Navy Yard Section
By James Croggon, The Evening Star, September 21, 1907 [pt. 3 p. 1]
That portion of the Prout farm which, in the latter part of the eighteenth century, embraced the navy yard section of the city, and in which, between Pennsylvania avenue, G, 7th and 11th streets building lots were platted, did not lose its farm-like appearance in several generations. Almost down to the civil war period much of the ground was unenclosed, and the few buildings which had been erected, mostly of frame, were so scattered that they would pass for the tenant houses and out buildings of a farm, and the brick building near the corner of the avenue and 9th street as the residence of a farmer.
With the exception of a frame building on 10th street south of the avenue, the building at the northwest corner of 11th and G streets, and that noted above, and a few small buildings on G and 8th streets there were no indications of a future city neighborhood.
The construction of the bridge over the Eastern branch, at the foot of Pennsylvania and Kentucky avenues, on a line with the latter avenue, and the line of travel over the zig-zag roads, doubtless led to the erection of the building at Pennsylvania avenue and 9th street and the establishment of Tunicliff's hotel there. This was before the year 1800. The location of the marine barracks south, it would appear, should have induced building, but a number of years elapsed before there was any improvement between the hotel and the barracks. Square 903, between 7th, 8th, E and G streets, of this locality, first showed activity, some parties settling there before 1811, in which year Dr. May made a subdivision of the lots.
Square No. 825, south of Pennsylvania avenue between 8th and 9th streets, was divided into twelve lots, and in 1795 all were assigned to Mr. Prout, the proprietor. Tristam Dalton, senator in the first Congress from Massachusetts, who invested largely in Washington property, associated with Greenleaf, and a member of the firm of Lear & Co. Was the first purchaser here. Lots 10 and 11 were bought by him in 1795 and sold to John Nicholson, who transferred to John Ashley. In the deed to the latter a brick house thirty-six feet square and outbuildings were noted. Who the buildings were erected by is not stated, but it is believed it was one of the houses built by Morris & Nicholson.
Eastern Branch Hotel
In 1797 the name of Louis Deblois attaches, and in 1803 Ashley conveyed the property to John Travers of Philadelphia for $4,000. In 1808 Elizabeth Travers, administratrix, conveyed it to Bond & Ashley, who in the same year conveyed it to Josiah Fox, and in 1813 it passed to William Morgan of Georgetown.
Capt. William Easby became the purchaser at public sale in 1821 for $1,500 and resided there for twenty years or more. Capt. Easby was at this period and for many years afterward a ship carpenter, engaged in the navy yard as master boat builder. He was regarded as a man of much force of character, outspoken and resolute, and widely known by his activity in every movement tending to the advancement of the interests of the community. Well known prior to 1848, he then became prominent before the public as a man of immovable will power.
When Gen. Van Ness died a demand for a widow's interest in the estate was set up by a claimant known as Mrs. Conner, who conducted a boarding house on Missouri avenue near 4-1/2 street. Her claim was denied and suit was entered against the estate. Capt. Easby was one of the jurors at the trial, which came on in 1848, and during its course a motion was granted that the jury be directed to find a verdict for defendant.
Capt. Easby refused to give such a verdict, insisting that he had been sworn to give a verdict on the evidence. The court endeavored to make it plain to Capt. Easby that it was his duty to obey the court's direction, but the juror was immovable.
Committed to Jail
This incident was the general topic for some years, and Capt. Easby for the rest of his life was very popular. He established the shipyard at the west end of the city which, ,with his sons, he conducted a number of years. He also had lime kilns, and the name of Easby's point long designated the locality.
Lots 8 and 9, fronting on the avenue, were bought in 1797 by A. Woodward, a distinguished lawyer of Virginia, who early in the century went to Detroit, Mich. He subsequently became a United States judge, and was long a leading citizen, his influence in the city of his adoption being seen in the fact that a portion of it followed the lines of Washington city; one of its finest avenues bearing his name. His Washington lots were in 1804 again in the possession of Mr. Prout, and none of the other lots had a change of owners till 1847.
The hotel property was in 1802 assessed to Mr. Prout at $2,500, and the ground at 2 cents per foot. In 1830 and 1840 $2,000 was the assessed value of Mr. Easby's property, and half a cent per foot had been added on the ground.
The square between E, G, 7th and 8th streets on its east and south fronts attracted some settlers in the teens of the century, but the buildings were of small value. It was included in the Prout farm and on the plan of the city was platted for twenty-two lots, all of which in the division between the United States and proprietor in 1795 went to the former. For several years the square was in one ownership-Dunlop & Carlton in 1797, James Barry in 1801 and Dr. Frederick May in 1807 holding title.
In 1808 Patrick Kain, afterward for many years the master painter in the navy yard, had a lease in lot 20 on 7th street, and the following year Love & Kain were lessees in the lot adjoining on the north. Later deeds were given on these lots. John Caton in 1809 bought lots 1, 2, 3 and 22, the southeast part of the square, and Mr. Kyne the same year bought parts 1 to 3. The next year, 1810, several transfers were made on the 8th street front, Mr. Jeffers buying lot 13, James McKee, lots 20 and 21 and A. White lot 22.
Activity in the Market
In 1813 Maj. S. Miller owned lots 11 to 18, the northeast corner of the square; Patrick Kain, 17 to 19, on 8th street, and John Davis had a lease from Wayson in lots 2, 3 and 22. In 1816 W.D. Aikin leases in 18 and 19, on 8th street. Samuel Miller in 1819 acquired interest in lots 1 to 3 and 22, and I.S. miller and James Spratt soon afterward in lots 13 and 22. In 1822 lot 21 was in the name of Elizabeth Coons, and the next year Davis assigned lease in lots 2, 3 and 22 to Walter Evans. E. Wayson obtained a lease in 18 and 19 and R. Taylor in 2, 3 and 22.
In 1825 the valuation of 3 cents per foot of twenty years before was reduced to 2 cents, and the improvements were charged as follows: M. Kyne, $300; W.D. Aiken, $300; E. Wayson, $200; P. Kain, $600; Elizabeth Coons, $200, on 8th street, and Shaw's heirs, L. Pope's heirs and F. May, $100 each, and James Bury, $300, on G street.
In 1828 J.H. Smoot owned lots 4, 5 and 6 on 7th street, and in the thirties, R.R. Tracy, Timothy Winn, Mrs. King and R. Dodds were owners in this square.
The square north, 902, between E, G, 7th and 8th streets, embracing fourteen lots, stood in 1795 in the name of the United States, and two years thereafter passed to Dunlop and Carlton. In 1800 Commodore Tingey owned lots 2 and 5 and 14, which the next year appeared of record in the name of Mr. Prout. William Yeatman in 1802 owned lot 1 at the corner of E and 8th streets, and in 1807 Dunlop and Carlton had title to lots 3 and 4. In 1810 C.F. Kalkman owned, lot 1 at 8th and E streets, and in 1813 Robert King owned lot 4, corner of 7th and E streets. Two and 3 cents represented the value for early years, but in the thirties 1 cent per foot was assessed on the ground and no improvements were listed.
In 1831 Mrs. Sarah Spratt owned lot 1, 8th and E streets, and the Bank of the United States lot 3 on E street, and in 1837 Tunis Craven, long a naval storekeeper, had lots 7 to 10 in the northwest corner of the square, and Mrs. M.G.T. Wingate lot 6 on 7th street.
Square 926, though Tunnicliff's Hotel and the marine barracks flanked it north and south, was long a neglected one as far as records show. Twenty-two lots were laid off, and in 1795 title was vested in Mr. Prout, who was assessed on a valuation of 3 cents per foot. This was reduced half a cent in 1807, and remained at that figure until 1835. In 1822 James Spratt bought two lots on 9th, 20th and 21st street, and in 1844 Gen. A. Henderson bought lots 4 to 7 on 8th and G streets. In the twenties but one improvement was listed, although S. Pritchett, John Goss and Wm. Smith were located by the directory of 1822. The improvement on lot 7, on 8th street, valued at $250, was the schoolhouse of Wm. Smith. He was the father of James G. Smith, popular "Jim" Smith of the forties, who afterward in the tobacco business on 7th street northwest, and later of the firm of M.H. Stevens & Co., hatters, under the Indian Queen Hotel, now the Metropolitan.
When the Washington almshouse was burned in 1858 the inmates, few in number, and the superintendent, John R. Queen, occupied the building for a few months. During the civil war the building gave way to the present structure, the whole square, which was acquired by the government in 1821, being occupied. In 1864 Congress appropriated $25,000 for erecting the building and further appropriations aggregating nearly $100,000 were expended.
On the square south, No. 949, between E, G, 9th and 10th streets, there was little doing in the way of improvement until about the middle of the last century if the records are correct. Platted for twenty lots in 1796, those numbered from 4 to 14 went to Mr. Prout, and the others to the United States. In the next year Dunlop and Carlton have the United States lots.
In 1800 Commodore Tingey has lot 2 on G street, and the year following Thomas Law bought lot 1, corner of G and 10th streets, and Mr. Prout bought lots 2, 20, 21 and 22.
In 1807 Dunlop and Carlton obtained lots 15 to 22, in 1813 George Beale lots 1 to 13 and 20 to 26, in 1820 Maj. S. Miller lots 1 and 20 to 22 and Capt. Easby lot 3. For many years the ground was an open common. The valuation per foot fixed in 1802 at 3 cents per foot and in 1806 reduced to half that rate, was unchanged till in the forties.
In 1842 the four lots fronting 10th street south of E street. Nos. 16 to 19, were bought by J. Smith, and the same year James R. McCathran bought lot 18, William Murphy lot 19 and Thomas Lawson 16, the southwest corner of 10th and E streets. Thomas Plumsill the same year bought at the southeast corner of the square at 10th and G streets lots 1, 2 and 22.
Sixty Years Without Improvement
This square is described in the old annals as part of the tract called "Houpyard," or "Hopyard," which having belonged to Robert Douglas was confiscated. It is well known that during the war of the revolution there were some who opposed resistance to Great Britain, and a number fought on that side. After the termination of the war many settled in Canada, and their descendants are there today. It is thought that Douglas was one of these, and under the act of Maryland his property was seized and sold.
William Bailey was the purchaser in 1794. In 1797, after having passed through Peter Cazenave and G. French's hands, a part of the square went to Greenleaf and Blodget's possession. Then the ground, 139 by 125, at the corner of 11th and G streets, with dwelling house, was transferred to Pratt, Francis et al. for $2,000. This comprised lots 1, 2, 3 and 22 of the twenty-two lots assigned in 1801 to Marris X. Nicholson, Prout and the United States.
In 1803 Commodore Tingey bought this property, the consideration being $4,500, though the corporation valuation was $1,000 on the building on the ground. In after years it was long valued at $2,700. Commodore Tingey later extended his holdings, buying in 1812 lots 4 to 8, 20 and 21, thus owning the southern half of the square.
Maj. Miller's Purchase
In the twenties Mr. Kain had removed to 4th near K street. Mr. Wayson was on 8th street, as were Robert Wilbert, a blacksmith; Mrs. Mary miller and Mr. Smith was keeping school. Capt. Easby was in the hotel building, and on E street John Goss, Samuel Pritchett and Mr. Smith resided. Mrs. Pope and Thomas Mansfield were on G street. A few years later John Wheat and R. Harrison were here.
Twenty years later Capt. Easby was still in the hotel building on E street, between 8th and 9th streets, but subsequently established Easby's shipyard near the terminus of G street northwest. The Wayson family had located a few squares east and the well-known Goss family, of navy yard blacksmiths, had settled in other parts of Southeast Washington. Among others recalled are Elijah Acton, a navy yard blacksmith, father of Joe Acton, a veteran member of the police force, who settled here about 1837, and Fred Prosperi, long of the Marine Band.
The latter was a musician, as were his sons, who were in the Marine Band, and with others of the family there was talent enough for an evening's entertainment. About 1842 this family moved to the southwest corner of 8th and E streets, which property is still in the family.