PRIMITIVE SEVENTH STREET
By James Croggon, The Evening Star, July 18, 1915 [pt. 7, p. 5]
The proposed improvement of what for years was regarded as second only to Pennsylvania avenue as a business thoroughfare recalls the fact that less than a hundred years ago the present 7th street was a common dirt road, and that the first improvements came gradually and were mostly of the simplest character. It became an important business highway for the reason that after the establishment of the old Marsh market, called such from its location near the Tiber on the site now occupied by the Washington market, there was need of a road for the country produce from the adjacent farms north of the city. Gradually the intersection of 7th street and the Avenue came to be regarded as the hub of Washington, and after the line of travel from Montgomery county was made a turnpike by a company incorporated by an act of Congress in 1810 the wagon tracks from that direction were well worn.
The line intersected the Bladensburg and Georgetown road just beyond the old Crossed Keys tavern, which was about the northwest corner of 7th street and the street which then bound the city. As it was in the first quarter of the last century, public houses, stores and private dwellings appeared.
Many Early Day Groceries
At what is now Saks corner were the Dermots, who owned at one time one fourth of the square. The two building were mostly used for boarding house and residential purposes, but at the corner Capt. Philip Mauro was for a long time in business as an auctioneer and commission merchant, while above it Mrs. Tucker conducted a boarding house for a number of years.
Mecca for Many of Military Taste
In 1809 Messrs. Gales and Seaton, who had been employed a number of years on the National Intellligencer, were in full control of the paper, removed their office from Capitol Hill to about the center of the south side of the square. Here, during the invasion of Washington by the British, led by Admiral Cockburn, the office was wrecked and the library thrown out of the back windows and burned. In a few days, however, the paper resumed publication and continued in this place until 1818, when a new office was erected at the northwest corner of 7th and D streets.
All Water From Street Pumps
Up to about 1820 there had been very little municipal improvement, there being no improved streets other than the sidewalks south of F street, and these were of brick, with blue stone curbing and cobble stone gutters. Water was procured from pumps, and there was no system as to their location, some being within the curb and some without. The greater part of 7th street to the northward for fifty years or more bore the appearance of a country road, and though by law and plat the length of the street was known, in the popular mind anywhere from F street and the toll gate the road became a street and the street a road.
At F street was located the "Ridge," the popular pathway along F street, from the first ward to the Capitol, and north of G street the grade was depressed to beyond H street and then ascended to about the corner of M street, the southwestern corner of the poor house grounds, and the locality was generally known as "Poor House Hill."
Blacksmith Shops Along the Way
The colored people had some choice spots along this street, and the number of taverns indicated that there was little prohibition sentiment extant. At that time and for many years later the liquor business was not a tabooed one.
In some groceries spirituous liquors were sold, but there were many real taverns. James Crane kept one about opposite Colclazer's blacksmith shop. At the southwest corner of 7th and E streets there was the hostelry or tavern of Richard Hanley, which, under other names, existed half a century or more. James Kernan kept a tavern at the corner of 7th and H streets, and Patrick Kernan was in the same business on the east side of 7th street between G and H.
An old resident once told the writer that the young men who frequented taverns in those early days did so more for dancing than for drinking purposes. Dancing parties could easily be gotten up for the young ladies in the neighborhood on short notice.
Site of Old Harbaugh Pump
On the west side between G and H streets the Washington City Orphan Asylum, incorporated in 1815, of which Mrs. Van Ness (Marcia Burns) was the head, occupied a rented house, where a number of orphan children, in charge of Mrs. Layinia Stone, were cared for. There were a number of private homes on the street, among them being Abraham Bradley, Anthony Holmead, Jonathan Sevear, Henry T. Weightman, George Sweeney and Richard Fenwick between D and E streets.
Old Guard Headquarters
Above this was a row of three-story brick buildings known as McLean's row, occupied by Joseph Anderson, first controller of the Treasury, from 1815 to 1836; John F. Webb and C.S. Fowler. Messrs. Fowler and Webb were subsequently in the china and glassware business on the square below, and the present firm of Dulin & Martin descends therefrom. Mrs. Eliza Thomas resided nearby. On the east side of the street were the home of E. DeKraft, W.W. King and S. Laland.
Home of First letter Carrier
North of I street there was scarcely any improvement in street or buildings, and the stately three-story buildings used as the asylum, with its outbuildings, had the appearance of a hamlet.
In this way early 7th street had discarded its country ways up to about 1825, despite the tardy improvements of the roadway, which were made first by leveling and later by grading and graveling. A small run at K street and a smaller one between K and L had to be forded.