Washington’s Bequest Was Eaten Up By Taxes
By James Croggon, The Evening Star, June 14, 1908 [p. 9]
The square of ground between D, E, 25th and 26th streets, known as square 21, was by Washington bequeathed to Mrs. Washington’s grandson and his ward, Col. G.W.P. Custis. It was one of the three pieces of ground in the federal city which he acquired, and it is supposed his purpose was to improve it by the erection of a city residence upon it. It was, however, not improved by him, nor by Col. Custis, and was eaten up by taxes and finally, about 1830, by tax deeds, went into possession of the late Dr. William Gunton. Washington first acquired lots 2 and 3, the east half of the square, in November, 1795 and lots 1 and 4, the west half, in March 1798 – the former from his kinsman, Thomas Peter, and the latter from the commissioners. In the deeds from the latter the consideration of 200 pounds, Maryland currency, is named, being about 1.8 per square foot, the Maryland pound being $2.06 in United States money.
Washington had before acquired some lots on the Eastern branch about the terminus of 1st street west in what had been Carrollsburg in the colonial days – Buchman’s point, afterward known as Buzzard point. At that time it was supposed that this section would become the port of Washington, for some seagoing trade had been established and in shipping news are notices of arrivals and departures of vessels from the “Port of Carrollsburg.” But the acquisition of square 21 by him is believed to have been for the location of a city residence. For such he could have found for scenery and surroundings no more suitable spot. His own Arlington, with Analostan Island and the Potomac, was in full view.
The adjacent reservation, in which L'Enfant planted a fort, had been designated as the site for a university, and he was advocating the founding of such, and east of this was the Funkstown or Hamburgh settlement, and north were the residence of Mr. Peter and the wharf , warehouses and store of Lear & Co., composed of Col. Tobias Lear, Tristam Dalton and James Greenleaf, about the mouth of Rock Creek. Indeed, at that locality would speedily improve, and a start had been made by individuals toward this end. It had also been proposed to locate the navy yard and marine barracks in this section. But plans were changed as to the navy yard, little property was improved, and Washington left this square bare, confining his building operations to his lots on North Capitol street between B and C streets.
The greater part of this square is still vacant. Only a few houses, and these poor ones, stand upon it. Twenty-fifth street has never been cut through, though a footway has been beaten where the street would be. At one point along this way, which has been worn by many feet and a few wagons, there is a spring from which flows a little stream that keeps the ground muddy roundabout. Neither D nor E street has been cut through the property. They exist only on the map of the city. Twenty-sixth street is a real street paved with granite blocks and bearing considerable traffic. It is along this west front of what was Washington’s land that many tenements have been built. South of the square is a brewery.