Named Rodgers' Row
By James Croggon, The Evening Star, March 30, 1907 [p. 9]
For many years in the last century there faced the Potomac and the Eastern branch a fine specimen of the buildings erected in the closing years of the eighteenth century – the block of brick dwellings best known as Rodgers' row, on the north side of P street west of 4-1/2 street, which was demolished a few years ago when railroad car barns were established there. This stood solitary and alone, as an improvement between those in the square north and the small buildings which at the end of the point comprised the arsenal. The latter, on which were a few shops before 1800, had become a depot for military supplies in 1807, and was garrison by a single company in the war of 1812, during which the buildings were destroyed. But immediately after the war the yellow buildings, yet standing were erected to constitute the Washington arsenal now within the grounds of the United States War College. The reservation for the arsenal extended originally as far north as T street only, and about 1828 the penitentiary for the District of Columbia was located on that street, and northward to the row was open common or fields, some cultivated, with here and there a few trees unbroken save that in the thirties, at about R street, was a lone frame dwelling.
This part of the city's territory was a portion of the Notley Young domain, and much of it went into the hands of Greenleaf shortly after the laying out of the city. Square No. 504, the site of Rodgers' row is within the lines of O, P, 4-1/2 and Water streets. In 1794 it was plotted by Greenleaf into twenty-six lots, but it appears it was not long in his name, for Morris & Nicholson in 1795 came into possession, and later Thomas Law and Wm. M. Duncanson were associated with it.
Completed in 1797
Not until 1817 does there appear to have been any movement in the real estate here. Samuel Elliot, jr., then taking title for over half the square, lots 9 to 23, inclusive, on the west and north fronts. The next year, 1818, he sold over half of the west front, lots 9, 10 and part of 11, to Benjamin G. Orr, then mayor of the city, and the latter sold this to Hawes Goldsborough, who about the same time acquired lots 3 to 8, which included the west half of the row. In 1819 Mr. Orr acquired the two houses, on lots 1 and 2, which went to Rev. Luther Rice, treasurer and agent of Columbia College, and W.H. Crawford, Secretary of the Treasury. Later they were in possession of the college again, at which time, in the thirties, they are mentioned as of a value of $14,000, though assessed at less than one-third of that sum.
Named in 1820
These, with other neighbors, were congenial and were exceedingly popular in that section. While there was little gardening ground attached to Commodore Wadsworth's residence, Commodore Rodgers had a large and well-arranged garden of flowers and vegetables, besides a number of fruit trees. In the former his family and friends took much pleasure, and it was as much appreciated for its beauty as for its utility.
Proof of Commodore Rodgers’ popularity is found in the fact that he was president of the Potomac Fire Insurance Company and a member of the board of aldermen in the twenties. Opposite his residence, south of P street, a small grove of trees was utilized by the younger people for impromptu picnics. The breezes from the river and a never-failing supply of fine water convenient at the corner pump helped their enjoyment. It is related that the old seadog and his friends were not strangers at these gatherings.
The Columbia College in the twenties was assessed $4,100 on its two houses and Commodore Rodgers $2,900, and the ground at its old valuation, then three cents per foot.
Some of the Residents
As has been stated the platted squares between P and T streets were for long series of years unimproved. In the forties Z. Brundage bought a lot on 4-1/2 street near R street, and had a frame house thereon, in which he was convenient to his work in the arsenal. The same may be said of the several squares south of M street and between 4-1/2 street and James Creek, or, as called, the Penitentiary Marsh, by the many sportsmen who enjoyed hunting there.
There is a similarity in the history of each of the squares, or more properly divisions, the early owners being the same as those noted in square 502. Square 505, west of 4-1/2 street and between P and Q streets, was in 1794 in the name of Notley Young, and in 1837 was conveyed by E. Fenwick to Samuel Byington, then master smith of the arsenal, from whom the government bought it in 1857. Square 506 from the Youngs in 1794 went to Greenleaf, W.M. Duncanson and Morris & Nicholson in turn, and through corporation title to Wm. B. Todd in 1837.
In 1857 it went to the government square south of 506. In 1837 it was bought by J.B. Kibbey and sold to the United States twenty years after, as well as the square south of 506.
East of 4-1/2 street between M and N streets, two cents valuation on ground was reduced to one cent, and that was the rate till the forties. Greenleaf, Daw and other familiar names are in the early records associated with more than seventy lots.
About 1840 many lots were disposed of, the purchasers being J.P. Keefe, Allen Beach, W.J. Lemon, A. McEllwee, R. Jones, M.W. Fisher, R. Clarke, L. Disher, D. Fowbie, W. Wallingsford, James Magune and others. Some of these lots are described as on Broad alley, known as Van street.
Mr. Fisher, then master armorer at the arsenal, father of Capt. M. Percy Fisher of the bureau of engraving and printing, erected a fine frame house at the corner of M and 4-1/2 streets, where he lived many years. James Maguire erected a carpenter shop on the west side of 4-1/2 street. A few years later Terrence Riley bought property at 4-1/2 and N streets, erecting a dwelling and the Greenleaf Coffee and Spice Mills, and for a number of years had a profitable trade. Of the square south, 546, there is similar ancient history down to 1821, also of the remaining squares north of T street between 4-1/2 street and James Creek.
Owners of Improved Property
In the late forties W.W.H. Mack settled near the corner of 4-1/2 and N street, where a brewery was soon after built and operated. It was one of the earliest lager beer establishments of this section. Near the corner was the pump before mentioned directly opposite Wheat's row, and south of Mr. Mack's was then a large garden which the Wheats managed with that opposite.
The ground south to the then arsenal limits – T street – was much in grass and corn, and on the west side of James Creek was the slaughter house of James E. Johnson. The owners, mostly through tax title, were Mr. Johnson, W.B. Todd, W.H. Philip and all south of P street was sold to the government in 1857.
One of the first bridges erected by the corporation of Washington was over James Creek at N street, about the year 1804. This was a near cut from Carrolsburg or Buzzard Point, in which were the twenty buildings which were left incomplete by the builders, and the buildings erected on Greenleaf's Point. In the forties and fifties there was a slight foot bridge at T street which was placed there by workmen in the arsenal who resided over the creek. Some of the old residents say that so simple was its structure that mischievous boys were wont to remove a plank or two just for the fun of laughing at discomfited pedestrians. There were a number of such workmen who did not walk from Carrolsburg, but went by water, and they were enabled to land close to the shops at the extremity of the point.