SEVENTH STREET'S EARLY DAY BOOM
By James Croggon, The Evening Star, August 7, 1915 [pt. 2, p. 2]
Steady had been the growth of improvement northward on 7th street up to 1840, but about this period it began to grow more rapidly. This growth was accelerated by the erection of buildings necessary for the accommodations of the departmental clerical force. The work of a "firebug" in 1832 had destroyed the Treasury Department, and the old Blodgett Hotel, in which were located the post office, patent and other offices, was destroyed in 1836. However, appropriations had been made for the rebuilding of the office buildings.
The market trade was growing, and so was the general trade in the vicinity of the market; and it was spreading northward to the country roads leading to 7th street. By this time 7th street might be said to have been well built up south of G street if small shops and a woodyard of two were counted. North of G street the west side seemed to be favored for business and residential purposes. In the immediate vicinity of the old post office there were some fine residences on the east side of the street used exclusively for homes.
Though the Washington Fire Company's quarters on 7th street north of E had been burned out in 1836, the Perseverance Fire Company was established the same year at the corner of 8th street, Pennsylvania and Louisiana avenues. The growth of the city called for the establishment and location of a company northward, and in 1840 the Northern Liberties Fire Company was organized and for some years – 1840 to 1857 – its house and apparatus was not far from the line of 7th street, immediately in front of the present Public Library building.
Public Institutions Crowded Out
Early in that decade Frances Ward was conducting a blacksmith shop near the southeast corner of M and 7th streets, having his residence on the corner, in which his widow later conducted a grocery. South of this Henry Horstkamp had a tavern, and subsequently was in the grocery business, and at the corner of O street Michael Hoover, a butcher, resided. Northeast of the poorhouse grounds on P street, near 5th street, was the house of James Hollidge, around which were extensive grounds, and before the close of the decade far out on 7th street some improvements were appearing.
The building of Odd Fellows' Hall, which was dedicated in May, 1846, created the local mecca of that fraternity, whose meeting place was before the city hall. For many years it was also one of the leading places of amusement – panoramas, balls, theatricals, negro minstrelsy, etc., being the attractions. Here much of our local talent was developed, the Washington Harmonians and Euterpeans giving their initial concerts here. Billy Emerson made his first appearance with the Kunkel troupe at that place.
New Names Appearing
South of the Bacon store at Pennsylvania avenue the Steamboat Hotel had changed hands. John West of the coffee house at 6th street and the Avenue succeeded the Lloyds, and Mr. Clarvoe had retired from the Mechanics' Union to enter the grocery business near 7th and F streets southwest, for that section was then being settled very rapidly. There had been some changes of names near 7th street, but little in the lines of business, as the stores and taverns with saloons were still there. The northeast corner of 7th street and the Avenue had become the well known drug house of Charles Stott, the successor of whom is now the National Hotel rug store.
Famous as French Chef
Mr. Narden was also at one time before the civil war assistant stage manager and property man of the old American Theater, familiarly known to many in later years as the "Canterbury." Here he met personally all the great actors of the early days and in his closing years he told many interesting anecdotes connected with the stage life of the Elder Booth, Macready, Edwin Forrest and other famous players.
The present National Bank of Washington is the successor of the bank established on Capitol Hill in the forties. Gen. R.C. Weightman, commanding the District militia, an officer of the bank and a few years before mayor of Washington, resided in the building. During his mayoralty he gave a fancy ball in the building, at which there was an attendance of several hundred, and the ball was the talk of fashionable circles and the subject of discussion among society folks for a long time. At the DeKraft, corner of 7th street and Louisiana avenue, the Spectator was published, and Mr. DeKraft’s printing office was there. On the lower floor of the building S.J. Ober kept a grocery, which subsequently became that of Ober & Ryan for many years, and above was S. Holmes' grocery and the watchmaking and repairing shop of J. Robinson, later an auctioneer, and Mr. Narden's boarding house.
On the Saks corner, directly opposite, was the dry goods store of Pitman & Phillips, and north of this were three frame houses, well known as the taverns of Michael Talty, William Feeney and Mrs. Crane. Mr. Talty had a grocery and Mrs. Crane and Mr. Feeney fruits and confectionery. Mr. Feeney also carried a stock of song birds. Later Mr. Feeney moved nearer the railroad depot, and Mr. Talty conducted at the same time a grocery at the corner of 12th street and New York avenue.
Captain in Mexican War
Near Odd Fellows' Hall, Henry Thorn had established a woodyard, and subsequently erected a building for a store and hall above it, and it was a popular place for meetings, fairs and parties. At the corner of D street John Walker conducted a meat store, and further up in the square was R. Tongue, coppersmith, and the groceries of Moore & Brown, J.M. Pearce and William Berger, the latter of E street and over the store resided John Suter of the Post Office Department.
There were plenty of tailors at this period, for ready-made clothing was just coming into vogue. I.F. Mudd, J.H. Daniel and Jacob Tabler were all on the west side of the street, as was the well known boarding house of Mrs. English and Mrs. Cheshire. On the square above, at the corner of E street, were the Callan buildings, in which John F. Callan kept his drug store, with plants, seeds and agricultural implements, which was a popular place. Dr. Alfred Holmead, Bigelow & Pugh, general agents, and W.S. Allison, pension agent, had their offices above, and J.D. Evans had a merchant tailor shop north of Mr. Callan's store.
Jacob Gideon, formerly of Way & Gideon, printers, and at the head of the printing establishment bearing his name, now represented by the Pearson Printing Company, was living northward, as also John Sullivan, at that time representing a Philadelphia blank book manufacturer, Mrs. Hall lived nearby. Near the corner of F street lived Dr. William P. Johnston. From 1844 to 1845 Postmaster General Wickliffe, like a preceding postmaster general, Mr. Kendall, lived near his department, his home being opposite the department. On the opposite side of 7th street lived Mrs. Henry Bradley, H. Toler and Mrs. Ann Benning, widow of Col. Benning.
In McLean's row, Mrs. Ironside took one of the houses. North of the row was a vacant lot long used as a drill ground of the Washington Guards, Col. Seaton's company, whose armory was in the engine house south of the row. This ground at the southwest corner of 7th and F streets was afterward the location of Gustavus Waters' woodyard.
War News by Mail Steamers
The news from the war with Mexico was received mainly by the southern mail line steamers from Aquia creek, Va., at the 11th street wharf, in letters and newspapers. These, directed to correspondents here and to newspapers north, were usually thrown to the wharf long before the boat was made fast. The late Robert Ball and James W. Pumphrey mounted on fast horses, received them at the wharf and then there was a race for the telegraph office by way of 11th street, Maryland avenue and 7th street, and the first one to arrive was received with cheers.
President Polk's Walk
It is related that during President Polk's administration he would walk down F street nearly every evening after the close of the post office to the rear entrance and look over the official mail for such letters as he deemed of importance and of a personal character.
At the northeast corner of 7th and F streets was S. Brereton's grocery store, H. Shutz's tailor shop, Owen Summer's saddler, Capt. J.H. Goddard's store and later his office and Zachman's tavern, and nearby was located William Richardson, bacon cutter.
Going north from G street, people of that day supposed they were in the Northern Liberties, and 7th street north of the patent office will be the subject of another article.