Kalorama Tract History Traced
By James Croggon, The Evening Star, April 13, 1913 [pt. 8, p. 4]
The contemplated improvement of the valley of Rock creek, between the Zoo Park and Potomac Park, will lengthen the drives from the boundaries of the District to a point opposite the mouth of the Eastern branch and obliterate the unsightly conditions about the creek between the city and Georgetown. But to the minds of the few who knew the conditions three-fourths of a century ago, it is doubtful if the hand of man can improve on the beauty of the scenery as it existed in their boyhood.
This was when the section was at its best, in the days of Scott, Barlow, Fulton, Decatur, Baldwin, Bomford and others.
Probably the most noted section above the P street bridge, east of the creek, in the early part of the last century, was the Kalorama tract, skirted by the old stage road, now Florida avenue, the entrance gate thereto being where Massachusetts avenue, 22d and R streets and Florida avenue intersect. It bore the name of Rock Hill in the beginning of the last century, but was changed to Kalorama. On the west side of the creek were Parrots woods, known as a place for holding Fourth of July celebrations and picnics, military encampments and outings, now the site of Oak Hill cemetery.
Tract Surveyed in 1667
In this tract there was a well-wooded hill two hundred feet above sea level, which afforded a fine view of the Rock creek valley, the Potomac, Georgetown and Alexandria, and here he built a home – naming the place Rock Hill. He occupied the house only a few years, for he died about 1800. He had sold two small pieces of property a few years before, one to John Leland, on the creek above where R street crosses, and another portion, about one acre, at the intersection of P street near the creek. On the former track a grist mill was erected, known since the first quarter of the century as Lyon’s mill. On the latter portion, Georgetown side, was a paper mill erected by Edgar Patterson. The car stable of the Washington Railway and Electric Company now occupies this site. This mill was in operation for many years and much of the printing paper used by the local newspapers of that day was prepared here. It was a profitable enterprise for years before the building was destroyed by fire, which was many years ago. It was connected with Washington by a bridge, long known as the paper mill bridge.
Sold to President's Nephew
Joseph Barlow, who had for years been a leading man in this country, returned from diplomatic service abroad and took up his residence here in December, 1807. He had been a Congregational minister who had served as chaplain in the Continental army, and was the author of a number of patriotic songs. Later he was in the book-selling business, in Hartford, Conn., where he published and edited the American Mercury. He afterward studied law, subsequently spending a time in Europe as an agent of the Ohio Land Company, where he induced a number of French people to emigrate to that state, where they founded Gallipolis. He was later agent of the United States in Algiers, and, returning to Paris, he met Fulton, who was experimenting there with submarine boats and torpedoes.
Fulton Among the Guests
D.H. Latrobe, the architect of the Capitol, a friend and guest, gave his services, and the mansion was enlarged and the grounds laid out. The name is fully explained in a letter written by Mr. Barlow to Mr. Jefferson, and in a letter of December 15, 1807, to his nephew, in which he writes: "I have here a most delightful situation. It only wants improvements as we contemplate to make it a little paradise. It is a beautiful hill, about one mile from the Potomac, and 200 feet in elevation above tidewater. Washington and Georgetown are under our eyes, and Alexandria, eight miles below, still in view; the Potomac to reflect back the sun in a million forms, and losing himself among the hills that try on each side to above him from his course.
I find the name of Belair has been already given to many places in Maryland and Virginia; so by the advice of friends we have changed it to one that is quite new – Kalorama – from the Greek, signifying fine view, and this place presents one of the finest views in America.
Think not, my friends, the patriots task is done,
In 1811 Mr. Barlow was appointed minister to France, and while there received summons from Napoleon to meet him. He started, but died at Wilna, Poland, and was buried there. Mrs. Barlow, who had accompanied her husband to Paris, returned to this country at the close of the war of 1812, and died here in 1818. By her will the place was left to her son Thomas for life then to his brother Stephen, and next to the oldest surviving son. She charged Thomas with the care of the slaves; left one of the slaves a small house; gave $1,000 to educate poor black children, and $300 for the relief of the poor, and directed a monument be placed over her husband’s remains in Poland. To this will a codicil was added, directing that whoever had the Kalorama place should set apart an acre of ground to include the family vault, and convey the same to some religious society. No society, however, accepted this offer of a site for a cemetery, and the vault stood there alone. In this vault were interred the remains of Mrs. Barlow and several of her brothers, including Abraham and Henry.
Decatur's Temporary Interment
Col. George Bomford, who married a younger sister of Mrs. Barlow, was one of the executors of her will, and he took possession of the property, which was occupied in the twenties by Henry Middleton of the diplomatic service. Col. Bomford was long an officer of the ordnance department, and the inventor of the Columbia guns, used in the war of 1812, and in December, 1814, was made lieutenant colonel. For many years he was the head of the ordnance bureau, and at the time of his death, in March, 1848, was an inspector of ordnance. He lived many years on I street in the house subsequently known as the Riggs residence. He died in Philadelphia in March, 1848. In 1846 Col. Bomford conveyed Kalorama to Thomas R. Lovett, trustee of Louisa Fletcher. Previous to the civil war the place was occupied during the summers by Charles F. Fletcher of Philadelphia. He was a somewhat noted man, of a literary turn, and also somewhat of a prophet. He published many articles while he lived at Kalorama, among others one advocating the building of the Metropolitan railroad from this city to the Point of Rocks.
Suggests Capitol Extension
During the civil war several regiments camped at Kalorama and the mansion was used as a hospital for smallpox patients during the epidemic of 1863 and 1864.