Early Days of City
By James Croggon, The Evening Star, May 31, 1908 [pt. 2, p. 3]
In that section of the city in which Convention Hall and the K street market stand the settlement was slow. It would seem, however, that Greenleaf and associates must have had optimistic views in reference thereto. A number of changes in title took place around 1800.
The six squares numbered N.515, 515 and 516 and 525 to 527, laying between 3d, 5th and I streets, south of New York avenue, were carved in the Lynch and Sands part of Port Royal, with a small part in Oden's tract, and for many years were bare of improvements, lying in the open. The ground was regarded as of little value, for but a half cent per foot was the assessment in 1802 and this was reduced to a quarter cent, and it was in the twenties when a cent per foot was reached, double that rate being assessed in the thirties. Little street improvement was there, and, if we except I street, where the curbs were set and brick pavement laid about 1842, and "the road to Gales'," as New York avenue was called, there were no well beaten tracks for vehicles of pedestrians.
Meandering Wagon Road
On the point in the lines of New York avenue and L street east of 5th street, in the twenties and thirties, the spring then supplied the vats of Moore's tan yard, and the stocks of hides mostly came from the slaughter houses farther north. For years after Willow Tree spring was the name attached, such tree growing near it.
In the lines of New York avenue, 4th and 5th streets was square north of 515 formed, and it was the scene of the first settlement. The nine lots were in 1796 apportioned to the United States, and no change was made in the ownership until 1823. Then James S. Moore purchased the lots at the west end of the square and established the tannery above noted, erecting a few buildings thereon, which were assessed for $800. In 1841 Andrew Rothwell purchased the Moore property and shortly after acquired the other portions of the square. R.J. Powell, long in the shoe finding business on 7th street, bought on New York avenue and erected a home. The late Gen. Powell of the army was a son who, enlisting as a private in the Washington Zouaves, Capt. J. Tyler Powell, served through the war, winning promotion, and for some years was colonel of the 9th Infantry. A few years before his death he was retired as a brigadier general.
A.D. Melchor Erects Home
About 1840 Frederick Iddins, a master painter, bought at 4th street and New York avenue. Erecting a fine house in which a grocery was established. John H. Howlett and others were on New York avenue afterward.
The K Street market square – 515 – long remained idle as to natural development. The twenty-eight lots into which it was divided were included in the Greenleaf contract of 1794, but were apportioned in the division to Lynch & Sands. In 1802 William Lorman had six lots; four years after Joseph Taylor seven, which in 1800 went to Thomas Cotrell, then to M. Ward, and in 1812 to James Eastburn. These in 1829 went to H.M. Moffatt, and the next year to Raphael Semmes. In 1838 G.G. Carroll bought the six lots bought by Lorman in 1802, which, through David A. Hall in 1842 went to Lewis Johnson.
In 1841 John H. Howlett owned three lots on the site of the market, and here he built a home and followed his trade of gardener for a number of years. He soon had a fine garden of fruit, flowers and vegetables and was quite successful for two years or over, when he sold and moved to New York avenue.
Successful at Raising Peaches
George Savage, long a hardware dealer on the avenue in the forties, residing on H street near 9th street, succeeded to this property in the fifties, and, erecting a fine dwelling facing K street, made his home here. Mr. Savage was a zealous temperance advocate, who, especially on Sunday afternoons, held meetings, and in behalf of the cause raised his voice at every opportunity.
The square south of the above, 516, between 4th, 5th, I and K streets, was the most rapidly improved, after a start was made about 1840. Prior to 1800 were its twenty-eight lots allotted, Lynch and Sands, Greenleaf and Benjamin Odin sharing. There was no change of title until 1827, when John P. Ingle bought several lots. In the thirties John Humes, Elias Kane and John Q. Brent each had lots, George Cover and Inez B. Palmer each having passed title to the latter.
In this decade Andrew Rothwell acquired ten lots and made a subdivision. In 1841 John T. Clements, then superintendent of the folding room at the Capitol, came on the square, buying two lots fronting on I street on the corner of 5th street. Here he erected two brick houses, renting one and taking up his residence in the other, moving from 5th street opposite St. Mary's Church. Mr. Clements was in his day a carpenter and builder and was active in local affairs generally, serving in the councils, and was one of the first settlers in standing, as well as in point of time.
Pillar of the Church
William Truman, carpenter, was last with two houses and lots, making his residence on one, and the widow lived here many years. Parts of lots were owned by J. mcDermot, F.E. Dant and Henry Howard, and after Charles Mann owned a row of two-story brick houses.
Ephraim French, a stonecutter, also lived on I street, as did William Kane, a tailor; Daniel Biddleman, long a tinner, and others. The latter was quite popular in his day, noted as a fine workman and a genial companion in any quarter – a "hale fellow well met." He was one of the victims of the "know nothing riot" in 1855, where he at some distance received a shot in the arm which resulted in its amputation. Seemingly, however, he was little handicapped by its loss in his business or spirits, and he maintained his standing as a first-class workman and a good-natured, entertaining companion.
On 5th street was another Clements family, and also P.H. Caton, who was a bookbinder. Among others on this square was the Grant family, of which the father and three sons were on the police force, with Simon Frasier, Samuel Mackey, bricklayer, and Mrs. Gary.
The square east, 527, between I, K, 3d and 4th streets, figured little in the old title records, but it was known to the tax books of the corporation and in the court records; to the latter by the litigation over Greenleaf's holdings. It was not till 1844 that there was a title paper passed, and then the whole square went to William B. Todd and John P. Pepper.
Galt Establishes Home
Between 3d, 4th, K and L streets was square 526, laid off for twelve lots, which went to the proprietors, Lynch and Sands, in 1796. Jeremiah and J.D. Warder in 1811 had two lots at the corner of 3d and K streets and in 1817 three lots north on 3d street went to A. Suter, who in 1820 sold to John Pickrell. George Cover in 1829 bought two lots, including the corner of 3d and L streets, and W.H. Harrison, the corner of 4th and K streets, selling in 1830 to George Adkins.
The first settlement here is believed to have been that of Benjamin M. McCoy, one of the best known colored men of Washington. In 1834 lots 9 and 10 and part of 8, including the corner of 3d and L streets, were bought by him and a small house was erected, assessed for but $60, but subsequently much greater improvement was made. The family has resided here for years and it is still in their possession.
McCoy is remembered by many of the older families as having served the best part of his life as the porter in the employment of the Perrys, dry goods merchants, who by his faithfulness to his duty, quiet, unassuming manners and high sense of honor made hosts of friends among the white people and was recognized by his race as one whose counsels were safe to follow. For many years he was attached to the Asbury M.E. Church, 11th and K streets, and as superintendent of the Sunday school he saw many who entered as infants grow up to be useful members of the church and community. In 1837 Joseph Sinclair had the west half of lot 8, on L street, and Elias Kane lot 4, on 4th street.
Square 525, laid off for nine lots, vested in Lynch and Sands, in the lines of New York avenue, L, 3d and 4th streets, was involved in the Greenleaf suites for some years. In the twenties D. Lyons and John Pickrell owned some lots and in 1830 John A. Wilson owned a lot on New York avenue, as did George Coon at the corner of 4th street and New York avenue, and on 3d street.
In 1837 P. Kurtz had the Coon lots and the next year Joseph Downey bought the one on 3d street. E. Kane at the same time owned a lot at 4th and L streets and a lot on 4th street. David A. Hall owned lot corner of 3d and L streets and one on 4th street, and in 1845 James Raley was on 4th street.