Near Asbury Church
Development of Gen. John Davidsonís Property
In Old Port Royal Tract
Second Part of James Croggonís Historical Sketch
About Squares 341, 342, 343
The Blocks Between I and M, 10th and 11th Streets -- Once an Enormous Gravel Bank
By James Croggon, The Evening Star, February 16, 1908 [pt. 4, p. 1]
That portion of the land of Gen. John Davidsonís share in the Port Royal tract, included in LíEnfantís lines of the federal city in 1791, which was laid off as squares 341, 342 and 343 and designed for building sites, was long devoid of human habitation, and it was many years before it ceased to be regarded as in the country. Much said in the article published in The Star of the 3d instant may be repeated as to the ground north of I street and New York avenue between 10th and 11th streets and south of M street. A line extended to near 10th street, and from it there was a gentle slope northward. Southward to I street the natural grade was low. A small stream flowed into Sluice run.
Seven Lots in Square 343
Square No. 343, in the lines of New York avenue, I, K, 11th and 12th streets, was laid out in seven lots and in 1796 was assigned to Davidsonís heirs. Thomas Turner bought the square in 1803 and two years afterward it was held by trustees for the Tonline Company. One cent per foot was the original value, and this was reduced later to half a cent. Five cents was the rate in 1820. There is no evidence that there were any improvements on the land until 1827 when George Sweeney bought lot 4 and erected a house, which was assessed at $400. H. Hunt bought part of lot 2, facing south, and erected two small buildings upon it. James A. Kennedy purchased lots 6 and 7 on 11th street, on which were two buildings assessed at $100 each. In 1829 John Pickrell owned lots 1, 3 and 5.
Thomas Blagden secured lots 3 and 4 and Simeon Bassuto lot 11 in 1830, and in 1832 A.M. Gartrell owned a $400 house in lot No. 1, facing on 10th street. In 1833 James Owner purchased lot C, Dollo Mullan 1, and Elijah Edmonston 6 and 7. B. Giveny had part 7 in 1835, and D.W. Stewart part 1 the next year. In 1837 George Vondelehr owned parts of lots 6 and 7. In 1838 W.J. Wheatley had part of lot 4, D.W. Stewart lot 3 and J.T. Whitaker 6, and in the next year W.C. Goddard had a part interest in lot 6. In 1842 Moses Dick owned part of lot 5; in 1846 E.S. Wright lot 3, and the next year George Seitz part of lot 1, corner of New York avenue and 10th street.
Gravel Used for Sidewalks
The hill extended eastward nearly to 10th street, terminating there in a bluff of red gravel. In the late thirties the gravel bank was excavated by William Wilson, who utilized the material in making sidewalks. The portions of the bank in the line of the streets was cut down to grade and the portion on private property was carted away as the demand dictated. In the forties some of the streets were graveled as well as graded; other contractors worked the gravel pits. All of the lots were cut down to grade and some even lower, so that persons who built in later years had cellars awaiting. It is related that in one instance a one-story frame house became the third story of a dwelling, the second and first stories being added as the material was carted away.
For some years there was a pond about three feet deep north of Q street. In winter this was the skating rink of the boys and not infrequently in summer it was used as a swimming pool. More than one well-fought stone battle took place there between rival gangs of boys known as the "Pinters" and "Ninters."
French Minister Bought Land
The square between K street, Massachusetts avenue, 10th and 11th streets, known as 342 of seven original lots was owned by Davidsonís heirs in 1810, and they divided it into twenty-one lots. One cent per foot valuation obtained in 1802 and this was reduced to half a cent, but in 1820 three cents was the appraised value. There was no conveyancing until 1823, when Count Demener, the French minister, bought four lots on Massachusetts avenue. In 1831 Robert Leckie bought these lots. In 1839 Andrew Rothwell bought lots 5 to 8, the two years afterward sold 7 and 8, which included the corner of 11th and K streets, to Benjamin Williamson, and these, in 143, went to Charlot Garrett. C. Cox in 1839 acquired lots 12 to 16 on Massachusetts avenue.
In the Ď40s there was some little work and improvement other than gravel digging. Mr. Williamson erecting some frame houses at the corner of 11th and K streets, and James Ferry, a stonemason, a small brick house at the corner of 11th and L. Square 341 was laid off for twelve lots, and in 1796 they were apportioned, one-half each, to Davidsonís heirs and to the United States. They figured in Greenleafís operations, commencing in 1794; but in 1803 lots 5 to 8, on the M street front, and nearly all on 11th street were owned by Thomas Snowden. In 1810 the square was cut into sixteen lots by the Davidson heirs.
Ninety-Nine Year Lease
The valuations of ground were the same as in the preceding square until 1820, when there was a $400 improvement on lot 2 in the name of W.C. Ellison, but the title was not recorded till 1830. In that year C.L. Coltman had lot 3, part of which went to J.J. Fry. In 1831 lots 3 and 4 were owned jointly by Mr. Ellison, Richard Butt and M. Coltman. In 1839 A.C. Kidwell took a ninety-nine year lease on the lot at 11th and K streets, Thomas B. Hyde took a lease for ten years on lots 1 and 2, on L street and W. Kessner a similar lease on lots 6 and 7, on 11th street. Mr. Kidwell was one of the early corporation contractors. Mr. Kessner was a well-known carpenter of those times.
George Dice, a well-known newspaper man, bought a lot and established his home here in 1840, as did also B. Neff, a boot and shoe maker. J.A.M. Duncanson the same year had lots 5, 6 and 7, on 11th street. In 1842 Ambrose Roth owned property on 11th street, and the following year D. OíHare, well known as an engraver, owned property on 10th street. Samson Simms purchased several lots on L street, moving his business of carpenter and builder from Georgetown, and erected a row of frame houses.
Grocery Store Destroyed by Fire
The grocery and general merchandise store of John E. Ager & Brother, on the north side of I street was in the early Ď40s the only store of its kind in the neighborhood, with a custom extending well through North Washington. This occupied a brick building which was subsequently destroyed by fire. Near the corner of 10th and I streets George Seitz opened a bakery. Father and son followed the business here for years. Philip Hines, one of the first residents of the District, lived on I street at that time. On 10th street north of New York avenue lived Aaron Gartrell, a butcher, L. Clemens, a carter; J.T. Whitaker, a printer, and W.C. Goddard, many years captain of the watch at the Treasury. On L street lived Samson Simms, Horatio Beall, Oscar Alexander, James Ferry Stone and Mrs. Cox.
On 10th street between L and M streets lived M.R. Combs, OíHare, Neff, Dice, Vondelehr and J. Russell Barr, a grocer, who in after years was in the city council. On 11th street resided Mr. Richard Bridget, afterward a carriage builder; George Evans, laborer; J. Haupt, stonecutter; Jerry Crown, Treasury watchman; James Minor, Treasury clerk; John Shick, carpenter and S. Cassidy, stonecutter.
Such was the natural grade of Massachusetts avenue from 12th street east to 10th street prior to 1850 that when snow covered the ground there was fine coasting.