Square Number 491
Its Development, Early During the Last Century
Memories of Settlers
Block at One Time Was an Expanse of Swamp Land
Erection of National Hotel
Structure Was First Important Building to Appear Within the Tract-Other Business Houses
By James Croggon, The Evening Star, December 30, 1906 [pt. 4, p. 1]
The square of ground No. 491 on the city plat, formed by the lines of Pennsylvania avenue, 6th, C and 4 ½ street (the latter now commemorating a leading jurist by its name, John Marshall place, is not without interest to those who love to delve into the history of Washington. It is so especially to those whose forebears had interests here when, with the exception of the avenue front, the footways were of Mother Earth or a line of sand and gravel, and also those who have known the time when a few cents valuation per square foot of ground was regarded as exorbitant. Square 491 in the old days was low, and the water of the Tiber creek often reached the avenue, and some portions of the square were swampy from springs, and it is not strange that what has become an important part of the city was of slow growth in the early years of the last century.
Indeed, squares north and west were built upon before any improvements were made on this
one. Those who had read the article on square 490 know of the spring called "the city spring," and of its waters being utilized by the early settlers. At a slightly later date its waters were piped across C street to Havenner's bakery, and later to the Weightman buildings and other places in the square, and through more than one pump stock on the avenue the public was supplied.
Division of the Lots
Though a division of the lots between David Burns, the original owner, and the United States took place in 1796 it was not till December 1799, that one of them was sold. This was lot 4, fronting over 55 feet on the avenue, the purchaser being Dr. John Kearney, U.S.N. A month later James Hoban bought lots 1 and 2, fronting on the avenue at 4 ½ street, lot 5 fronting 55 feet and lot 7, 58 feet on the avenue, for $488. The later lot became the property of Rutherford & Reed and in September 1800, the lot was in the names of David Ogilvie and Andrew Rutherford. In 1801, Pratt, Francis and others had lots 10, 11 and 12, fronting 120 feet on 6th street and 125 feet on C street, 16, 49 feet on C street, 10 and 20, 120 feet on C street, and 60 feet on 4 ½ street and 21, 56 feet on 4 ½ street. The next year lots 13, 14 and 15, fronting nearly 150 feet on C street through Isaac Pollack and John Templeman, went to Gen. Van Ness.
In 1803 the corporation valued the ground at 9 cents, 10 cents and 12 cents per foot, and four years later at 6 cents, 8 cents and 10 cents, and for improvements $120 on lot 3, in the name of Burns' heirs. The lot purchased by Dr. Kearney had passed through Ellis to Taylor & Toland by 1805, for $1,000, and 21, 22 and 23, 172 feet front on 4 ½ street to W.H. Dorsey but no improvement appears till that charged in 1830 to Walter Jones at $200. A lease of lot 15 on C street was made to Benjamin H. Latrobe in 1806 and he afterward leased lots 13 and 14, and in 1812 obtained title to these lots and to lot 12.
Erection of Weightman's Buildings
Before 1810 Osborn Warner was at the corner of 6th street and Pennsylvania avenue, and in 1811 Samuel Cloakey bought a portion of lot 9, at the southwest corner of the square, paying about $1,000 for the east half. George Kneller purchased a part of the same lot and also part of lot 8. Gen. Roger C. Weightman, afterward mayor of the city, about this time bought lot 11, at the corner of 6th and C street and in the next few years he bought parts of lots 8 and 9, on which was the house of George Kneller, and in 1816 lot 12, on C street. On the site now occupied by the National Hotel Gen. Weightman erected the row of houses which three or four generations ago were known as the "Weightman's buildings." These were a block of five or six three-story bricks, valued at $12,000 arranged for dwellings with storerooms in one or two. Gen. Weightman lived in the corner house, and conducted a book and stationery store, which was the center of the literary circle of that day. The general, being a popular officer of the militia and prominent in municipal affairs as a member of the city councils, and in 1824 as mayor of the city, drew about him the leading citizens and at his store many members of Congress and other government officials were wont to gather. There were located here Joseph Wood, a portrait painter of repute, and Samuel Hanson a clerk in the land office. John Graeff occupied one of the houses as a dwelling and wine store and in another was John Gardner, who conducted a boarding house, at which L. Barber and J.W. Campbell of Ohio, T.R. Mitchell of South Carolina and other Congressmen were quartered. About 1826 this location was chosen as the site of the National Hotel, and the buildings were replaced by the hotel structure. When the hotel was opened to the public it was under the management of John Gadsby, who had succeeded O'Neale at the Franklin House. At this time the lots were held by Mr. George Calvert, who owned over 200 of 315 shares of the stock,, the remainder being held by Gen. Weightman, W.A. Bradley, John Gadsby and H.T. Weightman.
East of the original hotel site, on part of lot 8, Joseph E. Clarke was listed as owner in 1815, and he had a $2,700 house upon it later. This lot was in the name of Mr. Calvert in 1827. In 1819 George Kneller owned a portion of lot 8, on which he had a house, and a few years afterward T.W. Pairo was assessed at $3,500. It had, however, passed through the hands of J. Brentz and A. Partherheimer in 1820. Henson Hodges was on lot 7 in 1812. In 1817 Alexander Littlejohn, a barber leased a portion of the lot of Mr. Hoban and afterward bought the fee simple title. He built a home valued by the corporation at $750, and by 1830 he had rebuilt and was assessed $1,800. Mrs. Margaret Gaither conducted a boarding house on a part of lot 7 for some years. Patrick Rogers, a saddler, was owner of this lot in 1820. He built a house valued at $3,200, and in 1826 it was purchased by Charles Polkinhorn, prominent as a saddle and harness maker, and well known in Baptist church circles. Jacob Leonard leased a part of this lot in 1819 and later bought it. In 1830 a $1,600 improvement was on it in the name of W. Brown. Mrs. Rockendorf was the owner for some years of the east half of lot 7 and there are a few persons still living whose mouths water when her candies, cakes, etc., are mentioned. John B. Toland was the owner of the west part of the lot for many years.
Lot 3 in Burns portion of the square, fronting nearly fifty-seven feet on the avenue, remained in his estate for many years. About 1820 part of it was leased to Wm. Bage, a plasterer, and John and Daniel McGrath, coach makers, the first named erecting a small house there and the McGraths a coach-making shop. In 1823 Levi Washburn, a well-known grocer, was also by lease on this lot, as was George Kneller. Three years later Andrew Ochler, a tailor, had his shop upon it, with a lease from Van Ness.
The Original Havenner Bakery
The corner of 4 ½ street, lot 1, and the lot adjoining, the property of James Hoban, was unoccupied or improved till 1820, when F.A. Russell & Co. leased lot 2 with the right to purchase and erected a coach-making establishment and carried on their business for over ten years. On 4 ½ street north of the avenue there were no improvements noted in the 20's, but on the C street lots as early as 1815 there appeared the building from which the present Havenner bakery had its origin. It was on a portion of lot 14, leased by Thomas Havenner of Gen. Van Ness. Lots 12 to 16, nearly 250 feet on the C street front, were purchased about this time by Samuel Elliott. In 1818 William Thumbert and Samuel W. Handy had leases on lots 17, and in 1825 Silas Alden purchased the portion leased by Handy and the two small houses upon it. John Roche leased part of the lot west of Mr. Havenner in 1824 and lived there some years, and near the corner of 6th and C streets was a small building owned by Gen. Weightman, used as a billiard saloon by J.S. McCubbin and south on lot 10 were three two-story frames occupied by Richard Wallach. Mr. McCubbin and Benjamin Burns, merchant tailor.
In this decade the avenue lots were assessed at 75 cents per foot and the lowest valuation on the square was 25 cents per square foot. The improvements were rated as follows: Lots 1 and 2, $900 (Russell's coach shop), charged to Mr. Hoban; lot 3 in the name of Burns, $150; Kneller, $400; McGrath's coach shop, $1,100; Levi Washburn's grocery; lot 6, two houses valued at $3,200, in the name of Patrick Rogers a saddler and a $250 building charged to T. Mudd; lot 7, $750, on dwelling house of Andrew Littlejohn; lot 8, $2,700, J.E. Clarke and $3,500, T.W. Pairo; lots 8 and 9, $12,000 and 10, $400, to R.C. Weightman; part of lot 10, $2,500, R. Wallach; lot 11, $250, to R.C. Weightman; lot 13, $600, John Roche; lot 14, $1900, Thomas Havenner, and $650, J.P. Van Ness; lot 45, J.P. Van Ness, $500; lot 17, William Thumbert, $550, and S. Alden, $350. In addition to those who have been named, there were on the avenue front William Wright, a watchmaker; Daniel Carter, a merchant tailor, and Benjamin Spillman, a colored cook.
Development in the Thirties
The thirties was the period in which the improvements appreciated the valuation of the ground from 75 cents to $1 per foot on the avenue, with a corresponding increase in other portions. A number of new buildings were erected, those of Gen. Weightman and others having given way to the National Hotel building, previously noticed, and the Hoban lots at 4 ½ street furnished the site for an imposing block for that period. Brick foot pavements and gutters had been laid on the avenue, which in 1825 had its center forty-five feet macadamized. Eight years afterward it was so improved from curb to curb. The course of the land was canal was changed and much of the adjacent swampy ground was thoroughly drained.
About 1830 Mr. Hoban's property at the corner of 4 ½ street was improved by a three-story-and-attic block of buildings, and here for many years were two of the leading boarding houses, those of Mrs. Peyton and Mrs. Masi, each enjoying the patronage of congressmen and prominent government officials. The lower stories were devoted to business purposes, Michael Delaney being interested there for many years in drugs and chemicals, and Seraphim Masi in watch and clock making and jewelry.
Many Properties Change Hands
In 1833, John P. Pepper, a well-known marble cutter and local politician, bought part of this lot, the adjoining lot west, No. 2, was occupied by two buildings, Russell & Co. and Michael McDermott, both in the coach-making business. The Washburn property, on which there was a grocery in 1829 went to George D. Spencer, under the leasehold, and the lease was assigned to Michael McCarty, who continued the business. Henry T. Weightman was then the owner of a brick building on this lot. On lot 4, east of the alley, Mrs. Mary Rockendorff kept a confectionary for nearly fifteen years. The title came down from Dr. Kearney, through Taylor & Toland and in the thirties was in Francis S. Key. In 1835 Mrs. Rockendorff bought the east half. West of the alley on lot 5 two fine buildings were erected by Mr. Hoban. The west part of lot 6 in 1822 went to Levi S. Burr an attorney-at-law, who lived and had his office there. There were also on this lot Charles Polkinhorn, who had purchased the Rogers property in 1826, also the residence of Wm. Brown, which afterward was sold to Capt. Philip Mauro, an auctioneer of that time. Another fine house on the lot was purchased by Lewis Johnson. On the next lot west, No. 7, Mr. Littlejohn was a resident for many years. Mr. Hoban had another fine building on this lot, which was sold by him to D.D. Arden, long a lottery and exchange broker. In 1830 Robert Keyworth, a jeweler, leased it.
The National Hotel property, on lot 8 to 12, was still listed in the name of Roger C. Weightman in 1830, and later lots 13 and 14 were also in his name and that of Mr. Calvert, and Mr. Havenner's property on lot 14 had increased in value, and on lot 15 John Petit, a dyer, had some small improvements. Lot 16 having passed through the hands of Samuel Elliott, Jr., Benjamin G. Orr and Alexander Kerr, trustee, was owned in 1825 by the Bank of the Metropolis, and it had then been improved by the erection of the circus, known as the amphitheater. Lot 17, on the east, was under lease to William Thumbert and S.W. Handy prior to 1825, when Silas Allen bought the east half. Five years later Alden sold it to Adam Poland et al. and Mr. Thumbert had a modest house on his part of the lot and Mr. Alden erected a large dwelling house on his portion, which afterward became the property of John Gadsby. Subsequently Mr. Gadsby bought other lots on C and 4 ½ streets. On these streets Mrs. Eliza Cox owned two lots and the Bank of Washington three. With the exception of a small structure belonging to Gen. Walter Jones, there were no buildings on these lots. Some of the lots are fenced and used as a mule yard and others as a slate yard. Part of the property was put to no better use than a dumping ground.
Increase in Valuation
That by the thirties this square was being developed is apparent from the corporation valuation in that decade. These were: Lot 1, $14,000; lot 2, two houses, $3,000 each, assessed to Mr. Hoban; lot 3, Levi Washburn, $1,400. H.T. Weightman, $2,200 and $400; lot 4, Toland's house, $400; lot 5, Toland's house, $400; lot 5, James Hoban, two houses, $3,700 each; lot 6, Lewis Johnson, $3,000; Charles Polkinhorn, $3,300 and Wm. Brown, $1,600; lot 7, James Hoban (R. Keyworth), $6,000 and A. Littlejohn, $1,800; lots 8 to 12, R.C. Weightman, $7,500, lot 14, Thomas Havenner, $2,200; lot 15, John Pettit, $100, and J.P. VanNess, $200; lot 16, Bank of Metropolis, $3,000; lot 17, Wm. Thumbert, $1,400, and John Gadsby, $4,000; lot 24, Gen. Walter Jones, $200.
Business establishments on the Pennsylvania avenue side of the square in the forties included the following: Michael Delany, druggist, at 4 ½ street and Pennsylvania avenue, with Mrs. Peyton's boarding house above; National Hotel, at 6th street under the management of S.S. Coleman; the Third Ward Lunch, under Wm. Benter; N. & S.L. Dodge, dentists; James Williams, a cabinet maker; W.W. ("Harry") Winter and J.L. Lawrence, tobacconists; Provost & Wallingsford, billiard saloon, Joseph Peck and Daniel Campbell, saddlers and harness stores; George Burns & Co., James Hamilton, E. Lacey and William Mann, dealers in boots and shoes; Tyson & Bros. and William H. Upperman, grocers; William Marshall, Lane & Tucker, J.R. Thompson, John Johnson, Thomas King and Lusby & Duvall, tailors; William Grupe and G.A. Knott, confectioners; Thomas E. France and A. Lee, lottery dealers; S. Masi and C.W. Heydon, watchmakers and jewelers; William M. Morrison and Frank Taylor, book sellers; Mrs. Stetson and Mrs. Masi, boarding houses, and Dr. C. Boyle, physician.
On 6th street were John H. Mills, bootmaker; J.H. Gibbs, barber and hair dresser; Thomas Haslup, confectioner; J. Dixon and Bradley & Thurston, agents.
On C street were Mrs. Fowler's boarding house, Daniel Campbell, Thomas Havenner & Son, bakers and Walker & Kimmell, livery men.
On 4 ½ street were C. Weeks, a school teacher, and Michael Foys, blacksmith shop.