assessments on the ground were about the same. Mr. Bradley was assessed $2,700 for improvements; J.B. Timberlake, $1,200; E. Sims, $1,400; W. Foxton, $1,100, on New York avenue; Col. Taylor’s valuation had been reduced to $10,000; G. Small, $100, and Mr. Simms, $800, on F street.
About this time Mr. Samuel M. McKean, long a treasury clerk, came into the property on 17th street south of F street and erecting a fine brick residence, moved from the neighborhood of 17th and H street. This property is still the “McKean residence,” and some of his family live there.
Gen. Nathan Towson, paymaster general for a long series of years lived for a time near the K street bridge on Rock Creek, but in 1826 he purchased the two lots at the northeast corner of the square and erected the fine old residence in which he spent the latter part of his life.
Columbus Alexander, whose printing office was on the site of the Winder building in 1844, purchased lots fronting on both New York avenue and F street, where he afterward established an office with book-bindery attached, the latter conducted by Mr. John Espey. For several years this was one of the leading offices, but in 1852 the place was destroyed by fire.
Between D and E streets the early owners were David Burns, John Bullers, W. Simmons, Elias B. Caldwell and others. About 1812 Samuel Lewis, sr., a clerk in the second auditor’s office, bought a lot and erected the residence occupied by his family for years on the corner of 17th and E streets. Subsequently he bought some of the adjoining property, and his son, John, a well-known carpenter of his day, erected a home there and became his life-long neighbor.
In the next adjoining square Isaac Pollock was early interested, and a house owned by George Boyd appears to have been on the corner of E street about 1813. In 1818 Mr. Thomas Carbury bought the corner lot and erected a fine house which was for many years a prominent building, especially in the twenties, when Mr. Carbury was the mayor of the city. Mr. Carbury subsequently added several lots to his holdings and beautified his grounds.
In 1821 John Quincy Adams bought ground fronting 17th street, on which he erected a fine brick residence, one of the first pebble-dashed structures in the District, which was occupied by the Peabody family for a long period and was standing till a few years ago. The ground, in the beginning valued at 4 cents had not advanced to 10 cents in 1830, when Mr. Marbury’s house was valued at $2,000 and Mr. Adams’ at 1,200.
The home of Davy Burns was in the official plan designated as square south of square 173, and its initial value was 2 to 4 cents per foot. His cottage was valued at $1,000. This was near the mouth of the Tiber creek afterward the canal, and about the foot of 17th street there was the wharf and warehouse referred to as having been converted into a cocoonery.
Where Davy Burns Died
This mansion for years bore an assessed value of $14,000. Mrs. Van Ness died in 1832 and the general died in the forties. For a number of years the place remained in charge of a caretaker. In 1859 Mr. Thomas E. Green, a prominent Virginian and son-in-law of Father Ritchie, purchased it and afterward disposed of a portion of it to W.B. Norris. Later, for a time, it was a pleasure garden, but now the place is the home of George Washington (formerly the Columbia) University.
West of 18th street and south of F street the ground was listed at 5 cents per foot. In 1830 there was listed a $50 building, in the name of A. Reinhart, near the corner of 19th and E streets; a $400 building assessed to Wm. Harrison on 19th street south of F street, and one assessed at $500 in the name of John Lenthall’s heirs on F east of 19th street.
In this square in 1796 most of the lots on F and 18th streets had passed from David Burns to Maria Martin, and in 1800 lots 8, 9 and 10 on 19th street, to P. Rohe, F. Conrad and W. Harrison. In 1801 John Lenthall purchased a lot on F street and the following year P. Barton Key had lots on E street and 18th street, and A. Reinhard the corner of 18th and E streets. In 1804 Benj. Mackall had a lot on 18th and E streets and C. Mentz one on 18th street. In the twenties several lots, including the corner of 18th and F street became the property of Mrs. Margaret M. Meade.
Land Was Cheap Here
The square south was rated at but 2 cents per foot and was long bare of improvement, as were the squares toward the river. The assessment was from 1 to 2 cents per foot.
In the square between 19th, 20th, F and G streets, John Lenthall, in 1800 owned the corner of G and 20th streets, and later Henry M. Steiner bought part of this property. In the thirties Lenthall’s heirs had a $1,400 house and Mr. Steiner one assessed at $1,500 on this lot; Edward Simms owned a $2,000 house on F street east of 19th street, and R. Harrison and $800 building west.
In the square south P. Thomas had purchased a lot before 1800, and afterward Samuel Brook and J.L. Edwards were on this square. In the property south the ground was valued at but 2 cents, and there was but one building upon it in the thirties, Thomas Thorpe owning a $600 house on 20th street south of New York avenue. In the forties Thomas S. Bingney lived on 19th street.
The squares south of the one discussed were rated at but 1 cent per foot.
In the square known as 104, between E, F, 20th and 21st streets, the ground was rated at but 5 cents per foot in 1802 and that year the following were assessed; John Alexander, $200 on E street; W. Harrison, $120 on 21st street; C.W. Goldsborough, $1,000 on 20th street; W. McCreery, $1,000 on same; S. Ferrell, same, and J. Knapp, $1,000. In 1830 C. Freeman was assessed $400 on E street and $3,000 on 21st street; J. Forrest, $1,500 on 20th street and $250 on E street, and E. Stott, $1,000 on same.
The ground assessment was 4 and 5 cents.
South the inhabitants of Hamburg were in evidence from the names in the old deeds – Jacob Funk, Caspar Lown, G. Haitzstur, B. Spryer and others. Some of the first purchasers were E.B. Caldwell, clerk of United States Supreme Court, and J.M. Varnum and Samuel Burche appear as lessees. In the thirties J.L. Thompson paid on a $400 property, as lessee, and J.A. Wilson on $1,200. Much of the property in the two squares south came from Jacob Funk, and the valuation was but 2 cents per foot. In 1830 S. Snowden paid on $200 improvements and John Duff on $230.
Prior to 1800 the square between 21st and 22d street south of G street passed from Jacob Funk’s hands, and Samuel Miller paid on $150 improvements. In the square next south Morris and Nicholson were largely interested, but many of the lands were soon in the hands of settlers. Stephen Pleasanton purchased lot 17 on 21st and F streets, when he was assessed $600 for improvements. In 1830 Mr. Pleasanton was paying on $4,500 and Thomas Sandeford on $150, on the corner of 22d and F streets.
In the triangular squares south in 1794 Jay Thompson owned lots at 22d and E street. In the square between New York avenue and E street, and west of 21st street lots passed from the Funkstown people to various parties, and the mention of W. King’s house in part of lot 9, on New York avenue, is made in 1793. About 1800 some leases appear.
There is no record of improvement under the corporation in the early years of the last century, but by the books of 1830 a Maitland is taxed on a small amount for improvements; Thos. J. Taylor on sums of $400, $300 and $100, and H. Suttle on $200. On the north side of C street, facing the glass house was the home of Lewis Frank and assessed at $200.
The Glass House Property
Quite a business was done in the manufacture of glass, as was evident by the frequency of vessels loading at the old Hamburgh wharf.
The Ways disposed of the works to John Rogers in 1833, and in a few years thereafter, owing to the depression in business, the works shut down and the place was abandoned. It was a brick building, a portion being of two stories, over a hundred feet in length, and over thirty feet in width, and in time the walks about it became veritable glass paths from the debris deposited there. While for some years it was an abiding place for any who chose to live there, it was put to home missionary uses before 1840. Mr. David M. Wilson, the agent of the Washington City Bible Society, about 1839 gathered in one of the rooms some children from that end of the city and formed a union Sunday School, which met in the afternoons. Now and then some minister would be found to preach.
The result was that a frame building was erected south of Virginia avenue, near 22d street, where church services were occasionally and Sunday school regularly held for several years. It is believed that this enterprise played an important part in the organization of the Western Presbyterian Church, of which William Wilson was an elder.
Near the Observatory
Basil Waring, a clerk in the fifth auditor’s office, afterward in the solicitor’s office for many years, lived on New York avenue near 17th street; John N Lovejoy, a revolutionary patriot and employed in the treasury, as was his son, John N Lovejoy, jr., for many years, was residing nearly a hundred years ago in this neighborhood.
In the forties John O’Neale lived on New York avenue between 17th and 18th streets; Mr. Joseph B. Pleasants conducted a seminary near him; Mrs. Tayloe, wife of Col. Tayloe, still occupied the Octagon house at 18th street; Capt. Carbery, Mr. Lewis and Gen. Van Ness were occupying the same houses as formerly; Mr. Waring had moved to near the corner of I and 19th streets and Mr. Berryman had removed elsewhere. Capt. John Peabody, father of ex-Fire Chief J.J. Peabody, lived on 17th street between C and D streets.
Some of the early settlers of the glass-house neighborhood were Henry Suttle, a gardiner; Isaac Lucas and J.L. Thompson, carpenters; Owen McGlue and Mrs. Knoblock and Thomas Taylor. The latter it is said, when the city was young did much work in clearing the land and was perhaps the pioneer wood merchant. Under the corporation he and his son filled the position of wood corder for nearly a third of a century. He is well remembered by a few citizens for the pertinacity with which he stuck to the old style of dress – knee breeches, shad-belled coat, ruffles, cocked hat, etc.
In the forties Mr. George P. Marsh, a representative in Congress from Vermont was living on 19th street between F and G streets. Mr. Marsh was afterward minister to Persia, Turkey and other countries, and became prominent as a traveler and lecturer, Lieuts. J.C. Walshe and J.T. McLaughlin, U.S.N.; Maj. W. Turnbull and Capt. A.J. Swift, U.S.A., and De LaBarca, the Spanish minister, lived near by.