By James Croggon, The Evening Star, May 10, 1913 [pt. 2, p. 4]
The location of the jail in the center of Judiciary Square had given it the popular name of the "Jail Lot," and for nearly twenty years it had stood there, the solitary improvement in the square. Its location had not been conducive to the appreciation of property thereabouts, the price of which was from a half cent per foot to 5 cents, and few and far between were the houses; scarcely any in view to the northward, a few straggling ones to the eastward, and until 6th street was reached large spaces separated them. Southward the two squares flanking 4-1/2 street showed scarcely any more improvements until about 1820. The public grounds had extended along C street and 4-1/2 street to the Avenue.
Before the war of 1812 a small house at the northwest corner of 5th and D streets was owned by James Hoban, and there was also a small brick building on the northwest corner of 5th and F streets, and this was occupied in the twenties by Francis Brooks, grocer. On the north was a house occupied by Robert Brown, and west of Mr. Brooks Mary Johnson lived in 1820; and on the square south fronting the city hall were J.D. & C.W. Boteler, gun and lock smiths; John Varden, who at one time kept the museum at 4-1/2 and D streets, and was the curator of the museum in the patent office, the forerunner of the National Museum, Giovanni Andrie, one of the Italian sculptors engaged on the Capitol, from about 1816, and south Jonathan Appler had opened a boarding house.
Used as Pasture Land
Most of the ground east of 4th street was given over to brick making. On E street James Eslin was an early butcher, but subsequently had a brickyard near by, and afterward kept a public house on Columbia road near the old national race course, popularly known as Holmeads, which flourished from 1804 to the late fifties, and as is the case with champion baseball games the faces there often drew public men thereto, the House and Senate frequently adjourning early to enable the members to hasten to the course.
About the year 1816 Nathan Cook, a popular English bricklayer, erected a home on the east side of 3d street between F and G, and his countrymen were in the habit of gathering about the place, and this, together with the fact that during the British invasion of Washington a detachment had camped not far off, near the intersection of Massachusetts and New Jersey avenues, caused that locality to be named “English Hil,” which name has survived to this day. South of this were James Story and Joseph Scoffield, and John Wilkinson was on G street between 2d and 3d and William H. Sweeney on E street between 3d and 4th. There were east of the square the brickyards of John A. Wilson, and subsequently those of William Degges, the father of the well known family of bricklayers.
Charles Pettitt, a carpenter, in 1818 built a small dwelling on E street a few doors east of 6th street, and some time afterward became attached to the office of Secretary of the Treasury, and for many years was in that department. He was the father of the late C.W. Pettitt, an octogenarian, who also served in that department to 1861.
Early Capital Hatter
About 1820 the American Theater was erected on the south side of Louisiana avenue by Messrs. Warren and Wood of Philadelphia, and here it was that the father of Joe Jefferson was the manager when this celebrated actor was a small child. In its early days it was the scene of many triumphs of the actors of that day, among them the Elder Booth, Messrs. Warren and Wood and Mrs. Chapman. Later it became the assembly rooms and during the civil war it was the Canterbury, probably the best known to the soldier element during the civil war, for soldiers crowded the house nightly when such performers as Agnes Robinson, Julia Mortimer, Kate Pennoyer and Jim Mulligan were the nightly attractions. Adjoining on the west side was the Shakespeare Hotel, under the management of Ernest Guttschilch, a place patronized by actors, but it is related that a few times when business did not pay and room was demanded the actors utilized the green room of the theater.
First Unitarian Church
The real estate market in this vicinity lagged until it was known that the city hall was to be located in this square, and then the prices advanced beyond the mills per foot to 4 cents and over per foot, those for corner lots being a few cents more.
Increase Was Permanent
The Masons, whose principal hall was then on 11th street near the corner of C street, the site now included in the Post Office Department, before 1820 looked to the erection of the new hall, but no definite action was then taken. The city council was then meeting in Masonic Hall on 11th street, and the courts were located in the old Capitol building, 1st and A streets northeast. The corner stone of the city hall was laid August 22, 1820, and the Unitarian Society built a church at the northeast corner of 6th and D streets and was formally opened by Rev. David Little, the pastor, in 1821.
The Masons had for several years been looking to the erection of a permanent hall in a more central location, and selected the southwest corner of 4-1/2 and D streets, on which they erected the building yet standing. The corner stone was laid September 19, 1826, by Grand Master J.N. Moulder, on which occasion P.G.M. W.W. Seaton delivered the oration. The upper story was used for Masonic purposes and the others sublet for amusement and meeting purposes. Here was held Andrew Jackson’s inaugural ball in 1833, and also one attended by Gen. Harrison in 1841. A popular museum was in this building, and Signor Blitz, a boy of eighteen, appeared here as a sleight-of-hand and ventriloquist performer.
April 10 of that year the corner stone of the First Presbyterian Church, Rev. Reuben Post, which had been formed on South Capitol street in 1812, was laid with Masonic ceremonies a few yards south of the hall above described, and it was the church of Rev. Dr. Byron Sunderland for about half a century, and is now served by Rev. Dr. MacLeod.
Home of Wesley Chapel
Near the corner of 4th and F streets in the 40's was the home of a family given to quarreling daily, and the eruptions caused the house to be known as Mt. Etna, not far to the eastward was a neat cottage, from its shape taking the name of "Ace of Diamonds."