A Down-Town Square
By James Croggon, The Evening Star, July 15, 1906 [pt. 4, p. 1]
An idea of the appearance of that portion of the city skirting Pennsylvania avenue between 13th and 14th streets, as to its ancient topography, may be obtained from a glance up the present steep ascent of 13th street. When taken in connection with the fact that in the early days the avenue possessed little attraction for travel, the popularity of F street as a thoroughfare is explained. Little or no work had been done by the nation or city beyond the curb line, and the laying of foot pavements being at the cost of the owners of abutting property, facilities for pedestrians largely depended on them. The north side of the avenue early had a foot pavement, but it was not until 1824 that the south side was provided with a walk by Congress. The government reservations then extending from the Capitol to 6th street, with the smaller areas, more than half the cost was chargeable to the government.
The supply of water was mainly from the springs in the neighborhood of 13h and K streets, from which wooden logs conveyed the fluid from about 1810 until about 1825, when the corporation substituted to some extent iron pipes. While the President's house and the public offices received their supply by way of New York avenue, the city pipes were laid in 13th street, and in 1824 a pipe was laid westward in F street to 15th street.
That the trend of improvement was northward is clearly shown by record, but before 1830 the two triangular spaces north and south of the avenue had come into use. In that at 13th street a circular frame building housed a museum of natural history and quaint and curious objects, and before 1830 a circus performed there for several weeks. The area figured often in political campaigns as the scene of outdoor meetings of the democracy. On the corner of 13th and E streets a fire engine was located for a time prior to the location of the Franklin Fire Company on the corresponding space at 14th and E streets in 1828. The house of the Franklin company was noted as the headquarters of the Freemen's Vigilant Total Abstinence Society, which was a result of the efforts of Rev. Father Matthews and in which the leading spirits were 'Squire Clark, George Savage and others. It was long the meeting room of the Union Debating Society, the leading organization of its kind sixty years ago. Built in 1828, it was used till 1857, when the reservations on the avenue were cleared.
Eight Cents Per Foot
An Avenue Corner
The land on the square north was of the value of 5 or 6 cents per foot originally, but in twenty years was rated at from 20 to 35 cents per foot. Before the year 1800 the lots on the F street front were taken up, J. Ardry getting the corner of 13th street and Thomas Webb that on 14th street. Walter Hellen was next to Mr. Ardry, J.R. Dermott owned lots 3 and 5, Thomas Johnson, jr., lot 4, John Templeman lot 6, S. Blodgett lot 7, Mr. Templeman lot 6, S. Blodgett lot 7, Mr. Templeman lot 8 and Mr. Webb lot 9. By 1802 John Burchan and William James, who were of the register's office, had settled on the 14th street side of the square. In that year the improvements on the F street front, commencing at 13th street, were as follows: A. and W. Andry, $500; Walter Hellen, $800; J.R. Dermotts' heirs, $100; S. Blodgett, $3,500; N. Voss, $4,000, and Thomas Webb, $2,400. On the 14th street front Joseph Saul, J. Burchan, Mr. James, William Lovell and James Dougherty, $800 each. The President's stable, at G street, was unassessed. The latter became the Western Public School in 1821 and was so used for about forty years.
Number of Changes Noted
In the twenties the improvements were assessed as follows: Walter Hellenshuss, lots 1 and 2, $1,400; J.J. McDermott, lot 3, $700; T. Sutherland, $200, and R. Miller on lot 5; D. Cochran, $3,000, and B.N. Roe, $1,000 on lot 6; Dr. Thornton, $2,700 on lot 7; John Quincy Adams $6,000 on lot 8; T. Webb, $600 and R. Miller, $1,600 on lot 3, all on F street; J. and I. Cope, $200 on lot 10; John Poor and James Dawson, $1,000 each on lot 12; Wm. James, $950 and James Larned, $1,300, Robert Brown, $950 on part of lot 14, all on 14th street; J.M. arned, $1,250 on lot 15; Mr. Adams, $600, Wm. Thornton, $200 on lot 16, and Isaac Randolph, $1,300 on lot 22, on G street; Henry Miller, $2,700, lease on part of lot 24, the house long being the home of Allison Nailor. Mr. John J. Joyce owned and conducted a grocery on the Ardrary lot, 13th and F streets, and on the latter streets resided H.R. Schoolcraft of the State Department, Judge Ridgate of the Treasury; W.W. King of the land office, James Buchanan, N.P. Trist and R. Goodnow of the State Department; Elexius Simms' grocery, and the Misses Cochran's boarding house, now on F street; Arnold's High School was at the corner of 14th street where the stone residence was afterward erected and north on 14th street, Jefferson Davis resided during the Pierce administration.
G Street in the Twenties
In later years Mrs. Burr's school on H street near 13th, the stables of Joseph Abbott, the Epiphany and Foundry churches were the most prominent objects to the community. Mammy Jones, a colored woman, was known far and wide for the generous penny sticks of taffy she dispensed in that locality.
What in recent years became known as "Rum Row" was about 1850 possessed of characteristics which made that name appropriate, for there were on the square, in addition to a theater and a printing office, three emporiums where thirst for liquor could be quenched, in hotels, restaurants and gambling houses. At the corner of 13th and E streets in the 50's was Billy Grayson's hotel, a modest brick building with a one-story structure adjoining; then three three-story bricks belonging to Allison Nailor, in one of which William Jones lived for a long time. Olive's lottery and exchange office adjoined on the west; then was Michael Talty's restaurant and that of Doug West. A stoneyard was next to the theater, which, in turn was carried on by Rutherford, Kirkpatrick, Kelly and Tom Berry.
West of the Theater
Early in the last century Wm. Eisenback, who long was a treasury messenger, lived on 14th street below D street in a $400 house. Wm. Yeats, pump maker, on the west side of 13th street between C and D streets, and Grafton Powell on 14th street near Ohio avenue. Wm. Coumbe, a broker, was on 13th street near C street.