Early Realty Values
By James Croggon, The Evening Star, January 27, 1907 [pt. 1, p. 12]
Admiral Farragut, the hero of Mobile bay, whose statue attests his services, became ten years before the civil war interested in Washington real estate. In 1851 he purchased at auction one of the six buildings on Pennsylvania avenue between 21st and 22d streets, a fine commodious brick structure erected about 1797, for $2,400. This seems astonishingly low, for the cost of the building alone was more than that sum. That was, however, when mills often expressed the price of Washington property, when but seldom the dollar mark was used and while downtown property prices were expressed in cents. A three-story building on 11th street opposite The Star building about the same time brought $5,000 of G.A.W. Randall, and a lot of 2,500 feet on D street west of 10th street, with one or two-storied buildings, brought $6,100 from Clement Woodward.
Unimproved property was then appreciating in the neighborhood of Franklin row, K street between 12th and 13th streets northwest, 50 to 70 cents per foot being obtained for lots on L and 11th streets. On H street between 17th and 18th streets lots sold at 17-1/2 cents per foot, on 18th street between E and F streets at 12-1/2 cents and on Pennsylvania avenue between 25th and 26th streets 1 cent was obtained.
Near what was then the new railroad depot, New Jersey avenue between C and D streets northwest, 2-1/4 to 4 cents per foot was obtained for lots on Massachusetts and New Jersey avenues and F street. A square of ground between K and L, North Capitol and I streets, east near St. Aloysius Church, nearly six acres, brought $1,880 cash, about 8 mills per foot, and part of a square near the penitentiary, now enclosed in the arsenal grounds, brought 8 mills per foot. A lot on G street between 13th and 14th streets northwest brought 27 cents per foot.
Location of Old Canal
The first sales appear to have been made in 1825, Robert Rose and E. Hanson getting lot 14, and David Munroe lot 20, on the north front; and in a short time each was improved by brick houses, the former passing to C.E. Eckel in 1828, and five years later to Frederick Cudlip.
The avenue, or north front lots, were of twenty-five feet front and brought from $600 to $800 each, the deeds passing when this was paid. It appears that the corporation value was from 30 to 35 cents per foot and lots in other parts of the square at from 8 to 20 cents. The Missouri avenue front kept pace with the north front of the square, both in number and value of improvements, as will be seen by the following listing: On Missouri avenue, lot 2, R. Semmes and C. Cox, $3,300; 5, William Bird, $2,600; 7, John Underwood, $3,000; 11, A.B. Waller and J.S. Clark, $3,000, $3,000; B. Semmes, $7,000. On Pennsylvania avenue, lot 13, M. MacCarthy, $1,200; 14, C.E. Eckel, $2,500; 15, N. Callan, $1,600; 18, G. Watterson, $1,800; 22, A.M. MacIntire, $800; 32, P.G. Howie, $1,400. On 3d street, lot 34, T. Sewall, $600, and D. Munroe, $300.
First Ten Years of History
About 1834 the building at the southeast corner of 4-1/2 street and Pennsylvania avenue was in the occupancy of Mrs. Elizabeth Blake, who conducted a boarding house for several years. It was the home during the sessions of Congress of Senators Chambers and Kent of Maryland and Representatives John Cramer of New York, J.G. Watmough of Pennsylvania, W.B. Shepherd of North Carolina and others. In the forties this house became a tavern, conducted for some time by T.C. Peetsch, and afterward by the well known John Clarvoe, who had long conducted a public house near the market.
There were also the boarding houses of Mrs. Elizabeth Queen, Mrs. Ballard, Mr. H.V. Hill and others. These were of the congressional class, with little colonies of legislators located therein. Mrs. Queen housed Messrs. Mitchell, Hathaway, Halsey, J.W. Brown and Bodie of New York, Harper, R. Burns and Bean of New Hampshire. In Mrs. Ballard's were T.F. Foster, R.L. Gamble and A.S. Clayton of Georgia, and Benjamin Jones of Ohio. Mr. Hill had as his guests A. Rencher of North Carolina and Cave Johnson of Tennessee. The latter afterward became postmaster general. Mr. Hill had before conducted a boarding house in the old Capitol building, 1st and A streets northeast.
Ten years later this locality maintained its reputation for fine boarding houses, and with the many prominent men as guests made it a high-class neighborhood. New names later attached to the boarding houses, Mrs. Cudlip, who came on the square about 1835, commenced a business in which she spent over thirty years. Beneath her roof was Robert Dale Owen of Indiana, noted as an author and a legislator, and his colleagues, O. Hungerford and G. Rathburn; R.P. Dunlop of Maine, J.S. Yost of Pennsylvania and H. St. John of Ohio. Mrs. Scott also entered the same business, conducting a well-patronized house in which were Senators Niles of Connecticut and Fairfield of Maine, and Representatives D.S. Dickerson and Preston King of New York and P. Dillingham of Vermont.
Jefferson Davis' Old Home
In addition to the boarding houses named above there were on the avenue in the thirties the grocery of M.L. Semmes, later Semmes & Son; Mrs. E. Ford, manteaux-maker; George Scott, wood yard, and Lucy Taylor. Mr. Semmes and John Underwood and J.S. Clarke, with others were on Missouri avenue. On the east side of 4-1/2 street were some shops in which John Newton was a coach-maker, W. Gardner a coach-trimmer and James O'Brien, a blacksmith, and B. Bean, M. MacCarthy and D. Pierce held leases near the corner of the avenue and 4-1/2 streets.
Among the owners of avenue property in 1840 were Thomas Young, Dr. F. May, Dr. Sewall, Mrs. Varnum, Lee Espey, W.H. Faulkner and Michael MacDermitt. Messrs. Henry Lee and James Espey were cabinetmakers and neighbors, living on Maryland avenue. Forming a partnership, they established business on Pennsylvania avenue on the site now occupied by J. William Lee, who succeeded his father. The original establishment, which in a short time was exclusively devoted to the undertaking business, was a small two-story frame which many years ago gave way to the present establishment. Mr. MacDermott had been in business on the opposite side of the avenue some years, but needed more room when he moved here. This was in the beginning a small concern, but has become one of the first of the kind. As the sons grew up and became partners the firm name was changed.
Missouri Avenue Property
In the forties on the avenue and 4-1/2 street were Peetsch's tavern, Mrs. Holdsworth's, F. Cudlip's, Mrs. Reiley's, Mrs. Potter's, Mrs. Polkinhorn's and Mrs. Scott's boarding houses; F.S. Naylor, tin and sheet iron worker; William Cannon, painter; C. Dunlap and A. Causland, barbers; Lee & Espey, cabinetmakers and undertakers; William H. Faulkner, shirt-maker; J.W. Smith, tailor; M. McDermott, coach-maker; Semmes & Son, grocers; Richard Thompson; N. Adams, second-hand clothing. On 3d street was R. Patterson, blacksmith. On Missouri avenue were Mrs. Lunts' boarding house at 3d street; R.G. Briscoe, P.W. Browning, H.S. Clarke, W.G. Snithen, W.T. Duvall, Mrs. Jeffers and Mrs. M.E. Morgan's boarding house. In the fifties B. Shadd located on 3d street and opened a tavern at the corner of the avenue. Mr. Faulkner is remembered for having been the pioneer shirt manufacturer in these parts, having many employes and was among the first to demonstrate the labor-saving advantages of the sewing machine, which was at this period just coming into use. "Thompson Life Preserver," a patent medicine, made by Mr. Richard Thompson, was the wonderful "cure-all" of the Washington people of that day, and the proprietor was quite successful with it, as the medicine was credited by some with benefit to many complaints. From William Cannon, a neighboring painter, came "Cannon's Bitters," which for years was the favorite tonic for many families.
While the avenue front was devoted to business, the south front of the square, like the west, reservation B, became appreciated as a place of residence. Especially was this so in the forties and fifties, for south of it was the mall, in which the trees planted some years before, were well grown, and there were facilities for recreation. There was no unloading of boats on the canal, but a full view of such as they passed back and forth was had, and they were objects of interest.