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Fun Facts: On this Spot...



South Washington has perhaps the most storied heritage of residential development in the city. From the wealthiest landholders and politicians boasting plantation-style mansions overlooking the Potomac, to the working-class dwellings anchored to the waterfront, to the city's poorest immigrants and freed slaves hiding out in the city's worst alley slums, housing has varied greatly. Perhaps the most unknown legacy is the hundreds of wealthy residents and foremost politicians that once lived in the area. A 1920 Washington Star article written by Mr. Shannon, well known as ‘The Rambler', illuminates this little-known period:


"It is not easy to name a member of an old South Washington family whose grandfather or grandmother did not live between the Arsenal and the two rivers. Thousands of men and women now living in the 'parks: 'heights' and 'terraces' will cast their thoughts back to the old family home on the Navy Yard or the Island. It was not many years ago that Northwest Washington was commons, pastures, bog, forest, rugged hill and steep ravine. What is now South Washington was then all Washington, with the exception of a narrow fringe of settlement north of the Avenue."

– Excerpt from “The Sunny Southwest”

The Boss -- Birthplace of Alexander R. "Boss" Shepherd, whose dramatic improvements and public works programs paved the way for the modern city. He served as governor of the Territory of Columbia from 1873-74 and director of the Board of Public Works from 1871-1874. During these periods “the Boss” oversaw the installation of 123 miles of sewers, 133 miles of water mains and pipes, 3,000 street lamps, over 180 miles of streets and sidewalks, and over 25,000 street trees. Commanding a picturesque view of the Potomac River, Shepherd's residence was one of the most desirable in the city.

SITE: 926 G Street, S.W. NOW: Banneker Overlook Park

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Pioneering Romantic Writer – Novelist Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte (E.D.E.N.) Southworth lived in a house on this site and taught evening school classes attended by Rear Admiral Robley D. Evans, who developed the steel navy. Southworth (1819-99), one of the most widely read authors of the era, penned novels including The Missing Bride and The Hidden Hand that were the rage of Victorian America but are all but forgotten today. She later moved to Georgetown.

SITE: Southeast corner of 13th and C Streets, SW NOW: An electricity plant

City's First Mayor – First appointed by President Thomas Jefferson to oversee the newly incorporated city, Robert Brent served as Washington's first mayor for ten consecutive annual terms beginning in 1802. During Brent's administration, the city imposed taxes, established markets, began a rudimentary fire-control system and opened two public schools supported by public subscription. A Capitol Hill public elementary school is now named after Brent.

SITE: Southeast corner of 12th Street and Maryland Avenue, SW NOW: U.S. Postal Service Headquarters

City's Oldest Rowhouse -- Wheat Row, constructed in 1794-95, is the city's oldest standing rowhouse group. The Federal-style cluster of four units designed to appear as a single structure is attributed to William Lovering. Named after an early resident and U.S. Senator, John Wheat, this block is one of the few examples of pre-1960 Southwest architecture to survive the massive urban renewal.

Wheat Row was part of a large development scheme advanced by city leaders interested in quickly developing the new Capital and land speculator James Greenleaf. Greenleaf was permitted to purchase at bargain rates 3,000 city lots for resale. In return, he was to erect ten houses a year for seven years and lend the government $2,200 each month to complete public buildings. At one time, he and his syndicate partners Robert Morris and John Nicholson controlled more than a third of the buildings for sale in the city. Unfortunately, there was insufficient demand for lots, and Greenleaf's syndicate went bankrupt in 1797.

Although most of his developments no longer exist, Greenleaf's name lives on. Southwest's newest recreation center is named King-Greenleaf, the southernmost tip of near Southwest, now part of Fort McNair is Greenleaf's Point, and a residential complex at 203 N Street SW is called Greenleaf Gardens Apartments.

SITE: 1315-1321 4th Street, SW NOW: Still standing, incorporated into Harbor Square Co-operative

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Harbour's Honorable House – The Duncanson-Cranch House, credited to William Lovering is a Federal-style double-house designed to appear as one unit. The c. 1794 structure built by the prolific Greenleaf Syndicate exhibits vernacular characteristics typical of early Washington residential architecture. This Category II Landmark is one of the few buildings left in the city dating to the establishment of the federal government in Washington .

Captain William Mayne Duncanson, a wealthy trader was the building's first known tenant. The Honorable William Cranch was House's next tenant. Cranch was Greenleaf's brother-in-law, the named principle of the firm that developed the House. At the time Cranch was a bookkeeper for the Greenleaf Syndicate, but he would later go on to serve as a D.C. Commissioner and as chief justice of the DC Circuit Court. Beginning in 1904 a community services organization took over the house. The Barney Neighborhood House as it was known, remained until 1960 whereupon the house was enveloped into a large urban renewal project.

SITE: 468-470 N Street, SW NOW: Still standing, incorporated into Harbor Square Co-operative

Neighborhoodly Beginnings – The Edward Simon Lewis House is a nationally significant example of a Federal-style townhouse. The c. 1815 house was the onetime residence of newspaper correspondents Ernie Pyle and Lewis J. Heath.

In 1901 Charles Weller opened the Neighborhood House as the city's first social settlement house. The house provided education and recreational opportunities to poor white residents. Artist and socialite Alice Pike Barney expanded the operation by buying the Duncanson-Cranch House in 1904. The organization continued to evolve, eventually providing the city's first organized playground and branch library—both of which were deesegregated -- breaking new ground. Before the buildings were incorporated into a residential development in the 1960s, the operation had further expanded into three of Wheat Row's four houses, and renamed itself the Barney Neighborhood House. The social services organization carries on, providing services in a Northeast DC facility.

SITE: 456 N Street SW NOW: Still standing, incorporated into Harbor Square Co-operative

Honeymoon House – The Thomas Law House, a Federal-style residence credited to William Lovering and developed by the Greenleaf Syndicate.

For much if its existence, the House was known as the “Honeymoon House” because its original residents, Thomas Law and wife Elizabeth Park Custis lived in it during their honeymoon. Law was an English aristocrat and former governor of a province in India; Ms. Custis was a granddaughter of Martha Washington, George Washington's wife. When the Law's moved out, Richard Bland Lee, uncle of Robert E. Lee took residency.

Toward the middle of the 1800s, the house took on commercial uses, leveraging its waterfront location. During the Civil War era, the House became the Mount Vernon Hotel. When the Greenleaf Syndicate went bankrupt in 1871, Edmond Wheeler became the House's first owner-occupant, using it for his living quarters and hardware business. By 1915, the House was transformed into a medical facility. During much of this period it was affiliated with the Seventh Day Adventists. Dr. Henry Hadley developed a successful practice out of the House during the mid-century. His name now christens Southeast's main medical facility, the Specialty Hospital of Washington at Hadley. After urban renewal, the House was became a community center for Tiber Island Cooperative Homes.

SITE: 1252 6th Street, SW NOW: Still standing, incorporated into Tiber Island Cooperative Homes

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The Community House – The Southwest Community House (SWCH), also known as the James C. Dent house is the most significant survivor among the small number of remaining late 19th-early 20th century working-class houses that once characterized the Buzzard Point area of Southwest. Its succession of black and white owners – beginning with the Rev. J. C. Dent – typified the solid but unheralded residents of Southwest who built and maintained this city but whose houses and other reminders have been largely destroyed over the years. Dent was a founding pastor of Mount Moriah Baptist Church, which was located in Southwest at the time, but is now in Northeast DC.

The Southwest Community House organization bought the Dent house in 1978. SWCH was a social services provider whose predecessor organization dated back to 1921 and the first such organization for blacks in the city. Recently, the SWCH sold the two-story brick structure to PEPCO. It now stands vacant, but is expected to be designated a national landmark.

SITE: 156 Q Street SW NOW: Still standing

Lawful House – English Aristocrat Thomas Law speculated that the segment of New Jersey Avenue connecting the Capitol Grounds with the canal and the Anacostia River would be a good investment and purchased much of it in 1796. He erected his residence at the intersection of C Street and New Jersey Avenue. Although is New Jersey land investment would ultimately prove valuable, his attempt to build a sugar refinery on the south end of New Jersey Avenue near a planned canal was disastrous. Law ultimately lost much of his wealth when the city's southeast and southwest quadrants didn't develop as he anticipated.

Thomas Jefferson lived at the House when he was president. Both Law's House, then known as the Varnum Hotel and an imposing granite mansion built by Civil War General Benjamin F. Butler were razed in 1929 to build a congressional office building.

SITE: Northwest corner of New Jersey Avenue and C Street, SE NOW: Longworth U.S. House of Representatives Office Building

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First Southwest Residence – Notley Young inherited much of South Washington just before the federal district of Washington was established. As an indication of his exceptional wealth, Young was the third largest slaveholder in Maryland. Young's palatial brick residence boasted a commanding view of the Potomac River.

Notley Young and his fellow Catholic neighbors often congregated in a custom-made chapel adjoining his residence. Catholics were prohibited from worshiping in public churches before the American Revolution. A patriarchal figurehead in early Washington, Young supported much of the Catholic church's development in the city bequeathing lands in Rock Creek, Georgetown, and Southeast Washington. Young's grandson, Father Nicholas Young Jr., helped establish St. Dominic Catholic Church which remains in Southwest today.

SITE: G Street between 9th and 10th Streets, SW NOW: L'Enfant Plaza

Marvin Gaye Birthplace – Soul music superstar Marvin Gaye (1939–1984) spent part of his childhood at Syphax Gardens, a walk-up public housing apartment complex constructed in 1960. Built by the federal Alley Dwelling Authority and its successors, the complex bears the name of William Syphax, a descendant of Martha Washington's grandson George Washington Parke Custis and Airy Carter, an enslaved woman. Although Syphax was the first president of the board of the Colored Public Schools of Washington (1868– 1871), he was an early and open opponent of school segregation.

SITE: 1501 Half Street SW NOW: Still remains

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Daniel Carroll Mansion – Nephew of fellow Catholic Notley Young, Daniel Carroll was one of the largest landholders upon the establishment of the federal district. He owned a sprawling corn and tobacco plantation that included the U.S. Capitol and extended as far as the Anacostia River in Southeast and Southwest DC. A patrician planter, Carroll was a signatory of the Constitution and later Commissioner on the Board overseeing the new federal district.

This centerpiece of his estate was "Duddington Manor". Carroll's house and its support structures, which included a garden, a barn and stable, a slave quarter, a springhouse, and a bathhouse occupied the full block bounded by 1st , 2nd , E, and F Streets, SE.

In one of the most high-profile controversies of the early federal district, Carroll began building his residence in an alignment that was in direct conflict with Pierre L'Enfant's emerging city development plan. L'Enfant had been appointed by George Washington to determine the location of prominent civic buildings and reservations and the arrangement of streets. When L'Enfant discovered Carroll's mansion encroached on one of his planned grand boulevards, he ordered the squire to demolish it. Carroll would not, so L'Enfant did. L'Enfant's proactive work proved costly: he was publicly repudiated, offered a pittance for his planning work, and fired. Never regaining support, he died in disfavor and impoverished.

Carroll moved on—sort of. He engaged Benjamin Latrobe, architect of the U.S. Capitol to build a mansion half a block to the west. Completed in 1797, the well- regarded mansion sat on a plateau overlooking the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers. The mansion was torn down in 1886, but in tribute the street segment bisecting the 500 block of 1 st and 2 nd Streets is known as "Duddington Place."

SITE: Square bounded by New Jersey Avenue, E, F, and 2nd Streets SE NOW: Row houses

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