History of "Frogtown," A Section of Washington
By James Croggon, The Evening Star, October 26, 1907 [pt. 3, p. 5]
In consideration of old-time sections of the District the "Frogtown" of antebellum days is recalled. "Frogtown" was located within the lines of Maryland avenue, South Capitol and Canal streets. Although this portion of the city was platted into building squares, and was as convenient to the Capitol as was the other ground surrounding it, the original topography handicapped improvement, and, until recent years, but two of the seven squares gave evidence of the use intended. That such were the conditions in the early part of our history is easily explained by the traditions of some of the old Washington families, as well as by inspection of some of the early maps of the city and the old corporation records.
These are to the effect that in what is known now as Canal street a branch of the Tiber creek coursed from 3d street southeastward; that it became part of the old Washington canal, which was opened about 1816, and that much of the ground well toward the Capitol park was low and marshy, that much of it was level, and the approach to the hill was over gently-undulating ground; that in the early part of the century less than half of the Capitol grounds was inclosed, and that by a circular picket fence, and that in the thirties iron railing and a circular walk inclosed the grounds to 1st street.
House of Worship Erected
Three buildings were located on Maryland avenue between 1st and 2d streets in the thirties, and on 1st street two. In the forties Ignatius Mudd, afterward commissioner of public buildings, resided on Maryland avenue and Mrs. Sheckles and Isaac Reed, a bookbinder, erected a frame dwelling on 1st street which was the family residence for many years.
Early in the fifties the citizens' line of omnibuses had its stables on 1st street, and about the same time a lager beer saloon and gardens were established on Maryland avenue. This was conducted for several years by Joseph Gerhart, who, entering the United States Army as a lieutenant in 1861, attained the rank of brigadier general before the close of the war. Later he conducted the hotel now known as Myers' on the avenue east of 6th street.
In Square 576
In the twenties a $250 improvement is charged to G. Jones on lot 2, on B street; $200 to A. Schofield, on lot 7, on Maryland avenue, and one for $200 to L. Flynn on lot 11, 1st street. Ten years afterward the improvement on lot 2 is valued at $150; $1,000 is charged to Mrs. Lefevre on lot 6; Schofield's valuation is unchanged; Daniel Turner is assessed $300 at the corner of Maryland avenue and 1st street; Thomas Scrivener $600 and Lawrence Flynn $150 on lot 11 on 1st street.
In square 578, to south of 576, there were but three lots platted, of which the United States acquired lot 2 on B and Canal streets and Mr. Carroll the others. The valuation was 3 cents per foot, reduced to 1 cent, and the title was unchanged until 1833, Inez B. Palmer then acquiring the lots, and ten years after they passed to Dr. William Gunton. Three cents per foot was the first valuation and afterward 1 cent.
The area south of the Capitol grounds between Delaware avenue and 1st street, including square 635, was platted for twenty-one lots, which were apportioned in 1796. These in the early days were in the hands of Pratt, Francis et al., Greenleaf, Morris, Law and others, but no improvements resulted. Inactive, too, were the sales, for it was not till 1845 that a new name appeared, William Fisher becoming then the owner of ten lots. The ground in 1802 was appraised at 4 to 8 cents and after at 2 to 4 cents.
In square south of 635, two lots went to the United States in 1797 and two years later to L. Lewis, and fifty years afterward to Esther M. Lewis. The original appraisement of 4 cents was reduced to 1 cent and remained at that figure for a generation.
East Square 636
The early residents of the Presbyterian faith had since 1795 shared in the ministrations of Rev. John Breckenridge, D.D., of the Baltimore presbytery, and he became the first pastor. The church building here erected was a plain chapel facing east, and was occupied June 20, 1812, and Dr. Breckenridge was formally installed July 4 following.
Here worshiped the Bradleys, then residing on Capitol Hill, as well as the families of the trustees and not a few of the legislators and officials, and prior to the removal of the congregation to 4-1/2 street the church flourished. Dr. Breckenridge served here about five years. In 1819 Rev. Dr. Reuben Post assumed the pastorate, and in a few years the congregation determined to erect a church elsewhere, on 4-1/2 street between C and D streets.
The initial valuation was 6 and 7 cents per foot, but later this was cut in half, and the church building was the only improvement on the square till the twenties, when two houses, each valued at $750 were assessed to N.L. Queen. In 1823 the then pastor of the church, Rev. Reuben Post, bought lot 14. In 1828 John Queen had a portion of the same lot.
Passes to Colored Congregation
For many years the church prospered and some of the most prominent colored preachers of the land served as pastors – among them Bishop Turner. It was in the latter's term, during the civil war, that meetings of a patriotic character were held there and the enlistment of colored troops stimulated. It is believed that the first company of such troops, at least in this section of the country, was formed in that church.
While it took but little effort to enthuse the colored men to enlist, the old-time prejudice led some to stone the building while the meetings were in progress. The church was abandoned when, nearly forty years ago, it became necessary to enlarge and improve the Capitol grounds, by the filling in of B and South Capitol streets it was encroached upon. The congregation then erected quite a notable edifice at the northwest corner of B and 1st streets northwest in the seventies, and is now a charge of the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church.
In 1833 parts of lots 12 and 13, fronting B street, were acquired by Basil Simms and L. Tanner, and Columbian College acquired six of the lots. William Bird purchased lots 13 and 14 in 1835, and C.F. Krebs 15 the year following. John Kedgle in 1841 bought the corner lot at South Capitol and C streets.
Apportioned in 1796
Between the Tiber, or canal, South Capitol and D streets was square 639, laid out in three lots, which in 1796 went, one to the United States, and the others to Mr. Carroll. The first appraisement was 3 and 4 cents per foot. It was quickly reduced to 2 cents, and for fifty years 1 cent represented the value. Down to the civil war the land lay idle. In 1845 going to the name of William Fisher, and afterward to Dr. William Gunton.