In Old Washington (Jenkins Hill)
By James Croggon, The Evening Star, February 12, 1911 [p. 12]
It was Jenkins Hill before the title Capitol Hill was bestowed upon it when the site of the building was located. It was described as a ridge, partly covered with scrub oak, from which the descent to the low grounds flaking the Tiber and the stream south of the present Union station was partly gradual and partly abrupt. And north of the Capitol grounds between 1st street east and 1st street west, in the territory proposed as an addition to the grounds, some mighty changes have taken place in the topography. But little of the original natural grade is to be seen, and in some portions there are the roofs of three-storied buildings about the right old grade, and in other portions the fill has been twenty feet or more much of the earth having been used in the Capitol grounds and other places. Most of these conditions have been brought about in the past sixty years. In fact, with the exception of improvements in that portion immediately adjoining the Capitol square, known as square 687, all of them could be counted on your thumbs and fingers, not withstanding in all these years its convenience to the capitol furnished sites for the homes of many employed there.
When the grounds were platted the north line east of North Capitol street was an eighty-foot street known as A street, and westward B street marked the boundary. Consequently the two squares east of the Capitol plaza, which were absorbed under the act of May, 1872, were building squares, and that north, was well settled on the south front in the early days of the last century. While on paper the original lines were as above, all north and south of A street and outside a semicircular fence, erected about 1816, and extending about half way from the center of the building to 1st street on the open commons.
Played Part in History
West of the row, corner of Delaware avenue and A street, Sam A. Elliot, jr., bought ground and erected two dwellings in keeping with the others in 1817. The next year Benjamin O. Tyler, engaged in the lottery business, had one of these houses, and ten years after this it was sold to Yates & McIntyre. Later John Foy ran a hotel here, which in the fifties became Mrs. Whitney’s, or the “Yellow Tavern,” a place which figured largely in the lives of the members.
Henry Tims, doorkeeper of the Senate, conducted a congressional boarding house on A street front, and among his quests were Senator Dickerson of New Jersey and Caesar A. Rodney of Delaware, as of the signer. Later Charles Tims conducted the drug business here, but it did not interfere with the patronage of the house which followed the family for half a century or more. Among the guests where were Senator Dixon H. Lewis of Alabama, the heaviest member of Congress, at least in avoirdupois, and D.L. Yulee of Florida, who served in Congress under the name of Levy, and under the former name was United States senator up to the civil war. Late in the twenties Mrs. Elizabeth Queen kept a boarding house on A street, and Mrs. Sevier was there ten years later.
Built Four-Story House
Sixty years ago there were on A street the boarding house of Mrs. Rumsey and the homes of D.A. Buck, a Capitol clerk; Ellis Clemens, C. Gordon and others.
M. Scrivener just before the civil war erected a building at the northeast corner of the square and opened a grocery. It was under the porch here during the inauguration of President Lincoln that Gen. Scott took position, having two light batteries of artillery on B street, ready should an outbreak occur.
The original grade about coincided with that south, but it fell toward B street. The A street front early had a brick sidewalk and gravel was used on the other fronts. Neither 1st street nor Delaware avenue was improved till the twenties, and then by gravel walks. Until 1872, when this square and its companion south of the east square were included in the grounds, they did not take the form of a perfect square within the lines of A and 1st streets.
The Senate annex, or office building, erected a few years ago, entirely obliterates the conditions of the square in the lines of B, C and 1st streets east of Delaware avenue. As an original building square it was divided in 1799 between Mr. Carroll and the United States, and shortly after some improvements were made.
Built by Mr. Carroll
The house – a frame – was on Delaware avenue between M and N streets, and was erected in 1789, before the city was laid out. Some little brick paving was then in front of the Delaware avenue properties. In the early days these houses were occupied by Mr. Brown, Mr. Brent, Mrs. Diggs and others. In 1810 Mr. Brent owned on Delaware avenue to the corner on C street, and five years later Robert Brent, the first mayor of Washington, purchased and John Mulloy owned a lot on Delaware avenue, and built a home thereon. Griffith Coumbe acquired lots 1 and 2 on B street about 1820, and erected an addition to the Brown house standing there, which he leased to Sam Hanson in 1830.
Early Property Values
Improvements Were Slow
On North Capitol street in the fifties the site of truck No. 1 was occupied by the Skelly family, of which was the late policeman of the name. The house south of the Belt residence was then the frame upper portion erected about 1840 by P.W. Browning. It was soon after bought by W.H. Stanford, merchant tailor, who made it his home for many years. The brick building north of the truck-house was then a two-story brick, occupied by the Gregory family, and later Mrs. Murray lived there, as also the well known Lieut. Ned McHenry of the old auxiliary guard and the metropolitan Police, then employed on the Capitol force. About the middle of the square, John L. Wirt of the Capitol police owned and lived in a two-story brick, to which was afterward added an additional story by underpinning. John Hollohan, then a marble carver at the Capitol and Nick Acker, a master stonecutter, lived near. In 1854 J.G. Kolb, a tailor, bought what is now 221 North Capitol street, a house to which an addition was made at the bottom, and his descendants are yet there, probably the oldest residents.