Near Navy Yard Gate
By James Croggon, The Evening Star, June 22, 1907, [pt. 2 p. 3]
In the neighborhood of the navy yard gate at an early day forest and field gave way to open streets and human habitations. While in other sections more extensive private improvement was made, probably in no other portion of the District were homes made more rapidly than between 7th and 8th streets south of Virginia avenue. The navy yard having been opened in 1800, the mechanics employed there looked for homes convenient to their work; and in a little time the two squares south of Virginia avenue were dotted with houses of brick and frame. That settlement was evidently not anticipated by the Commissioners of the federal city, for the square known as 906 was laid off for only six and square 907 for only four original lots. By 1802 there were more than twenty buildings on the former square. No. 907, the east half of which is now used by the Capital Traction Company, was behind the former in development, at least in number of improvements, title to the east half long remaining with Wm. Prout, the original proprietor. There were eight buildings on the square in 1802, valued at about $6,000.
In square 906 between Virginia avenue, L, 7th and 8th streets, all of which in the division by the Commissioners was assigned to Wm. Prout, the proprietor, much of the original improvement was on leased ground. Though there appears on the title records nothing prior to 1802 on the assessment books of that date, when the ground. Is rated at 2 cents, the following improvements are listed: S. Fowler, $200; w. Shaw, $300; R. Delphy, $100; J.B. Wimsatt, $500; L. White, $100; L. and E. Edelin, $2,000; L. White, $300; James Friend, $500; Robert Rose, $400 Wm. Brashears, $400; W. Prout, $330; P. Moss, $200; Joseph Johns, $800; S. Nowland, $900; J. Cox, $200; J.B. Parsons, $200; Jeremiah Booth, $350; P. Moss, $350, and E. Perry, $400. Five years later appear the names of Deborah Green, $280; Wm. Smith, $500; J. Vint, $1,200 and $250; W. Shaw, $1,000, and Dr. N. Brashears, $500.
How Squares Were Platted
Holders of Leases
By the twenties the ground had reached a value of 7 to 11 cents and the improvements multiplied. Samuel Fowler, a carpenter, with a $1,700 property; H. Dorsey, $500; Philimon Moss, tavern keeper and a city councilman, $1,500; A.C. Cazenove, $600; H. Aukward, $850; F. Wharton heirs, $300; Electus Edelin's heirs, corner 7th street, $1,600, on the L street property; J.B. Parsons, blacksmith, $500; J. Johnson, $750; J. Wilson, $600; D. Bates, $500, and Robert Rose, corner Virginia avenue and 7th street, $2,800; Owen MacCue, grocer, $900; Sarah Spratt, $400; Mary Hayes, $50, on Virginia avenue; W. Gray, $200; Mary Kirby, $100; Spratt's heirs, $350; J. Dobbyn, $1,000, tavern on 8th street.
Some of the Residents
In the forties James Cull, a justice of the peace, bought on 8th street part of lot 6. John Smallwood assumed the Little lease at 7th and L streets, which later went to Mrs. Pie, grocer. G. Hartman, a baker, bought parts of lots 5 and 6, on Virginia avenue, and John S. Stillings, a cabinetmaker and undertaker, purchased the Moss property, at present known as 720 L street.
Square 907, between 7th and 8th and L and M streets, included in the Prout tract, was plotted for four lots, title to all of which was vested in Mr. Prout, and as in the other square described, little property went to early settlers other than by lease. About the year 1800 there was a brick building on the west side of 8th street, which later was enlarged, in which Wm. Prout, the proprietor, resided for several years, and about 1835 it became the home of Philip Otterback, the butcher. The property fronted more than 200 feet on 8th street and took in the east half of the south front of the square, the grounds being laid off into gardens for vegetables, flowers and fruit. That portion of the square now owned by the Capital Traction Company possibly has been the subject of fewer real estate transactions than any other portion held by private parties.
In The Twenties
The records show that the first operation in real estate in the square in question was the execution of a lease in 1802 to Nicholas Vass, affecting ground at 7th and L streets, which in 1803 was transferred to Joseph Costigan. The same year G. Higdon had a deed to 7th street property. The corporation records of that date give the ground a 6-cent value, and the improvements charged were to Files and Young, $1,100; G. Higdon, $400 and $600; Joseph Costigan, $1,250; Wm. Prout, $1,000; Sarah Augustin, $400; M. Thompson, $250, and N. Voss, $1,500. Wm. O'Brien in 1804 had property on 7th street which he conveyed in trust for the benefit of his children, during h is absence in Ireland. The same year Ignatius Boone conveyed to Mr. Prout ground on 7th street, with a brick house, and the next year P. Spalding had a lease on 7th street property and B. Dougherty was on the corner of 8th and L streets.
T. Young and T. Fyle, N.L. Queen and Azariah Gatton in 1806 had leases and Augustus Setta owned on 7th street and C. O'Hare had a lease on M street. Jas. Cassin in 1808 had a lease on a house on 7th street, Wm. Wood on L street property and in 1809 F. Whatton had the Cassin lease and J.H. Bentley and W. O'Brien each had leases on L street property.
Louis Deblois in 1810 had a lease on the corner of 8th and L street and Jeremiah Perkins, painter, and J.S. Stephenson, gunner, owned property on L street.
War Has Bad Effect
In the twenties 6 to 10 cents was the ground value, and Mr. Prout's residence was assessed for $5,500; Richard O'Hare's, $1,500; James Carlin's, $150; W. Burnes, $1,000; R. Barnes', $300; G. Higdon's, $400; A. Nesmith's, $300; A. Serra, foreman laborer, navy yard, $800; B.E. Clark's heirs, $200; Fyles & Young's, $1,400; B. Spalding's, $1,200; W. O'Brien's heirs, $1,600, Prout's heirs', $1,200 and T. Winn's, $400.
It was in one of the houses on the east side of 7th street that Washington Naval Lodge of Masons held its meetings from 1805 until the erection of the hall at 4th street and Virginia avenue. There is no telling how the house at 8th and L streets figured in the affairs of old. As a store it was the scene of many neighborhood gatherings, and when it was a tavern stand it was the center of neighborhood conferences on many occasions, as well as convivial gatherings. It is related that about twice a year two of the old residents were wont to have a row there. They were prominent citizens, one of whom only semi-occasionally imbibed, and then, berated by his wife at home, would go straight to the tavern, where the usual row occurred. Generally when it was over he went off exclaiming: "That man is always picking up a quarrel with me, and I don't know why, unless he didn't marry my wife before I got her. I wish to the Lord he had married her, for he would have wished himself elsewhere fifteen years ago."
And yet it is said that, except when he was in his cups, his home was a happy one.
Dora Bowen, colored, was the popular shoemaker of those parts, on L street. William M. Ellis, long a master machinist and an alderman, was on Georgia avenue west of 7th street; John Davis, a well-known carpenter, was at 7th and L streets, and Wash. Wright, a tin and sheet-iron worker, on L street, was noted for his fine proportions as also for his genial disposition. For want of a hall, a large room on the south side of Virginia avenue was utilized for the neighborhood dances and amusements.