Posts about Capitol Hill
By now, most Washingtonians have heard of Swampoodle, the historic Irish neighborhood that was destroyed by the construction of Union Station. But what about The Island? Pipetown? Bloody Hill and Bloodfield ("the ancient feudal ground of the southwest")?
These were all names of Washington, DC neighborhoods during the decades of the 1800s following the end of the Civil War.
Map of Washington as the city appeared in 1877 when the Washington Post was founded, with the old nicknames for various portions of the city. Photo from the Washington Post.
Post-war DC was a rough place. According to one government official interviewed in the Post in 1902, "Washington passed through its period of lawlessness and disorder fully as bad, if not worse, than that which prevailed in Cripple Creek, Colo. or Tombstone, Ariz."
Small fields of corn and cabbage gardens were scattered about everywhere, many of them within a stone's throw of the Capitol, while cows had the run of the town from Georgetown to Anacostia Creek, grazing on the pavements, breaking into front yards, disturbing the slumbers of the citizens by their incessant lowing, and making themselves generally obnoxious. I recollect there use to be a brick yard at Ninth and O streets northwest and not far distant was a cornfield inclosed [sic] by a stake and rider fence. ...
The war had ended, leaving stranded in this city a vast horde of enfranchised slaves, discharged soldiers, and a cloud of riffraff, bummers, and camp followers... and their arrival soon made this city one of the most disorderly places in America. Fights, murders, stabbing, and shooting scrapes were of daily occurrence.
The neighborhoods with the most infamous conditions had nicknames that were never shown on any official plat. But the Washington Post put together the amazing map above on its 50th anniversary, to show the neighborhoods that existed when the paper was founded in 1877.
Hell's Bottom, a former "contraband camp" extending irregularly from 7th to 14th Streets NW, and from O Street to the Boundary (now Florida Avenue), was one of the most notorious sections of the city. Living conditions were poor and crime was high.
According to a Post article from 1897, some Hell's Bottom residents lived in shanties the size of a "hall-room," with roofs so low that an average person could only stand upright on one side. These homes, which could house up to 3 families, were of "the rudest possible construction, few having any sashes in the window aperture, a board shutter closing out the cold winds, light and ventilation together, when shut. The only salvation from suffocation lies in the gaping cracks existing round the doors and windows, without which many a family would doubtless be found dead in the morning of cold nights."
Keith Sutherland, an old Hell's Bottom inhabitant, said this about the neighborhood in a 1900 Post article:
"Money was scarce and whisky [sic] was cheapThe police were unable to control the crime and violence in Hell's Bottom, and so in 1891, the city refused to renew any of the neighborhood's liquor licenses. It was this act that finally led to the neighborhood's improvement.
— a certain sort of whisky — and the combination resulted in giving the place the name which it held for so many years. The police force was small. There was no police court, and the magistrates before whom offenders were brought rarely fixed the penalty at more than $2. Crime and lawlessness grew terribly, and a man had to fight, whenever he went into the "Bottom."
Murder Bay: The area east of the White House across Pennsylvania Avenue was known for its brothels, gambling, and crime. It was sometimes called "Hooker's Department," after Civil War General Joseph Hooker, who hoped to concentrate the city's brothels in the area.
The "red light district" known as Murder Bay at the corner of C Street NW and 13th Street NW, April 1912. Griffin Veatch, a "night messenger" or child laborer who directed customers to brothels, is leaning against the tree at left. Photograph by Lewis W. Hine for the US National Child Labor Committee.
White Chapel: A dirty alley between 24th and 25th Streets, and M and N Streets, NW. During the 1880s, there was almost constant warfare between the residents of this area and the police.
Pipetown: East of 11th Street SE to the Anacostia River, this neighborhood was made famous by Pipetown Sandy (1905), John Philip Sousa's semi-autobiographical young adult novel about the neighborhood where he grew up. One Post article described Pipetown as "a community of extensive commons, of ash dumps, of tumble-down houses and shacks of nondescript architecture, a place where goats browsed among the tomato cans and the travelling fair pitched its weather-beaten tent."
Bloodfield: This neighborhood was "a vague name for the entire region around the James Creek Canal" (in today's SW near the Navy Yard), and one of the most dangerous and notorious slums in the city. Arrest attempts by police (who would only walk their beat in pairs) resulted in injury or worse to the officer or the resident:
Policeman Muller was attracted to the Shears house by the shooting, and when he arrived there he found Shears lying dead on the floor of the kitchen having been shot in the left temple. Curry was covered with blood from head to foot and gave evidence of having had a terrible struggle. His badge was smeared with blood and his coat was saturated with it.
Brothels, illegal speakeasies, and tough characters filled the neighborhood:
A steel corset stay, pointed and sharpened into a dangerous weapon, was used in an affray early yesterday evening...
Sergt. Daley, of the Fourth Precinct, was abroad in Bloodfield with his raiding clothes on last night, and, as a result, a number of alleged disorderly houses were closed up.
As the city and police force grew, the neighborhood calmed, but it retained its name up to the '20s.
Cowtown: A neighborhood located north of Hell's Bottom and west of 7th Street, NW.
The Island: This swath of land south of the Mall was so called because the canal cut it off from the rest of mainland DC.
I'd much rather live in Hell's Bottom than Logan Circle, wouldn't you?
Cross-posted at The Location.
Reader Corey H has already taken the Capital Bikeshare anonymous trip data, released just a few days ago, and crunched the numbers to come up with some fascinating nuggets of information:
1) Downhill flow. Average trip is -1.94 meters, or over 2,632 kilometers in elevation change total. The average ride from Wisconsin and Macomb loses 55 meters in elevation.
Fairfax Village has the highest start station:end station ratio (71 trips started, only 29 ended).
2) Last mile usage. The four most common one-way trips are Adams Mill/Columbia to Calvert/Woodley and back as well as Eastern Market Metro to Lincoln Park and back.
3) Tourists like to use it to sight-see. The 6th most common one-way trip is from the Smithsonian station back to the Smithsonian Station at 3,586 trips.
The average [such] trip is 2 hours, 48 minutes. 76.1% of [these] trips generate usage fees. Breaking that down between casual and members, 86.0% of casual incurred fees on these rides while 18.8% of members incurred fees.Corey added in an email, "I've already taken the time to clean the data and get it into a usable database. So if there are specific questions you'd like to be answered I can easily put together a query to get those answers (and I'm sure the others can as well)."
4) Casual vs. members usage fees. 40.7% of casual rides incur fees.
3.3%3.3% of member rides incur fees.
*Using GPS elevation data so all caveats apply. And it only factors in station-to-station elevation change.
What would you like to know about Capital Bikeshare usage? He can't necessarily investigate everyone's questions, but if anyone posts some interesting questions that catch Corey's eye, maybe he will analyze them for us.
Saturday's annual Barracks Row Fall Festival brought the community together for art, fitness, food, and music.
Belga Cafe and The Ugly Mug drew revelers with their beer and food offerings, while dozens of military chefs participated in a cook-off. New York Trapeze School aerialists performed in front of large crowds all afternoon, and the Marine Corps recruited volunteers to perform in the pull-up challenge.
Many children played with bunnies, goats, and other animals at the petting zoo; other kids took to the rowing machines provided by the Anacostia Community Boathouse Association. DC Rollergirls skated through the crowds, trying to wrangle up some arm wrestling challengers. Art representing multiple disciplines was on display, including metal working, photography, sketches, paintings, and sculptures.
There were a few standout moments: Signing my life away to the Marines when completing the pull-up challenge; gulping a Yeungling Oktoberfest from The Ugly Mug; and pigging out on a slider, mini hotdog, salad, and cookie plate from Matchbox.
All together, it was a fun way to spend the afternoon.
Shortly after the first Union defeat at Bull Run in July of 1861, federal authorities confiscated a property on Capitol Hill that's now the site of US Senate parks but at the time housed a factory belonging to James Crutchett, the man who lit the Capitol with gas lanterns.
Just a few blocks north of the Capitol, the property occupied much of Square 683, which is bounded by North Capitol Street, C Street, D Street, and Delaware Avenue. It included Crutchett's home and a factory where he had begun turning out George Washington kitsch made from wood he was harvesting from Mount Vernon.
Located across North Capitol Street from the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad depot, Crutchett's property was strategically situated. in an area government officials wanted to transform into a massive aid station and quarters for troops entering Washington via the railroad and on foot. That aid station became known first as the Soldiers' Retreat and later the Soldiers' Rest.
The actual ownership of Crutchett's property was in doubt at the time due to persistent money problems and foreclosure proceedings. Although his true intents may never be known, there is no doubt that Crutchett did indeed have a contract to harvest wood from Mount Vernon and he was making things inside the two-story wood frame factory when the Civil War broke out in 1861. Despite being a life-long English citizen, Crutchett always professed affection for his adopted country and after the war began he allowed troops to drill on his property.
Crutchett had credibility problems that had cost him the chance in the late 1840s to light the US Capitol and which led to him becoming an employee of the Washington Gas Light Company instead of the entrepreneur profiting from lighting the streets of Washington. In the 1850s, he found a partner in John A. Washington, George Washington's grand-nephew and the last private owner of the late president's estate, Mount Vernon. Washington was struggling to pay for the estate's upkeep and by the mid-1850s, much of the property was in disrepair.
Washington (1820-1861) and Crutchett struck a deal that both hoped would improve their financial circumstances. In July of 1852, the two executed a contract giving Crutchett the rights to, "all the timber, trees, shrubs, and wood of all and every kind" in 57 acres within the estate plus 300 trees near Washington's tomb and near the "residence of the late General George Washington." In return, Washington was supposed to get $12,000.
Crutchett was allowed to cut roads through the property and could enter at any time to remove the wood for a term of ten years. Washington paid a surveyor to identify the areas where Crutchett could acquire the wood and those maps also were entered into evidence:
1854 plat of parcels in Mount Vernon where James Crutchett was granted rights to harvest wood for his Mount Vernon Factory.
The contract gave Crutchett exclusive rights to the wood and to the use of the Washington name:
There shall be no other timber, trees, or wood sold from the Mount Vernon estate to any person or persons during the ten years said Crutchett is engaged in the removal, working up, or sale of the timber, trees, &c., hereby sold; this is not intended, however, to prohibit the sale of any portion of said estate to the State or the General Government. Said Washington further agrees to certify to the genuineness of the sale and growth of said timber, if deemed necessary by Crutchett, for his interest and at his expense, by a suitable certificate.Crutchett's business papers are long gone but it does appear that he maintained detailed accounting records. In the winter of 1855 he bought hardware, "axes, picks, files, and whet stones" and sent them to Mount Vernon with men he had hired to cut the wood. He invested in a sleigh to haul the wood and he built temporary work sheds and housing for his workers at Mount Vernon.
"I sent men to Mount Vernon to cut timber, make roadways, wharfages, &c., for the convenience of getting the wood from the ground to navigable waters," Crutchett recalled. Once at the Potomac, the wood was ferried across in the Mary Barker, a boat Crutchett bought specifically for the enterprise.
So why did Crutchett, an English citizen who came to the United States in the early 1840s want to go into the business of making and selling things tied to George Washington using wood from Mount Vernon? He explained his motives in a deposition he gave in 1872:
I thought the citizens of the United States were derelict to the memory of Washington, although I was an Englishman, and I felt an interest from the time the first foundation stone of the monument slipped through the bridge over the canal. Mrs. Hamilton was a guest of mine two years at the time I asked permission to remove that stone and place it down in the foundation of the monument. George Washington Parke Custis came over with the speaker of the House of Representatives, John Quincy Adams, and escorted Mrs. Hamilton from my house to see the laying of the foundation stone. I could not but have felt an interest in it beyond that. That is why I undertook it after long thought thinking it would please the public to have mementoes [sic.] of Mount Vernon wood representing the memory of George Washington.Eleven years earlier, after the government seized his property, he also tried to explain his reasons for setting up the business in a September 1861 petition (PDF) he sent to President Abraham Lincoln:
The undersigned would most respectfully represent, that, a little over seven years since, he entered on a business undertaking, in view of ultimately aiding the building of the "Washington National Monument," and also the purchase and restoration of the "Home of Washington."By the time Crutchett had embarked on his Mount Vernon venture, the nation had been caught up in a cult of Washington. The late president had been fully transformed into a legendary hero and was being commodified in the fine arts and in an emerging American popular culture. Crutchett's enterprise was launched less than a decade after work was begun on the Washington Monument and the same year that Ann Pamela Cunningham founded the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association.
Crutchett further explained in his letter to Lincoln,
The detail of my undertaking was, the conversion of said Mount Vernon wood into interesting "Mementos" of Washington and his home, thus: The production of the finest engravings and Medallions, executed by the most accurate and skillful artists of America and Europe, showing different views pertaining to Washington and his homes, from the Birthplace to his tomb, also likenesses of himself, and some of his associate patriots, and framing those in moulded and other frames, all of wood from Mount Vernon; also canes, mouldings, bracelets and ear-rings, (gold mounted,) rulers, inkstands, and other interesting and useful articles, each accompanied with three certificates of its genuineness …Crutchett set about producing these items in a factory he built at the corner of North Capitol Street and D Street N.E. The two-story wood frame and wood-clad Mount Vernon Factory was approximately 40 feet wide and 120 feet long. The factory was outfitted with a boiler, steam engine, saws (upright and circular), lathes, planing and moulding machines, and stampers. A printing press churned out the engravings which were mounted in wood frames.
Soldiers' Rest. The Mount Vernon Factory is inside the blue box. National Archives and Records Administration.
The Soldiers' Rest and James Crutchett's Mount Vernon Factory. Adapted from Lithograph by Charles Magnus, c. 1864. Library of Congress image.
Crutchett built the factory after executing the contract with Washington, in 1855 or 1856. He began operations in the early part of the winter in 1856, according to his 1872 testimony. The factory ran intermittently from 1856 until the time it was seized July 24, 1861. Nothing was produced in its first year of operation and only a few canes were manufactured in 1857. Afterwards, Crutchett began turning out the commemorative medallions, picture frames, and other objects.
Print under glass mounted in Mount Vernon wood. Produced at the Mount Vernon Factory. Adapted from Images posted at Stacks Auction House.
The business was not profitable. Crutchett only grossed about $4,423 between 1856 and 1861. His objects were sold be dealers in New York and Boston. And, they were sold in Washington. Samuel P. Bell, a U.S. Patent Office machinist, allowed one of his employees to "keep a small case for exhibiting and selling some of the articles made by Mr. Crutchett at the Mount Vernon Factory." Bell estimated that about 400 to 500 items were sold.
Undated photo of the former Mount Vernon Factory. Original in the Chicago Historical Society collections. Copy located in the James M. Goode Collection, Library of Congress.
For the most part, however, it appears that Crutchett made very few items compared to the quantity of wood he removed from Mount Vernon. He blamed the fitful start on suppliers and on the difficulty of getting the wood ready for production. Much of the wood Crutchett harvested from Mount Vernon appears to have been allowed to rot or was used or destroyed by federal troops after the property was seized in 1861. The factory never resumed production and Crutchett went back to the gas industry. It appears that the factory was demolished around the turn of the twentieth century.
As with his efforts to secure a contract to light the U.S. Capitol and to install gas street lights throughout Washington, Crutchett's reputation as a charlatan and con man was prominent in the legal battle he waged against the government for compensation (the subject of a future post). Witnesses testified that Crutchett had a reputation for lying and for not paying his bills. Government attorneys in 1872 summed up their assessment of the Mount Vernon business and Crutchett's character:
When the military took possession of this factory, the claimant was hopelessly bankrupt, and his business, if it ever existed, at an end. His expectations of realizing a fortune from his absurd scheme of furnishing the American people with mementoes of Mount Vernon and completing the Washington Monument, were plainly visionary before the outbreak of the war, and after the great conflict began, he must have been insane [sic.] who could have deluded himself into believing that such an enterprise was then likely to prove successful.Crutchett's Washington kitsch occasionally appears on E-Bay and other online auction sites. Some of it is curated in museums. It is clear that he kept some of the items after the war because in the early 1880s he approached the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association with yet another scheme to sell at Mount Vernon "a variety of medals and pictures commemorative of Washington and his home." Crutchett was politely rebuffed: "Applications of this sort are not infrequently made, but the objections to such arrangements are so positive, that the proposition was declined."
Mementos of George Washington his birth place, Mount Vernon & tomb. 1881 ad placed by James Crutchett to sell remaining items. Library of Congress image.
George Washington's monument ultimately was completed in 1888. As for Mount Vernon, in 1858 the property was bought by the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association in a move widely credited as the birth of historic preservation in the United States. James Crutchett, on the other hand, became a forgotten footnote in American history despite his Forrest Gump-like capacity to appear at critical times in the capital's history.
The next installment in this series will document the seizure of Crutchett's property after the Union defeat at Bull Run in July of 1861 and the creation of the Soldiers' Rest.
Crossposted on Historian for Hire. The material in this post is derived from an article in progress. Research to produce the article was conducted at the National Archives, Library of Congress, University of Maryland, and the Washingtoniana collection of the D.C. Public Library. Sources and citations will appear in the article.
DC's Historic Preservation Review Board approved concept plans for the Hine project on Capitol Hill last month, making a clear statement that while they'll push to improve the quality of development, they're not going to bow to neighbors' demands to substantially shrink it down.
8th Street elevation. Image from the Stanton/EastBanc.
Historic review can greatly improve many development projects. Property owners sometimes want to do things cheaply or just use visual styles that clash with a surrounding neighborhood. Clever design can making a building look less large and imposing without actually shrinking its size very much.
But some people, especially those who show up to HPRB meetings, tend to focus most on the overall height of a building. Their house is 2 stories, and therefore no building should be more than 3 stories. Something more than 4 will "destroy the neighborhood."
Developers often try to accommodate resident objections and make their projects smaller. In Brookland, the Colonel' Brooks Tavern project lost 9 residences but opponents are still opposed. Hine lost 13 between March and April. There's a constant drumbeat of news of projects being scaled back.
Each time, that means fewer people can live in our great city.
Everyone else loses when this happens. We have fewer taxpaying residents to shore up the budget. We have fewer people to patronize shops and restaurants. Fewer people can ride the bus to justify more frequent service. Housing is more expensive because of limited supply.
And when resistance is too great, projects simply don't get built and lots stay vacant, or end up with less desirable uses. Because a zoning board limited a bed and breakfast at 16th and Riggs to 6 rooms instead of 10 in 2001, it couldn't stay profitable and will become a chancery instead, which adds less to the neighborhood than a stream of visitors who will eat in restaurants and go to museums and shows.
Fortunately, many of our current HPRB members recognize this. They tweaked Hine and pushed for a better design but ultimately didn't try to substantially shrink the project. The inclusionary zoning law provides a development bonus to create affordable housing, and HPRB chair Catherine Buell said that the current board recognizes the importance of allowing properties to use this density. Their role isn't to lop off several floors entirely.
HPRB isn't the zoning board, as former chair Tersh Boasberg was fond of saying. If zoning says a 5-story building is appropriate, it's not the role of HPRB to say that they think 3 stories should be the maximum. It is their role to make sure it fits into the historic district. Some, though, argue that "fitting in" means "being no taller than some of the shorter buildings in."
Mayor Gray was about to make 4 appointments to HPRB, but received strong pushback against some of his nominees. Now, he still has to fill those spots and has to find even more as another wave of members' terms are ending.
It's critically important to find people who respect this balance, who want to make projects look better and feel more compatible but who also recognize the importance of actually getting vacant sites developed, accommodating more residents in DC, and taking advantage of the very limited heights that our zoning and federal laws allow.
These decisions don't just affect surrounding neighbors or architects. They determine the very direction of DC, its budget, its housing affordability, and its ability to become more self-sufficient.
Today the DC Council's Subcommittee on Redistricting releases their much-anticipated proposal for new boundaries for the eight existing city wards. Yesterday, community members from around Ward 6 (as we know it) came together for a Rally to Keep Capitol Hill Together.
Approximately two hundred residents turned out for the event, as well as a number of reporters, the Fox 5 camera crew, several ANC commissioners and Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells.
Although on the basis of Census data Ward 6 has an acceptable number of residents, portions may be nonetheless be reassigned to Ward 7, which has to take on more people. Currently, the natural boundary of the Anacostia River separates the two wards, except for Kingman Park in Ward 7 on the west side of the river.
Kingman Park residents have been clamoring to rejoin Ward 6, but the redistricting committee is expected to instead draw a new dividing line, somewhat arbitrarily, at 17th Street (SE and NE).
The posters and chants that rally-goers brought with them to the front lawn of Eastern Senior High School this evening reflected a variety of arguments against the change. Parents fear that having Eastern High School, which is east of 17th Street, in Ward 7 would complicate efforts to create a cluster of good public schools in the neighborhood.
The rally, however, is just the latest in a series of actions that the Ward 6 community has undertaken in protest of the potential redistricting.
Petitions for Capitol Hill unity have been circulating the neighborhood for well over a month. The community has played host to a number of open forums devoted to the issue of redistricting. ANC Commissioners such as Brian Flahaven (6B09) have dedicated significant resources to educating and mobilizing area residents.
One rally participant showed her support with an extra-large poster prominently advertising Councilmember contact information. And, in fact, locals have flooded the subcommittee members, Councilmembers Michael Brown, Jack Evans and Phil Mendelson, with emails and phone calls.
Next up is the subcommittee's presentation and vote on the proposed plan, due to take place this coming Thursday, May 26.
If yesterday's event is any indication, the Capitol Hill community will prove to be an active and persistent participant in the final stages of the redistricting process.
Cross-posted at The Barney Circular.
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