In Olden Washington.
By James Croggon, The Evening Star, December 6, 1908 [pt. 2 p. 2]
The initial point of the survey of the cit of Washington was a stone standing on the east side of Rock creek, in the middle of the road from Georgetown to Bladensburg. The creek southward formed the natural boundary.
West of 22d street and north of M street there were hills and dales, skirting Slash run, which emptied into the creek a short distance south of the present P street bridge. These were well wooded and there was, near the mouth of the run, considerable rock, once worked as a quarry.
There was also much clay, which was made into brick after the ground was denuded of wood. In the beginning of the last century William O’Neale, a famous innkeeper, father of Peggy O’Neale, who was the cause of the rupture in Gen. Jackson’s cabinet, had a large force of wood choppers engaged in cutting this wood.
Up to the thirties, when the Chesapeake and Ohio canal constructed a dam at its mouth, Rock creek was navigable for schooners as high as P street. From the mills above breadstuffs were brought in lighters.
Shad, herring and other fish abounded to such an extent that in the twenties there was a fishing landing on the city side, the seine being handled by capstan. So plentiful were fish that a section of Georgetown opposite became known as Herring Hill, and there are some few living who remember how the dip net would secure the fish for breakfast ere the kitchen fire became hot.
On the city side of the creek, however, settlement was slow. For half a century there were scarcely a dozen people on the ten squares in this section; and, indeed, though such men as Morris, Templeman and others prominent in developing city property were interested, much of the ground for twenty years bore a taxable value of but a fourth of a cent per foot.
There were, however, some few sales at near 3 cents per foot. These were of the pick of the lots.
The triangular piece of ground on the creek, M and 26th streets, known as square west of square 13, was, in 1797 left in the name of Mr. Peter, but in 1815 John Glasco was on the corner, and in 1818 C.C. Jones owned on the square. Descendants of the first named were here to the middle of the century. From a cent per foot in 1802 six cents was reached in 1830.
Land Partly in Water
In 1830 J. Colelazer had a lease in lot 1 and three years after J. Eschbach, G. C. Grammer and R. Burgess had a lot each, Benjamin S. Bohrer two lots and Georgetown College six lots. In 1834 Nicholas Travers owned one; the year after W.G. Ridgeley one, and two years after A.R. Smyster owned on M street. The ground value was but three and four cents.
North of the above, N and 25th streets, with Rock creek defined, square west of 23 had three lots. Two of these, in 1796 were assigned to Peter and Bailey, the United States taking the other. In 1833 the Columbian College had one. In three years John P. Pepper had another and James Dunlop owned the one at N and 25th streets in 1830.
Square 23, east of the preceding on 24th, 25th and N streets with Rock creek north, made of twelve lots, was apportioned in 1796, six going to the United States, the others to Peter, Holmead and Butter. In 1800 P. Nicklin bought these lots of the United States, and in 1802 William Glover the others. In 1814 A. Holmead had five of the other lots; in 1818 Joseph Nourse had two lots as had Charles Glover, who four years later sold to James McClery, and Ann Blanchard bought two lots, to which Jane Glover succeeded in 1827.
In 1830 J.B. Holmead had four lots; two years later G. Meyer two; the following year Columbian College one; in 1836 C.J.M. Eaton here, and in 1845 Thomas Corcoran had tree and W.W. Corcoran one.
South of Rock creek, in the lines of 23d, 24th and N streets, square 35 was platted for eight lots. In 1807 John Holmead had the title. The apportionment was not made till 1812, when there was equal division, Peter and Holmead having title to half the lots.
Rufus Elliot, in 1812, owned lot 6, on the northeast corner of the square, and worked the quarry which faced the creek for some years. In 1816 John Mountz of Georgetown owned the lots, including the N street front, and a lot on 24th street, paying $85 therefore, less than 3 cents per foot.
This property was improved by him with buildings listed at $1,400 and $6,000.
In 1827 Gen. Van Ness had the northeast corner, on which $80 was assessed for improvement. In 1828 lots 5 and 6, on the creek were owned by John Holmead, and in 1836 C.J.M. Eaton owned lot 7, on 23d street. In the thirties one cent per foot was assessed on the ground and a $1,400 improvement charged to J. Holbrook.
Holmead Property Here
In the meantime, in 1817, R. Morris has a lease in lot 9, on O street, and C. Faber owns three lots on N street. In 1838 T. Lloyd is on lot 9, as is John Foy, in 1840.
Between O, P and 22d streets, east of the creek, square 48 was laid out for six lots, which in 1796 were apportioned three to the United States, one to Anthony Holmead and two to Morris and Nicholson. They were, as those in the square above noted, in Greenleaf’s contract and the names of Templeman and Stoddard attached. In 1805 Lewis Pairo owned lot 2, corner of O street and the creek; in 1828 C. and M. Hines bought for $20.50 lot 3, corner of P street and the creek and John C Rives owned lot 6, on 22d street, in 1831.
None of the ground was assessed to ore than 1 cent per foot value, and no improvements had been listed.
Square 24, with thirty-four lots, on M, N, 24th and 25th streets, gave promise at an early day of speedy development, if one can judge by those interested in them; but nevertheless it was of slow growth.
In 197 equally divided were the lots, the United States taking one half and Mr. Peter and J.D. Stone the other. In 1800 Thomas Johnson bought a lot on N street which was conveyed to F.D. Black, afterward to F. Deleus, and about the same time W.S. Chandler was an investor. In 1815 A.L. Joncharez owned lots 17 and 18 at the corner of 25th and N streets, and the next year Col. French Ringgold owned lots including the northeast quarter of the square which the year following went to Thomas Monroe.
Subdivision Made in 1820
Square 36, between M, N, 23d and 24th streets, of twenty-eights lots in 1796 was apportioned, the United States taking title to lots 4 to 9 and 17 to 24 and the others going to J.H. Stone, R Peter and A. Holmead. In 1800 W.S. Chandler bought twelve lots from Stone, and soon after a cent a foot is assessed on the ground, in thirty years reaching the maximum of four cents. In 1815 Nicholas Travers buys lots 4 to 7 the southwest corner of the square, and erects a dwelling house which bore an assessment of $1,200 for very many years. In 1832 Joel Crittenden owned lot 17 on N street, and in 1843 Margaret Chandler had lots 1 and 3 in the southeast corner of the square.
Square 50 east of the above and the dimensions of the lots fronting 22d, 23d, M and N streets was divided in 1796, Morris J. Nicholson taking lots 8 and 9, John H. Stone 3 to 7 and 18 to 24 and the United States the others. From half a cent to 2 cents were the early valuations of ground and the first improvement listed was that of S. Lee, who bought in lots 8 and 9 on 23d street in 1827 for $200. John Pickrell owned lots 7 and 8 in 1806, David English 8 and 9 in 1830, and J. Fisher lot 10 in the forties.
It is said that the Mountz improvement on 24th street was for a glass house. In the fifties John Purdy and Dr. W.F. Wallace had such an establishment on N street. In Mr. Travers’ house one of the French diplomatic corps was located in the forties, and after Samuel Kelly who for some years was the principal of the first District public school.