East of the Capitol
By James Croggon, The Evening Star, May 27, 1907
The locality of squares 726, 727 and 728, east of the Capitol grounds and north of the Congressional Library, possesses much historical interest from a national as well as local viewpoint. With the library and the office buildings for the Senate and House of Representatives, the area known as the Capitol grounds are inclosed by marble walls, with the exception of that portion fronting on 1st street between East Capitol and B streets northeast. Doubtless, at no distant day, the government will take the squares first named as the site of a temple of justice, for the accommodation of the Supreme Court of the United States.
Should a building be erected there for the highest judicial body, it would be peculiarly appropriate, for after the burning of the Capitol in 1814 the head of the judicial system sat for a number of years in the building at 1st and A streets. The quarters mentioned were thus occupied from 1816 to 1820. The old Circuit Court of the District was also in this building from 1816 to 1825 when quarters were provided in the City Hall for the local court, together with offices for the clerk, the marshal and other officials.
As on the library site, heretofore described, an avenue intersected and made two divisions, where otherwise there was but one square. These were triangles known as squares 726 and 727 -- the first in the lines of Maryland avenue, 1st and B streets, and the other bounded by Pennsylvania avenue, 2d and A streets as they exist today. Square 728, between East Capitol, A, 1st and 2d streets, was one in form and name. Originally the ground was rolling and there were a few gullies.
Decidedly rural were the surroundings for a long series of years, North of A street and Maryland avenue was a wagon road, and other streets undefined gave little evidence of a growing city. Prior to the thirties, with the exception of one house and a little gardening plat, there were no evidences of man’s handiwork north of A street.
In square 726 prior to 1826, Aaron VanHorn owned property facing Maryland avenue, on which he had an imposing house for that day in the midst of a garden, the valued at $1,900.
Home of City Register
Square 728 was plotted for thirty lots, and the title to fifteen each vested in Mr. Carroll and the United States, Nos. 1, 12, 16, 27, being at the southeast, southwest, northwest and northeast corner, respectively. At the commissioners sale in 1793 H. Nichols bought lots 14 and 15 for $533.33, r. Nicklen lot 5, and N. Philips lot 6, and in 1796 Geo. Collard bought lot 24 on A street. Luke Washington, 1797, bout lot 16, corner of 1st and A streets, for $409.75, which the following year was sold to George Walker for $650, and in this Gen. Washington and Thomas Law were interested. In 1799 A. Robertson bought lot 27, 2d and A streets, with house, and R.E. Griffith became interested in lot 5 on East Capitol street. Dr. John Kearney in 1800 bought lot 18 on A street, and in the following year sold it to MacIntire & Armstrong for 1,435.86, with the brick house thereon. S. Collard, F. Kirby and Mr. Walker owned ground on A street, and W. Byram on East Capitol street, in 1801. In 1802 E. Fallon and John MacIntire are registered as buying lot 18. In this year Mr. Walker sold lots 16 and 17 to Wm. Tunnicliffe, who in 1804 sold to Pontius B. Stelle. In 1805 Z. Farrell and J.W. Brashears bought lot 2 on East Capitol street.
Valuation in 1803
That these figures do not cover all the improvements in the square is evident from the title records and the advertisements in the old Intelligencer. Some of these are signed by Mr. Carroll, offering buildings about the northeast corner of the square for sale or rent, and Carroll buildings often appear in the records. While title was vested in others, they all afterward went to Mr. Caroll.
The corner as above stated passed from Luke Washington to George Walker prior to 1800, and in 1802 Mr. Walker had title to lot 17 on the east. On these lots had been erected three-story brick buildings and stabling, and William Tunnicliffe, who had been in the hotel business near 9th street and Pennsylvania avenue southeast, bought them and opened Tunnicliffe’s Hotel. This in 1804 went into the hands of Pontius D. Stelle, and the place became widely known under his name. The consideration to Mr. Tunnicliffe was $30,000 for ground, hotel buildings and effects, with stabling for fifty horses.
In 1808 the MacIntire property, lot 18 east, was acquired by Mr. Stelle. About 1810 the entire property, lots 16 to 18 was sold to Peter Miller, and in 1816 to Mr. Carroll with lot 19. In the meantime Thomas Coyle had obtained a lease in the latter lot, and a public house was conducted by H.C. Rogart, who, about 1809, assigned to Robert Long, and for a few years Long’s Hotel was a popular place. The elder Howell Cobb of Georgia, uncle of the Cobb of the confederacy, John Dawson and Edward Gray of Virginia, and N.R. Moore and Gen. Roger Nelson of Maryland, were sojourners at Long’s. The property of the Stelles and Longs was in 1811 advertised for sale or lease by Mr. Carroll, who described houses as each of over fifty rooms with stabling for fifty horses. Coolidge of Marlborough then came in the block, as did MacLeod and it continued to be a hotel locality.
Temporarily Houses Congress
In the fifties there were families in the building and one or two clubs of young men had fitted up rooms for reading and amusement. It is related that the landlord’s agent would call almost weekly, and would be given a dollar on account of the rent.
During the civil war it became, under the name of the old Capitol prison, a noted place, and here not a few executions, some by gallows, others by shooting, occurred. Capt. Wirz of Andersonville was hanged there. All traces of it are now obliterated and instead are a block of fine residences. In one of which the late Justice Field long resided.
In the decade of 1820 to 1830 the ground was rated at 5 to 12 cents per foot, and property was listed: Z.D. Brashears, $150; C. Byran, $200, Z. Farrell’s heirs, $300, and Z. Hazel, $100, lots 2 and 3; M. Collins, $650, and Thomas Burch, $350, on lot 4; G. Phillips and W.J. MacCormick, $700, lot 6; Benjamin Burch, $3,500; James Carlan, $850, lot 7; D. Rapine, $2,600, lot 10; W.J. MacCormick, $150, lot 12, all of East Capitol street; Daniel Carroll, $9,000, lot 14 etc., 1st and A streets; M. Young’s heirs, $350, lot W.W.; G.T. Schaffer, $1,200, lot 23; Ann Chalmers, $900, lot 26, and A Robertson heirs, $50 on A street.
Mayor Rapine’s Residence
In 1808 the Poston family came to the section, Bartholomew Poston buying in lot 2, on East Capitol street near 2d street, Fielder Poston, corporative constable, a few years afterward went to K street near Rock Creek, but owned property in East Capitol street section for many years.
Thomas Knowles was on this lot in 1818, Martin Collins, in 1810 took a lease on lot 4, on East Capitol street and established a grocery store which was in existence as late as the forties.
Capt. Benjamin Burch was on East Capitol street prior to 1820, having a fine brick house on partsof lots 7 and 8, which was in its day the finest on East Capitol street, and it is still standing. The captain was the doorkeeper of the House of Representatives for many years and his brother Samuel a clerk in the office of the clerk of the House. Many members of Congress lived at Capt. Burch’s during the sessions. Among those about the twenties were Senator James Fisk and Representatives M. Richards and S.C. Crafts of Vermont; S. Hale, N. Upman and Josiah Butler of New Hampshire; H. Peck and John Fay of New York; J. McCreary, J. Overstreet and S. Tucker of South Carolina; Wiley Thompson, G.R. Gilmer and Joel Abbot of Georgia; Benjamin Harbin of Kentucky; Col Robert Allen of Tennessee, one of Jackson’s officers in the war of 182 and the Indian war, and two men named Smith, one a senator of South Carolina and the other a representative from Virginia.
Artillery Officer in 1812
In 1835 7c to 12c was the ground valuation, and some new names appeared in the neighborhood. Joseph Follansbee had bought on 2d street, and George Phillips and M. King on East Capitol street. D. Pancoast owned at the corner of A and 2d streets, which in the thirties went to S. Bassett, and C.H. Wiltberger bought in East Capitol street, as did Mary Sweeney. The improvements then listed were on lot 2, F.B. Poston, $200, and T. Holliday, $100; lot 3, Z. Hazel, $500; lot 4, M. Collins, $400, and Thomas Burch, $200; lot 5, G. Phillips, $800, and W.J. McCormick, $300; lot 7, Benjamin Burch, $2,000; lot 10, Rapine’s heirs, $1,800; all on East Capitol street; lots 14 to 19, Daniel Carroll, $5,000; lot 22, E. Judson, $150, and G.F. Schaffter, $800; lot 26, Ann Chalmers, $1,000; lot 28, Joseph Follansbee and D. Pancoast, $1,000 each.
East Capitol street, north side, notwithstanding the Hill market changed its location in 1838, was a business street in the forties. Mrs. R.T. Mills was at the corner of 1st street; McCormick, Phillips and Smallwood and Mrs. Sweeney kept groceries. J. Horning and J.H. Cake were bakers, and E. Riley was employed as a shoemaker.
Among the residents were Charles McNamee, clerk at the court house at the marriage license desk; J.B. Phillips, W. Clare, Mr. Clary and Mr. Kitchell. The old Capitol prison had become Hill’s boarding house. Mrs. S. Bassett was residing at A and 2d streets, and south lived Capt. Isaac Bassett, who for nearly half a century was a doorkeeper of the Senate.