An Historical Site
By James Croggon, The Evening Star, August 26, 1906 [pt. 4, p. 1]
That square in which the general land office is quartered, formerly the general post office, was one of the important building squares of Washington in the early days. It is historical as the site of the famous Great Hotel, projected by Samuel Blodgett, anterior to 1800, and which proved to be anything else than a hotel. In February, 1793, there appeared in the public prints the announcement that the drawing of Federal Lottery No. 1 would take place the following September; that the purpose was to raise funds to build a tavern at the cost of exactly $50,000 which would be the first of the 16,740 prizes, and that tickets were $7 each. July 4 following the cornerstone was laid with considerable show of ceremony, and the work was being prosecuted while the tickets were being sold; but not a sufficient number was disposed of to warrant a drawing. It was postponed from time to time and never materialized.
The walls were erected and the structure covered in, but the interior was not completed until after the government purchased it in 1810. It is said that incomplete as it was, it played the part of a theater about 1797, when some strolling comedians gave a few performances there.
A number of families took possession of the unfinished rooms, and some in temporary quarters on the public ground north of F street, the Interior Department side.
There is on record under date of 1813 a deed of William Fitzgerald to John Hearn for "my dwelling house on public ground north of the post office." When the government purchased the ground it comprised the entire south front and was in the name of R.S. Beckley. The price was $17,700, and the cost of alterations and repairs was $11,853.91. Here was located the Post Office Department, the patent office and other government bureaus, when during the invasion by the British in August 1814, it was saved from desecration by the importunities of Dr. Thornton of the patent office. This building did duty as a government department until it was destroyed by fire the morning of December 15, 1836. Despite the efforts of a fire engine companies nothing was saved but some books and papers. In a few years, however, an improved marble structure took its place, into which the department moved in 1842. In 1845 the whole square was acquired by the government and covered by the building now the home of the general land office.
There was a small engine house on 7th street, adjoining the Great Hotel in which the Washington, afterward the Patriotic, Fire Company had charge of apparatus which had been bought by the government and which was destroyed by the fire of 1836. In the second story of the house was the armory of the Washington Guards, then one of the finest volunteer organizations of the District. Col. Seaton was the commander. The hall was a small one, and the drills were usually on the vacant northeast corner of the square, afterward occupied as a wood yard.
First Material Improvement
From about 1844 the south house of the row was used as the city post office, and above it was located the office of the United States Telegraph Company, from which the wires were connected first with Baltimore. The wires at one time became very useful to a gang of sharpers, it is said, who came near to wrecking a lottery company.
At that time the Virginia lottery was drawn at Sarepta Hall, in Alexandria, late in the afternoons. There was always on hand a clerk in one of the departments whose friends supposed he was seeking health by taking pleasure rides in Virginia. This man would get a few of the first numbers and gallop to Jones' Point. There he had a quantity of rockets, and by letting them off would signal a confederate who, from a window near the post office, could with a glass see the rockets and learn the numbers. These numbers would be sent north by telegraph and distributed to members of the gang, and in the hour following the drawings tickets were kept on sale, all bearing one or more of the lucky numbers would be bought up by the conspirators, and thereby their exchequer would be replenished. In a few weeks the lottery people dropped to the scheme and sales were thereafter closed at the hour of drawing.
North of this block Samuel N. Smallwood, a lumber dealer of East Washington and mayor of the city in the twenties, owned some ground on which he had a $2,500 house. On F street Burns' heirs owned a $250 building. Matilda Orme a $200 one, on leased ground, and J.A. Burch one valued at $150. In the thirties, when ground had gone up to 30 cents per foot, McLean's row was valued at $8,400, Mr. Smallwood, $2,500 and $500; Mr. Burch, $600; Mr. Digges, $1,800.
Square West of Post Office
Later the corner of 9th and F streets was held in trust by Mr. Nourse for Mrs. Robert Mills, and William P. Elliot owned the F street property. James C. Dunn, Enoch White, Ulysses Ward, Joseph Radcliffe and Flodoardo Howard in 1837 held the property for the Methodist Protestant Church, now the Maccabee Temple.
Charles Williams of New York bought the southwest corner of this square, lots 5 to 8, in 1824, and it was he who improved them by the erection of what in later years has borne the name of Buzzards’ Roost. It was for many years a fine boarding house, conducted by Mrs. Ross, and her husband, Capt. Isaac Ross, long a deputy marshal, engaged in the shoe business for some years.
W.T. Steiger, long connected with the land office in 1838, was largely interested near the corner of F and 8th streets, which became the "patent agents' settlement."
In square No. 431, between D, E, 7th and 8th streets, prior to 1800, lots were owned by R. Kidd, J.R. Dermott, Thomas Law, A. McCormick and Lund Washington. The only improvements made in the first decade of the century appear to have been those of William Duane, on lot 12, E street, west on 7th street, assessed at $1,000; Mr. Keyne, $200, and Charles Dent, $150 on 7th street. By 1820 the ground valuation had risen from 4 to 15 cents, in some instances, to 30 cents, and the improvements were showing up. Perhaps that of Col. Seaton of the Intelligencer, directly fronting the post office, was the greatest in that neighborhood. It was a fine mansion, which, like that of his associate, Mr. Gales, was a political as well as social center.
During the palmy days of the paper few if any of the leading men of the day failed to appear at the home of one of the other when in the city. An entertainment was given by Mr. Seaton to Gen. Lafayette on his visit here in 1826, and Gen. Harrison, the elder, was Mr. and Mrs. Seaton's guest before his inauguration. The house was erected about 1818, and was valued at $6,000. It was about that time that the Intelligencer, born in the Ten buildings, on New Jersey avenue, in 1800, was located opposite the Metropolitan, from about 1809, where the types and presses were wrecked and the library burned by the British, in 1814, came into its life-long home. This was the office erected for it on lots 1 and 2, extending half the length of the square on D street. It was a two-story brick building fronting on 7th street, which later had an addition on D street, and here some of the leading men of the nation and city worked as writers and printers; Simon Cameron among them.
With Joe Gales and Col. Seaton in the sanctum, Maj. Thomas Donoho in the business offices, George M. Grouard in charge of the composing room, in which frequently were several members of the corporation, and a spirit of brotherhood over the whole, it is regarded as no wonder the paper sustained its high character.
About 1816 at the corner of E street, the tavern of Richard Hendley was established in a neat two-story dwelling house which was distinguished by being always painted a bright yellow. While few will remember it under the original name thereon many can recall it as Gibson’s Kennedy's and latterly as Talty's.
On the northeast corner of 8th and D street Owen McGlue's grocery existed from 1820 for some years, but in 1837, Thomas Baker opened a public house, giving it the name of Franklin Inn. Convenient to the employes of the Intelligencer and those of Gideon's office on 9th street, and with the popularity of the host as a drawing card, it was a prosperous house. About Christmas, in 1851, one of the coldest nights ever experienced in Washington, the house took fire and was almost completely destroyed. The water froze in the engines and hose, and when the alarm came in later that the Capitol Library was on fire it was with the greatest difficulty that the firemen were enabled to do any service. Later the place was rebuilt.
Demands Pay for Key
In the twenties Messrs. Gales & Seaton's office was assessed at $3,000; C. Bell paid on $750; McGlue's heirs, $2,300, on D and 8th streets; C. Cook, R.N. Barry and C.J. Holtzman, $550; D. Darden, $750; G.P. Logan, $500, and E. Dyer, $100, on 8th street; Hannah Allen, W. Kidd and R. Hendley, $650 each, on E street; R. Hendley, $3,000; Joseph Harbaugh, $2,500; George Sweeny, $2,100; M. Keyne, $300; Jonathan Seaver, $2,200, and A. Cheshire, $2,000, on 7th street.
In the thirties the Intelligencer building, having been enlarged, was valued at $14,000; C. Bier was assessed at $800; Kennedy & Donoho, $700; McGlue's heirs, $300, on D street; R.N. Barry, $700; D. Darden, $800; C.W. Logan, $750; E.C. Dyer, $300 and $3,000, respectively, corner of 8th street; W.W. Seaton, $6,000; Hannah Allen, $2,000; R. Hendley, $1,200, on E street; R. Hendley, corner 7th street, $2,500; J. Harbaugh, $3,400; G. Sweeny, $2,000; M. Keyne's heirs, $200; Jonathan Seaver, $3,300, and A. Cheshire, $2,000, Mr. Seaton, Samuel, Kirby and Owen Thorn owned property on 8th street.
The first lots to be disposed of in square 407, between 8th, 9th, D and E streets, were the corner of 8th and E streets and south of it. B. Fenwick ahd two of the six lots on the west side of 8th street in 1794, and Isaac Phillips the corner lots three years afterward, and by 1800 Pratt and others owned the balance. By 1802 Sanford & Giberson had a house on the east side of 9th street worth $400, and Phillips, Grout & West were in $200 property on the site where the Columbian was established by John H. Eberbach, about sixty years ago, which is standing today. Morgan Donoho settled above the Academy, on 9th street, in 1806 in property valued at $350. In 1815 Dr. George May, a distinguished physician, bought property at the corner of 9th and D streets and in 1820 was assessed on $550 for improvements. Thomas Parsons was assessed on $350, William Murray’s heirs on $750, Mary Dickey, $350; Morgan Donoho, $20; Owen McGlue, $750; J.W. Johnson, $3,500, and J.S. Jackson, $650; Rev. O.R. Brown's fine residence on E street was valued at $6,000, and G.C. Grammar's house at the corner of 8th and E streets was valued at $1,500; Joseph Schofield, with $750 improvements; Donoho's heirs, $100, and W.M. Murray, $700, on 8th street. The lot at the corner of 8th and D streets was afterward occupied by a brick building owned by Owen Connelly and known as the Farmer's Hotel.
By the thirties Dr. May had a fine square-built brick residence at the corner of 9th and D streets, which was valued at $3,000. Subsequently the residence of Hudson Taylor, prominent in the book business for years, was built. McMurray's heirs were paying taxes on $2,600, McGlue on $750 and Schofield on $750. The Baptists, whose first church was at 19th and I streets, were about 1820 looking for a more central location. They came near to building conveniently near to the home of their pastor, Pastor Brown, and purchased the lot at the southwest corner of 8th and E streets. Their final selection, however, was on 10th street, where for many years the "First Church" was a prominent building.
Spend Lifetime in One Place
In the forties C. Pasco's boot and shoe store, Charles Columbus' confectionery, H. Francis' and J.H. Smith's cigar stores, R. Nevitt, saddler; E. Sweeney, fruit dealer; George Sweeney, general agent, and the residence of Joseph Harbaugh were on the records. The city post office was located here for a short time before the forties and, after the wrecking of the office of the National Era, fifty years ago, it had its business office here.
On 8th street in the twenties were Mrs. Eliza McGlue and Jere Sullivan, grocers; Hemerton Gray, G.M. Gronard of the Intelligencer and Mrs. Ann Blanchard; and twenty years after them were Thomas Baker's Frnaklin House, Samuel Kirby's home, Owen Sheckell's stables, James Towles' carpenter shop, E.W. Johnson, J.H. Eberbach's Columbian Hotel and Elijah Dyer, tailor.
On the east side of 9th street in the twenties were Robert Tweedy's tavern, Dr. George May, --- Peck, W. Cooper, jr., G. Ellworth, Thomas Rice and R. Wright, and later, about 1840, there were Dr. F. Dawes, William Greer, F. Stultz's tavern, Isaac Ross, G. Willner (still there), W. Utermehle and C.F. Wood.
There were also in that locality in the twenties Joseph Erskine, printer; P.W. Cook, stonecutter, and W.F. Holtzman, John Chaun and John Goldin, later on D street.
Col. Seaton, Rev. Obediah Brown, Thomas Bates and Mrs. Ball's boarding house were on E street in the twenties, and twenty-five years after Thomas Peters, W.A. Linton, W. McCafferty, confectionary; V. King, Mrs. Mary Judge and J. Boucher, a tailor, were on E street, along with the two old residents, Rev. O. Brown, chief clerk of the post office, and W.W. Seaton of the Intelligencer, then the mayor of Washington.
John and R.R. Goldin, S. Leland, George Hadfield, architect; William King and Mrs. Orme were eighty years ago on F street, and in the forties Samuel Holmes, Thomas Creaser, shoe dealer; William Kelly and Mrs. M. Peckham were there, as was also William P. Elliott, Z.C. Robbins, G.C. Thomas, F. Benne, Killer & Greenough and P. and Julius von Schmidt, who were engaged in the patent business.