Hundred Years Ago
By James Croggon, The Evening Star, October 7, 1906 [pt. 2, p. 6]
That section of Washington south of Pennsylvania avenue between 9th and 10th streets, which, 100 years ago, bordered Tiber creek, now the scene of business activity, was for many years difficult to describe. Indeed, most of these squares were for a third of a century partly covered by water at times, and were made up so much of marsh land that it was difficult to delineate what was suitable for settlement. This swamp land bordering the Tiber did not even approximate firm land till the center of C street was reached.
It was about this point that what became known as Sluice run united with the waters from Franklin Square and were merged with those of the Tiber. When the waters of the latter stream flowed into the canal, which was opened before 1820, the adjacent ground was drained and utilized. That it was not a very inviting section for residential purposes is apparent, for few and far between were the eligible places for houses. These were off the lines of the avenue and on 10th street, north of C street. Indeed, with the run, which until 1808 was crossed by fording, but was later spanned by a simple wooden bridge, and with little improved roadway, there was not much to invite settlement and improvement until the establishment of the Center, or Marsh market in 1802. Before this was authorized and when there was uncertainty of the completion of the canal, which was to supply drainage, a few optimistic people had made homes for themselves. And as the ground south was reclaimed some dwellings and business places appeared. When in 1816 the canal was opened to navigation much wood and produce was brought here by boats. Schooners, sloops and longboats were used in the trade and much of the adjacent ground was given to wood yards.
Bordering Pennsylvania Avenue
Mr. John Hereford purchased lots 2 and 3, bordering on Sluice run, in 1802 and there established a brewery, the building being valued at $1,000. It was later increased to $1,200. This was the scene of a fire in February 1815, the loss being between $1,000 and $2,000. Thomas Bates after this carried on a soap and candle factory here for ten years or more, his sons removing to G street east of 7th street, where for half a century as Bates & Son and Bates & Bro. the business was continued.
In August, 1820, a house in the course of erection on the 10th street side of the square was destroyed by fire.
Further Improvement Noted
On the north side of the avenue dress goods were to be found by the ladies, and the south side furnished the bonnets and trimmings in the forties and fifties; in fact, here was a settlement of milliners and dressmakers. Among the milliners recalled are Mrs. Lucretia Allen, Mrs. Morrell, Mrs. E. Lamphier, Mrs. E. Sexsmith, and afterward Mrs. E.M. Lowe, who also kept embroideries and trimmings. The dressmakers included Mrs. Douglas, Miss A.M. Clarke and Mrs. Owner, on the avenue, and on 10th street were Mrs. R. Best and Mrs. Poulton; at the corner of 10th and C streets was Mrs. Barker, who conducted a bonnet bleachery. There were also on the avenue L.J. Denham’s dyeing establishment, and William Umfield and C. Berkely were in the same business in the fifties. At the corner of 10th street over the grocery was Shubert'’s muff factory, corner of 9th street; the boarding houses of Mrs. Taylor, Mrs. Hill, Mrs. Wilson and Mrs. Miller. There was a physician, Dr. C.H. Leibman; a drug store, E. Englehard's the house-furnishing stores of Thomas Milburn and L.S. Beck & Sons; Buchly's confectionery, afterward A. Buchly's undertaking establishment; Andrew Reese's upholstery; William Noell's venetian blind establishment, long engaged in supplying the government departments; John Doermee's gunsmith shop; Jacobi, turner; Jacob, tailor; John McDevitt's crockery store; Alex Prevost's, contractor, residence; George Miller, silver plater, and Marshall's carriage repository, after Stratton's auction rooms, at the 9th street corner. Later what are now the Salvation Army quarters was the Chesapeake saloon, conducted by Mr. M.R. Combs, the second story in the early part of the war being used as the armory of the Washington Light Infantry, then in the service of the United States.
Some of the Residents
Much of the square south of the above described was, like it, of six original lots, and those were owned by Thomas Law, W.H. Dorsey and the Burns estate in the early days, when the corporation reduced a 3-cent valuation of the land to half a cent a foot. James Moore, who was a prominent dealer in bacon and lard as early as 1810, owned the eastern portion of the square on which is now located the Majestic Theater, and several years after the west end of the square. In 1824 the value of the ground was from 10 to 25 cents. The theater site was owned by Col. Peter Force, who had on it a brick building valued at $800. The lower portion was used in part for shoemaking and other shops, and here Mr. James Johnson, an ex-lieutenant of police, was employed about the year 1830. The upper portion was the coach shop of Mr. Peck for a long period.
Later the original building made way for a larger structure which in the late forties became the coach factory of Haslup & Weedon, and a portion of the ground floor was given to the manufacture of horseshoe nails. Subsequently the upper portion became a gymnasium, first under the management of Prof. Sharretts and next, Prof. Jardine, both of New York, and for a few seasons it was well patronized by the lovers of athletic sports. Then William Marshall had a carriage repository there and later it became a theater. Immediately in front of this building was the favorite ground for the circus performances in the thirties and forties, when circuses consisted of a dozen or so performers and horses, with a small band.
Commission Business Established
Mr. Moore built on Louisiana avenue near 10th street two frame houses, conducting the bacon business in one. These were in June 1840, destroyed by fire and were replaced by brick buildings, Mr. Moore occupying one and Mr. Shaffer's leather store the other. On C street were the boarding houses of Mrs. Ricker, Mrs. Donn and Mrs. Narden, which flourished, being favorite stopping places for those engaged in the market. Henry L. Davidson, long a constable, and Mrs. S.J. Hutchins, a dressmaker, lived on 10th street, and at the corner of Louisiana avenue and that street was the American Organ, published in the interest of the native American or know-nothing party in the fifties with Vespastion Ellis as editor.
About the center of Louisiana avenue was located a pump of spa water, which was located a pump of spa water, which was regarded as of highly medicinal quality, and it was carried to all parts of the city, frequently crowds of people waiting their turn.
West of the Market
The military and civic ball of the Washington Light Infantry was in progress that evening and many present in uniform were firemen as well as soldiers. When the alarm was sounded it was responded to so generally that the terpsichorean exercises at the ball were crippled and the fire apparatus, manned by the militia made a spectacle not often witnessed.
This lot was used by the Washington Gas Light Company as a site for tank and shops, and Capt. John McClelland in the 50's located his machine works here. Charles Lyons had his carpenter shop on Louisiana avenue, and with the exception of houses on 9th street occupied by A. Davis and Ignatius Luckett, the rest of the ground was used for the storage of wood and coal, B. and F.G. Waters having used much of it in 1826.
Brick Houses Erected
That there were some queer characters to be found here need not be said to many of the older ones. There was one known as "Nosey," for his prominent nasal appendage, but when Beau Hickman appeared here and saw the man he applied to him the title of "Champion cherry picker," giving as a reason that from the shape and size of his nose he could hang himself to a limb and pick cherries with both hands. Few who knew what an able-bodied man the possessor of the nose was would dare to say "cherries" in his presence.