Hundred Years Ago
By James Croggon, The Evening Star, July 28, 1907
In that section of Washington city in which Christ Protestant Episcopal Church was located a hundred years ago the edifice for many years stood solitary and alone, so sparsely was the neighborhood built up. On G street, between 6th and 7th streets southeast, this edifice has stood for over a hundred years, the spiritual house of many families who have continuously worshipped there. The congregation, it may readily be conceived, was not in former years made up of nearby families, for the Washington parish long took in the entire city, but with the old timers a mile or two was not considered a long distance, and until the establishment of St. John’s parish communicants were in far distant parts of the city. Its location, however, does not seem to have had an appreciable effect on the settlement of that section, for, as above stated, it had the appearance of a country church. Nevertheless, while the little knolls and undulating land west and south of the church afforded some ideal spots for cottage sites, the buildings or homes erected for nearly half a century in this section were south of G street, others in sight being easily counted on the fingers. Nevertheless, there was gradual growth, and by the thirties there was a neighborhood south of the church in which the merchant, mechanic, musician, medical practitioner, magistrate and others passed their home life. With so many lots unenclosed, and those improved by houses being capacious, advantage was taken by some of the settlers of the conditions, and there was not a few whose cows grazed on the open fields, while others maintained flower and kitchen gardens, and, despite the laws, a few hogs ran at large. From the south, I street, there was a gentle rise on the east part of the square south of G street, and a greater rise on the west portion, and through 7th street much of the ground north was drained, occasionally that street being overflowed.
Platted for Forty-Two Lots
In 1800 William Lambell bought lot 15, on 6th street, convenient to his work as a ship carpenter in the navy yard, and erected a model residence assessed for $350 value in the twenties. The name was perpetuated by the well-known Kelly Lambell, who for some years had a shipyard near the foot of 9th street and later was in the brickmaking business. William Hampden was on the same lot by lease in 1812 and had a small frame home valued at $200 for thirty years or more.
Dr. Alexander McWilliams came on the square in 1811, leasing lots 4 and 5 and afterward 3 and 4 fronting on I street and improving the same, made his home here. The corporation value was $200 and the ground 3 cents per foot. Dr. McWilliams the elder, as well as the son of the same name and son-in-law, Dr. Noble Young, were leading physicians of that day, members of the board of health and connected with the hospitals, prisons and asylum. Drs. George Dove and S.A.H. McKim were also here later.
In 1811 Lemuel Townsend leased lot 1, at the corner of 7th and I streets, and erected a grocery store and dwelling, which the corporation valued of $900. This is now within a few years of being a grocery for a century, the business having been continuous. Martin King bought the property in 1831, with parts of the lots adjoining on the north and west, and continued the business for many years, so long, in fact, that King’s corner seemed a permanent fixture.
Improvements in 1812
The southwest corner of 6th and G streets, lots 21 to 24 and part 25, was bought by John McLeod in 1813. These lots, with 18 to 20, were bought in 1816 by Maj. S. miller of the Marine Corps. John Crabb, a justice of the peace, bought in the corner lots, 21 to 23, 6,300 feet of ground, the same year for $350.50. Mr. Crabb, whose office was opposite the Marine barracks, at once improved thee corner by the fine brick structure yet standing. This was taxed on at $1,800 valuation in the twenties and was the home of the family for several years. In 1837 it became the property of Mrs. Hannah Allen. The Dulin family, of which the late James C. Dulin was a member, lived here for some years, as did Dr. Noble Young in the forties. It is now owned by the Charles Schroth estate.
John Dunn, in 1810 leased in lots 7 and 8 on I street, and erected a house valued at $450. Ex-Mayor Smallwood owned a portion of lot 2 the next year and was assessed $200 thereon. In 1821 Veneranda pullizzi bought in lot 3, adjoining the McWilliam property, and had a residence assessed at $200. Mr. Pullizzi was of the little company of Italians who came here about 1804-5 and entered the Marine Band.
William Speiden, clerk in the navy purser’s store, conducted the grocery and dry goods store at 8th and L streets, and lived on I street. In the twenties he settled permanently by leasing lots 40 and 41 on 7th street, buying them four years later with lot 12 adjoining. This he improved, and it was the family home for many years.
In 1834 John Tucker bought lot 37 on 7th street , on which was a small frame house, and in 1836 it was bought by J.C. Cassidy.
In 1837 Sarah A.T. Dulany owned lot 10 on I street, and John H. Smoot, master joiner, lots 40 and 41 on 7th street.
In addition to those named there was on 7th street in the thirties Thomas Reddish, William Thomas and James McCathron, ship carpenters; Patrick Tuell, blacksmith; J.H. Myers, musician; Henry Tuell, carpenter; and A. Crawford, J. Roby and T. Griffith, blacksmiths. Among those on I street were George Atkinson, blacksmith; Daniel Page, clerk; A.H. Lawrence, attorney at law; and Benjamin Smith, who weighted 300 pounds and was known as Big Smith.
During the rectorship of Rev. Ethan Allen, who served from 1823 to 1830, the rectory was built on the lot west of the church and is so used today.
Until 1820 there were no transfers of property in this square, and then the two lots 10 and 11, at the southwest corner of the square, were sold to Dr. John Harrison, U.S.N., then in charge of the naval hospital. These were 75 feet front on G street and nearly 100 feet on 6th street, and the consideration was 10 cents per foot, although the corporation value on the square was only 3 cents. Dr. Harrison built a home here in which he lived a number of years. The property went into the hands of Wm. Richards in 1842, and two substantial brick dwellings took the place of the former house. The Richards home was here, as father and son lived here for many years. The late James H. Richards was well known among the volunteer firemen, the Odd Fellows and other orders. He was in the brickmaking business.
James Diggs, a ship carpenter in the navy yard in 1820, leased the lot west of that on which the rectory stands, and erected a small frame cottage, set well back from the street. This was valued at $150 in the twenties. Diggs’ name disappears from the records in 1830, and that of Parsons, together with record of a $1,000 improvement on the lot, appears on the tax books.
In 1838 Joseph Cowperthwaite became the owner of lots fronting of G street, between the church and 7th street, and S.A.H. Marks, three years after, bought the west lot 5, where he built a find residence, and soon after Jesse Ergood and James Peake and Malinda Smith owned lot 3, and James Gordon had lot 2.
Odd Fellows Purchase
Some others on this square were Mrs. Burdine, mother of Alfred, James and Charles Burdine; W. Roach, D. Simonds and F. Clinton.
The triangular square formed by South Carolina avenue and E, 6th and 7th streets, was laid out into twelve lots and assigned to Mr. Prout in 1795. The lots at the west end of the square in 1800 went to David Slater. In 1815 B.G. Orr had a deed for a lot, but the next year John Chalmers leased the whole square, and in 1818 transferred his lease to S. Elliot, jr. The ground was valued at 3 cents a foot for the first half of the century, and the only improvements were in the name of J. Chalmers, on lot 1, corner of 7th and E streets. In 1816 he held the square by lease. Mr. Prout the following year bought the west end of the square. In 1822 it was in the name of the Bank of Washington, and in 1835 Joel Crittenden owned all excepting lot 6, which was in the name of W.W. Corocran. In 1843 Thomas Kelly secured lot 6 by lease.
The year following the lot went to John Hall, and Patrick Sweeney held a lease in trust on the west half of lot 5, while the fee title of the whole sqaure was held by H. Bradley and later by George B. McKnight.
The square which for years bore the name of the Maples and on which resided Mrs. Briggs, who was well known in journalistic circles, is one of more than ordinary interest. It is No. 875, within the lines of 6th, 7th and D streets and South Carolina avenue and although on the plan of the city it appears as a collection of twelve building lots, until recently it was kept intact. In 1796 Capt. W. Mayne Duncanson bought the square from the United States and the same year sold it to J.S. Robertson, 15,000 feet of it, on condition that he build upon it within three years. In 1797 James Ray had the rest of the square, 28,000 feet, on that same condition. Robertson failed to build and the land was conveyed back to Duncanson. The house was erected in 1796, and Capt. Duncanson too up his residence here, living in fine style. But misfortune overtook him, and his property became incumbered. Before his death in 1812 he had to move to a more humble abode, the mansion with other property becoming subject to the courts. In 1815 under decree of the court this square was sold by Francis Scott Key as trustee to Wm. Campbell. Mayor Wm. Gamble became the owner in 1831; the next year it passed to Robert Beale, in 1836 to E.W. Reenhart and two years later to Maj. A.A. Nicholson, long the adjutant and inspector of the Marine Corps. The property in the fifties passed through the hands of H.M. Moffatt, John M. Clayton and Count Portalis. The mansion, a spacious, two-story building fronting south, with wide portico, has been twice enlarged since those days by the addition of wings. During its occupancy by Gen. Stewart in the twenties, Maj. Nicholson in the forties and John M. Clayton, when Secretary of State in the early fifties, it was the scene of many notable gatherings.