Patent Office Hill
By James Croggon, The Evening Star, September 16, 1906 [pt. 7, p. 11]
That section of the national capital known in the early years of the century as Orr’s farm or garden, in which Gen. Jackson in 1836 turned the first spadeful of earth for the foundation of the patent office, became known afterward as “Patent Office Hill.” At the time it was a hill, the summit being about the center of the lines of 8th street, about a hundred feet north of the F street entrance. The descent to the westward, toward Sluice run, was abrupt, but in other directions gradual.
On this hill lived, as late as the forties, John Orr and his wife. The latter was known to the boys as “Jimmy” Orr. They had a cabin of two rooms, one of brick and the other an upper room of frame, and about it they had a few fruit trees, including mulberry, apple and cherry trees, a garden and pasturage for a cow, and they raised chickens.
There had been others on this reservation, the impression being that it would be a long time, if ever, before the government would have use for it. It was regarded as perfectly safe for home sites, and a few families settled near what was called the “Ridge,” the path and wagon road along F street. In the twenties an ice house was built in the southwest corner of the reservation by the late Dr. William Gunton – a frame octagon building, the roof of which turned the water and formed a fine place for boys to wear out their pants in sliding. When the government took possession of the reservation in 1836 there was naught in the way of the buildings save Orr’s cabin and the ice house, and one or two cabins barely worth carting away.
Sketch of Gardener.
“My first acquaintance with this man was in 1821. I had erected two frame buildings at the corner of 8th and G streets, directly opposite to his cabin, which stood on the public square. In going and coming from his orchard he had to pass my house. At first he only gave me a silent salute as he passed, but at length became somewhat more familiar.
“One day he called on me to tell me of a trick the boys had played him. He said he always carried his musket to the orchard when his fruit was ripe to frighten boys who were stealing his fruit. When engaged in digging he placed his musket on the ground. These chaps had seen this, and, slipping behind him, they stole his musket and were rejoicing over the exploit. Hearing the noise behind him he went to get his musket, but soon discovered what had happened and started to drive the boys away. They then twitted him, asking why he had not loaded his gun that morning, and what had become of the flint, etc. After tiring of that line of petty annoyances they threw the gun over the fence. He took it up and went to his house. He said he was very much ashamed that the boys had discovered that the gun was never loaded, and only used to frighten them. Of course, the gun had lost its terrors.
“Another anecdote I will mention. The old man was on his way to the orchard with his gun on his shoulder, which somewhat astonished me, as I thought he had laid it aside. I asked him where he was going so early in the morning. ‘Ach!’ said he, ‘somebody has milked our cow for the two last mornings and I am going to see who it was.’ In a little while I saw him returning, driving his cow before him. I inquired if he had seen who had milked the cow. He hesitated for some time before telling me. ‘Indeed I have, sir!’ he finally said. ‘It was a large black snake. But you must not tell anybody, as the old woman would not be able to sell her milk.’
Old Man’s Misfortune
“This was the commencement of the old man’s troubles. Burns, the original owner of this part of the city, had died, and Van Ness having married, his daughter became, through her, heir to a large estate. In a few months, after disposing of this lot on 7th street, he sold the western lot on 9th street, which took in the fruit trees and the cultivated part of the orchard. This now entirely deprived Orr of the means of gaining a livelihood, and practically drove him to despair. He would look over his orchard and throw himself on the ground, and there he would lie till his wife would find him, taking him up like a child.
“This misfortune was the fatal blow which terminated his existence. Before I had heard of his death he was buried by the corporation as a common pauper, in a pauper’s grave.
“The working people in the new patent office voluntarily erected a small cabin for the widow, into which she was carried, as her cabin had to be removed, and where she lingered but a short time. She was interred near her husband’s grave.”
Patent Office Building
North of the building, while it was in process of construction, was the territory becoming known as the Northern Liberties, and it is said that the name came from that of a saloon in the neighborhood, established by a Philadelphian who had run with the Northern Liberties Fire Company of that city.
In 1809 much of the ground north of this reservation was the property of Davy Burns, one of the original proprietors. All of the square between 7th and 8th streets and much of that between 8th and 9th streets and as far north as K street remained in his estate under the management of his son-in-law, John P. Van Ness, for years. James Greenleaf, Benjamin Stoddert and others held some property in this section as an investment, but ground on G street, valued originally at one cent per foot, had been reduced to one-fourth that valuation, and no actual sales for purposes of improvement, appear to have been made till after 1812.
Property Was Leased.
After that period there were numerous leases for ten years, with privilege in some cases to continue the leases for ninety-nine years. A few, however, bought outright. Mr. John Bailey, a clerk in the city post office and the original letter carrier, for “penny post,” bought at the northwest corner of 7th and G streets in 1817, and erected a dwelling which bore in the twenties a value of $1,800 and in the thirties a value of $2,500. Mr. Bailey was for many years the only “penny post” in the city, and in the course of the day, with horse and gig assisting, served the entire city. The recipients of mail matter paid 2 cents per letter and 1 cent on each paper delivered. In this work he was succeeded by James A. Kennedy, who spent the balance of his life in the service, reaching the position of chief clerk and living until nearly eighty years of age. In the thirties Dr. Joseph Burrows became the owner of the corner on which for many years stood Valentine Harbaugh’s drug store.
In 1820 James Clephane and Benjamin Oliver secured leases on part of lot 3, fronting G street, and F. Brady, David Martin and William Crandell on lot 4, at 8th and G streets. Mr. Clephane was assessed $1,000 for improvements, Burns’ heirs were assessed $250 and John Gibson was taxed on $200. The ground rate on 7th street was then valued at 10 cents, and on other portions of the square down to 3 cents.
On the northeast corner of 8th and G streets in the twenties, when the valuation had reached 5 cents per foot, there were Noah Stinchcomb and Nathaniel Herbert, assessed for $250 each, and Mrs. Matthews, for $600. Ten years after James Campbell’s heirs were assessed on $1,600, improvement midway between 8th and 9th streets.
Section North of G Street.
To property on the west side of 8th street south of H street, in 1818, William Holloran, W. Rea, W. D. Furlong, James Delany and William Gallant had leases, with right to purchase, and in the twenties Simeon Bassett bought near the corner of 8th and H streets and put up a $300 shop, while William Gallant had a $350 improvement, a carpenter shop, on the corner. In the thirties Mr. Bassett was assessed for $700, Mr. Gallant for $500, Mr. Holloran for $1,400, Mr. Collins for $350, W. D. Furlong for $300, Delaney’s heirs for $400, and S. Stewart of $5,000. In the twenties Mary Hines, T. L. Mitchell and W. Deming had leased property, and Samuel Hinton fee simple property on 9th street. In 1824 Mr. Deming was assessed for $400, and ten years later Gen. Van Ness owned the property assessed in the same amount, and Mr. Hinton paid taxes on $600. The corner lot, 9th and H streets, in 1827, was leased to Messrs. Kirkwood and Brashears, and after Z. D. Brashears took it an assessment of $5,600 was laid in the Van Ness name for improvements.
Erected House of Worship.
Between H, I, 7th and 8th streets 1 cent per foot valuation was reduced to one-fourth, in the first decade of the century, when the ten lots were in the names of Burns’ heirs, Benjamin Stoddert and R. T. Lowndes. There were few transfers till about 1820, when the ground was valued at from 3 to 6 cents per foot. Benjamin Cory, in 1819, took a lease of lot 8, at the southwest corner of 7th and I streets, and in the twenties it stood in the name of D. Embree, assessed in $300 improvements. Before that time one of the Kiernan taverns was on lot 1, at the northwest corner of 7th and H streets, which in 1821 was leased to R. Clark, and two years later W. Deming obtained a fourth interest in the lot. In 1824 Kiernan’s heirs were assessed on $1,750; Towson, $150, and W. Deming or W. Hand, $200. John Cooper paid on $150 on lot 10, adjoining Kiernan’s lot.
Founded Orphan Asylum.
The institution was here located till the erection of the building near the site of the old Burn’s burial ground, on H street between 9th and 10th streets, referred to in a previous article. In 1833 Joshua Towson was assessed $150 and J. W. Hand $200 on lot 1, corner 7th and H streets, and Gen. Van Ness, $1,500 at 7th and I streets. John MacAleer, blacksmith, about 1830, sold his brick house on lot 3, the northeast corner of 8th and H streets, long the site of the Isaac Clarke residence. The ground was assessed in the thirties for 15 cents on the 7th street corners down to 7 cents in other portions of the square.
The old Potters’ Kiln square, as it was known from about 1830 to 1860, was also building up about that time. The lots - twelve in number – were valued at one cent per foot, but were cut to half a cent in the early years, and in 1824 they had appreciated to two cents per foot. Up to that time the only improvement known was a $400 one, on lot 8, about midway on H street between 8th and 9th streets, assessed against the Burns heirs. In 1833 some of the ground had reached a six-cent value, and the assessments were for improvements in the names of Sommes and Pickrell, $600, and Libbey and Marden, $600, on 9th street, and Gen. Van Ness, $400 and $200 on I and 8th streets. A. Nalley, a carpenter, leased that corner in 1822, having his residence and shop there, and Richard Butt leased lots 8 and 9 in 1827, and for twenty years engaged in the pottery business. This ground he bought in 1838, and 1847 sold his business to Enoch Burnett, who continued the business down to war times.
No Smoke Law Then.
New Congregation Formed.
The Southern Methodists worshiped here a few years. Rev. Charles A. Davis and Rev. John Scriviner, local preachers, ministering to the little flock. The congregation, gaining strength, bought the edifice in January, 1857, the deed passing from Mr. Coltman to the following trustees of the church: Josiah Melvin, F. Asbury Tucker, A. L. Edwards, H. F. Zimmerman, W. T. Smithson, J. C. Bronaugh and Alfred Russell. From the Virginia conference regular ministers were assigned, and before the war quite a large membership was enrolled under Revs. Duncan, Rosser and Doggett. The war coming on, the church building became hospital, but a new location was found on M street near 9th street and occupied for some years.
In the basement of the edifice when, in consequence of the establishment of additional public schools in each of the four districts in 1849, one school was opened here, and for years was taught by Mrs. R. M. Ogden and Miss Rebecca K. Billing. There are thousands who are filling their places in the affairs of life who can recall how they were directed there in the path of knowledge, and many successful teachers in local and other schools are following the footsteps of the instructors of that school. Mr. Norris, and later J. C. Fill, taught private schools here also.
As is well known, the potter’s wheel has ceased to revolve, the fires of the kiln have been drawn and in a fine synagogue worship is conducted according to the old dispensation, the congregation of Rabbi Stern occupying the old church site.
Land Worth One Cent.
In 1797 Joseph Covachick bought a lot fronting K street, George Lewis the south half of the 7th street front of the square and John Atkinson a lot on 8th street, some of the deeds reciting that it was a part of a fifty-acre tract purchased by William Bagley in Port Royal. For twenty years little was done in the disposal of lots in the squares between 7th and 9th streets, and nothing occurred in the building line. About 1818 Samuel Holtzman came in to the possession of the lot formerly owned by Mr. Covachick on K street, and F. C. Gross purchased lots on I and 8th streets.
In the twenties no improvements, it seems, had been listed, but some transfers were made. In 1821 F. Delius owned the southwest quarter of the square. In 1827 J. A. Wilson owned the southeast corner of 8th and K streets, Jacob Gideon the center lot on I street and Elizabeth Clagett the two of the four lots on the 7th street front. In 1829 Ulysses Ward bought the middle lot on K street and Rebecca Taylor and W. Jackson and W. Beiber purchased property on I street. In the following year Jas. Towles and William Dougherty owned the lot at 8th and I streets, on which soon afterward Wm. Radcliffe and C. P. Sengstack had interests. Charles L. Coltman and J. D. Murphy owned 8th street property, and R. Sims had the lot at K and 7th streets, now Hahn’s corner. The improvements in the thirties were the properties of William Jackson, corner 7th and I streets, $1,000; E. Graff, 8th street, $1,400, and A. J. Wilson, K street, $1,400.
Similar Ancient History.
Among the residents of that section in the twenties were Dickey Wroe, as he was familiarly called, the patriarch of the bricklayers of that name; John Hoover, one of the first butchers of that day, whose descendants are well known among the market merchants; William Gallant, a carpenter and builder, whose son followed him in the business, covering nearly a century; John and R. R. Golden, John Bailey and James Kennedy of the post office on G street.
Owned by Mrs. F. S. Key
At the northwest corner of 7th and G streets was Valentine Harbaugh’s drug store, and north of it Joseph Bond’s leather store, Samuel Magee’ bakery, W. Chase’s blacksmith shop, Narden’s wheelwright shop, J. G. Robinson’s tailor shop, McPherson’s grocery and feed store, H. Ritchey’s tin and stove store, and the residence of John T. Towers, afterward mayor of Washington; Farquhar & Knoblock’s grocery and feed store, Aller & Thyson’s grocery and general store, Mrs. Aller’s variety store, R. D. Spencer and F. Lyddane’s shoe shops, A. Bassett’s saddlery, S. C. Espy’s drug store and the farmers’ headquarters afterward known as the Clinton House, and P. W. Dorsey’s Hotel was at the corner of I street, the wagon yard extending to 8th street.
On 8th street was the marble yard of Thomas Berry, and the homes of Mrs. Kurtz, Purser Charles Murray, United States navy; Mrs. Holland, Mrs. Holoran, Thomas Collins, Joseph Dove and E. Ellis, carpenter, between G and H streets, and Robert Allen, carpenter; D. D. T. Leech, John Ferguson and G. W. Fales, clerks; Mrs. E. Becker, dressmaker, and Michael Reardon, court bailiff, at I street, George Harvey, painter; S. Harrison Taylor, bricklayer; Mrs. Baker and John Williams, Jas. L. Smith, long of the city post office, and the Fugitt family on 8th street.
On 9th street, east side, were the houses of Dr. T. Watkins and John Neely, teachers; John Tretler, bookbinder; Mrs. Thompson, Thos. L. Moody, W. B. Jones, Wm. Daley, clerks, between G and H streets; T. Farquhar, G. F. Henny, F. N. Roach, register of wills; Rev. Dr. G. W. Samson and R. J. A. Culverwell, between H and I streets’ John U. Moulder, clerk; Thomas French and A. Claxton, between I and K streets. On K street were the homes of H. Crittenden, E. Barnard and L. A. Fleuty. On I street were the homes of Adam Cavis, E. Burnett, William Jones, carpenter; Jas. H. Marr, clerk; J. W. Moorehead and John Scrivener. On H street Isaac Clarke at 8th street; Miss Queen, H. H. McPherson, Frank Hume, T. L. Noyes, Taylor Page, G. Harvey, James Towles, E. Davis and R. Nalley owned property.