Washington DC – Houses And Memories

The days when Sheridan lay ill in Washington and in fact dying, in the house at the north-east corner of Rhode Island Avenue and Seventeenth Street, he would look from his window at the statue of General Scott and would say that he hoped, if a statue should ever be put up to his memory, that at least he would be given a better mount than had fallen to the lot of poor Scott.

The Scott Monument is at Massachusetts Avenue and Sixteenth Street, and one of Sheridan has since been placed a little farther out on Massachusetts Avenue, at Sheridan Circle and R Street. It is the work of Borglum and demonstrates that an equestrian statue can be lowset. Sheridan’s mount is in an excitable sprawling posture and is curiously suited to its position in the Circle. It is certainly not the conventional bronze mount that he deplored for Scott. The widow of General Sheridan lives at 2211 Massachusetts Avenue, and, also looking out at the Sheridan statue, is the magnificent home of the Larz Andersons, at 2118 Massachusetts Avenue where I Street cuts across. It is a quiet Bostonian expression of grandeur. One is tempted to consider it the finest private house in Washington. It really consists of what seem like two great houses of smooth cut stone, connected across the facade by two great gates, and with a masking wall enclosing a great court of entrance.

Near this is the great house of a western miner which Washington small-talk declares is furnished with such things as a gold bath tub, and the same small-talk declares that when the house was built, although it was before the era of enormous prices, it cost three million dollars; a house with the pleasant feature of fine gardens; a Sienna-like palace, marble-pillared, of stone and buff brick.

Just a little beyond all this, is the back entrance to the home of our recent President, Woodrow Wilson. There is a mysterious looking small door in a high brick wall, above which is a terrace twenty feet or so wide, which is planted with small trees and shrubs. Behind it rises the second inaccessible ter-race, with a stone balustrade, upon which the ground floor of the ex-President’s house opens, through broad glass doors, and from which there is a far-stretching, wide-spreading view. Immediately a-round the corner on S Street is the main front of the Wilson house. It is a large three-story house of brick with white stone entablatures. It has a door-portico in the center, with three great round-arched windows on the second floor, and has much of dignity. On the same side of S Street, at 2300, which is here a street of large new houses, is the home of the well known Herbert Hoover, hardly more than a stone’s throw away; a three-story house of light-colored brick, a balanced house, with large central portico and in Georgian style.

Diagonally across the street, on higher land, known as Kalorama Heights, is an open piece of land, for which the owner was offered a great sum, but which she gave to the city for a children’s play-ground, with the condition that on that land the little grave of her pet dog should forever be cared for.

Adjoining this playground is the land purchased just before the recent war for a new German Embassy. There is now on that ground the one old home of the vicinity, and it is of very great interest for it was the home of the remarkable man, Joel Barlow. He was a Connecticut poet who had amassed great wealth as a land agent in France, selling to Frenchmen a tract at Gallipolis on the Ohio River. He came back to Washington, bought a great estate on this hill, which he called Kalorama, because of its view, and built a house, of which the present old house is the remainder, and established a social and artistic headquarters one hundred and twenty-five years ago. The house and the grounds were talked about by everybody and invitations were eagerly sought.

The old doorway of the house still shows its beauty, and in front of the house is a semi-circular esplanade bordered by evergreen box-bushes, commanding, be-fore buildings and thickets were on the hillside, a superb view of all the city and the river. Now, the gardens are grass-grown, but in the early spring the daffodils still blossom and for years the white-coifed Sisters of Mercy have been privileged to come and pick the gay and sunny flowers for their hospital wards—from the poet’s garden of a century ago.

Barlow was sent by Madison once more across the ocean as a special envoy to the French Government, and found Napoleon absent on his campaign to Moscow. A definite order arrived to go after the Emperor personally, whereupon Barlow started for Russia, only to be caught in the awful retreat of the French army. He died at an insignificant point in Poland and was buried there.

‘Wherever one goes in Washington, there are buildings connected with important people, of the past or present time. The rather severe house of Henry Cabot Lodge is at 1765 Massachusetts Avenue, a very wide house but low, of smooth red brick with a red slate roof. The front is gay with the gaudiest of tulips in the spring, and a wistaria blossoms over the door. The house-entrance is at one end of the building, with a motor archway at the other end, sometimes closed with heavy doors, into which the motor car may plunge and go under the house and emerge in a courtyard beyond.

In a pleasant green-growing neighborhood at 1603 K Street is a house of homely red brick, a house rather short and fat, with six windows on a floor, where Taft chose to live; and next door at 1601, Dewey found his home anchorage, the house being of dark red with double bay windows, and with a white door a trifle below the level of the sidewalk—a rather squeezed-in effect—with the bays as if suggestive of the Bay which he made so historically famous. John Sherman, Secretary and Senator chose as his home a solid massive building of white stone, four stories high with open loggia on the third, overlooking Franklin Park. The house is 1321 K Street and is fronted around a circular drive by a little topiary garden of thick-massed privet and box; and next door at 1323 lived and died Secretary Stanton, in an old square-fronted house, masked by two great gloomy magnolias. A house on K Street within sight of Farragut Park, alive with interest, is that at 1730, with a high-set green stone basement, a sort of flat Mansard roof, topping the three-story height, a bay window all the way up ; a house of dark brick, with a shiny oak vestibule, a kind popular in the eighteen-nineties. It was in this house that Mrs. Hodgson Burnett wrote one of the most American of books and one of the most popular, “Little Lord Fauntleroy.”

At the southeast corner of G and Eighteenth Streets lived consecutively Edward Everett, and Jefferson Davis; astonishing contrast. Go there now and you see only a tennis court alongside an office building, but you find compensation in the fact that at the southwest corner is one of the most delectable of old houses, with a white door and an eagle knocker, with a woman’s face carved in the keystone of the arch over the door, and a wealth of English ivy on the walls.

Of the increasing number of huge mansions built by people from various parts of the country, who have intended to make their home for their final years in Washington, many are shuttered and closed except for the lights of caretakers, year in and year out. The explanation may be that the families are attracted by the still broader social life of Europe or that Washington has been something of a disappointment socially or politically. Whatever the reason, there have already come to be a great number of such closed mansions and among them is a positively superb building, facing in an acute angle into Dupont Circle; a house of pink brick, white stone, and extinguisher towers, reminiscent of the architecture of St. Germain. The house is full of palatial furniture, and has a private chapel and a superb private theater.

Another of the hugely magnificent homes of outsiders is the house put up by L. Z. Leiter, the father of Lady Curzon, a huge mansion, cream colored, with beautiful stone gate posts, and a high pillared white portico It is numbered 1500 New Hampshire Avenue and like the house just described is on land that points wedgelike toward Dupont Circle. Washington has always loved to tell, in what may be referred to as ” in lighter vein,” of a Mrs. Malaprop who said such things as, “he bought the garbage of a monk for the fancy-dress ball,” and ” this authoress, who writes under a robe de nuit,” or “Jack o’ bean-stalk furniture.”

For many years the general vicinity of Dupont Circle attracted the builders of large homes, and the first was one of the homes of James G. Blaine at Twentieth and P Streets and Massachusetts Avenue. It was well known and prominent but far from beautiful. In the same part of the city is a huge palace in white stone, consisting of two immense stories and a roof-story, at 1618 New Hampshire Avenue. It was put up by Perry Belmont. On its second floor are a long series of great round-arched windows on all three sides of the house.

Facing the house of Perry Belmont is the home of Thomas Nelson Page, and noticing that it was labeled I crossed the street to read, as Dooley tells of his doing at his early once-while home in Chicago, and the tablet merely read “For rent.” The home of the gentle Virginian is at the corner of New Hampshire Avenue and R Street and is a large distinguished looking house, four stories in height with a dormered roof; a house of mellow-colored brick, much like that of his ancestor Nelson at Yorktown. The house has little fluted classic pillars, a white balustrade around the roof, and modillions on the cornice, as they had in Colonial days in Virginia.

An example of the shifting of homes of distinguished folk is that of Secretary Hughes, who recently moved into 1529 Eighteenth Street, a yellow house with four stories and a dormered attic, with an English basement entrance at the sidewalk level.

A large private house immaculately painted buff and green is owned and used by the British Embassy on Connecticut Avenue at N Street. It was never what could be called a distinguished looking house but it has an air of its own with its lion and unicorn, and behind it are four or five small buildings, looking like Quaker meeting houses and put there through the necessities of the Great Near. It was long the case, and probably still is, that the city kept several policemen stationed within touch and call of this building : something not done with the buildings of the other Embassies.

Probably the finest benefaction of the city is the Louise Home on Massachusetts Avenue between Fifteenth and Sixteenth Streets. It was established by W. W. Corcoran the philanthropist in memory of his wife and daughter, both of whom had died and each of whom had borne the name of Louise. It was endowed for the comfort of the class whom George Washington himself, long before the founding of this home, used honorably and quaintly to call “decayed gentlewomen.” The house is of brick and brown stone, it is high-perched on terraced land, and is more beautiful as a benefaction than as a building. An outline of its work which lies before me states, that everything is provided for those who live there, with the exception of clothing.

Two towering pink magnolias rise beside the building; the shade of the flowers does not agree with the brick, but looking from the windows they are dreams of beauty. To the founder, the inmates, of whom the building accommodates about fifty, were his lady guests, as he liked to express it, and his spirit is still maintained. They have books, newspapers, and music and all the fine furniture of the Corcoran home. Mrs. Letitia Tyler Semple, second daughter of President Tyler, has been the most distinguished guest, thus far. After the death of President Tyler’s first wife she presided as the first lady in the land at the White House. She was bitterly shocked by her father’s second marriage, left the White House in dudgeon, and in the decline of her life, a widow, found shelter in the Louise Home.

On Pennsylvania Avenue, facing the State, War and Navy Departments, and just around the corner from Lafayette Square, is the last mansion, still used as a mansion, in that vicinity. It was built in 1820. It has a high white door, tall wrought-iron lamps at the foot of the steps, and a great brass knocker. It is a very wide house of buff stucco. It has a generous and hospitable air. It is still lived in by a family who hold to the old traditions. General Sherman in this house married the daughter of Ewing, with President Fillmore and the members of the Cabinet as wedding guests. And it was in this house that Robert E. Lee was offered, by General Scott, command of all the Union Armies in the Civil War—only to decide for the Confederate armies in-stead.

The great square-fronted house at 1155 Sixteenth Street, facing the home of the National Geographic Society with its red tiled roof, is distinctive as the home of Elihu Root. It is palatial in size, but very quiet, of gray-buff brick, relieved by a black iron-grilled door, and little iron flower grills at each window. There are seven windows facing on Sixteenth Street, and the house is separated from the side-walk by exactly trimmed hedging, and a conventional circular drive. Root lived in this house as long ago as when he was Secretary of State, and Washington still chuckles over a diplomatic victory achieved here. For one of the Western members of the Cabinet announced one day to his colleagues, that for a state reception that evening, at which they were all to be present, his tailor had made him some lavender trousers. They would have been right enough for afternoon wear but the cabinet officer had chosen them for the evening. The other cabinet members were appalled but they did not know how to act to avoid ridicule of their body. Then the matter was laid before Root, the diplomatic arranger of difficulties. Root went to the socially ambitious member, told him how pleased he was to learn of the lavender trousers, but he also said how positively grievedhe was to inform his fellow member that though lavender would be so much of an improvement, it was an established custom of the Cabinet to wear black. And with this, the new member was satisfied, pleased, and properly dressed.

The rise of Root is one of the most striking examples of advancement in all American history. Beginning with a secretarial connection with Boss Tweed, he had the opportunity, of which he took full advantage, of early learning much of practical polities. After that start, being a man of very great natural ability, he climbed up and up, round after round, until a succession of the highest offices had been given him, and these he filled to the honorable satisfaction of the country.

Until the Cathedral on the Heights was started there were churches of considerable importance in Washington, yet they were not so important as would be expected in the National Capital. St. John’s has been the most distinguished. That of St. Matthew, begun in 1893, still far from complete, and with an interior chapel which is a copy of that of St. Anthony of Padua, is among the most important of the Roman Catholic. Standing very prominently between Thirteenth and Fourteenth Streets is the New York Avenue Presbyterian, a favorite not only of Lincoln but of Andrew John-son, James Buchanan, Andrew Jackson, and John Quincy Adams.

On Four-and-a-half Street, now John Marshall Place, at the corner of C Street, stands a dull chocolate-brown church with a slender spire. It is the Metropolitan Memorial, the Methodist Church which was most popular with Grant and McKinley. The Church of the Covenant was favored by Harrison and Blaine. Grover Cleveland, although not much of a religious man, had a fancy for the First Presbyterian, a somber old church down on the way to the Capitol, in what used to be called the old court part of the town. Roosevelt was devoted to Grace Dutch Reformed. Many look upon the most fashionable church in the city as still being St. John’s Episcopal, and it is often called the President’s church.

The old churches of the city are kept in mind by their parishioners and historic old houses by romance-loving historians, but few of even old-time Washingtonians know that there are still existent sufficient Lincoln localities for the reconstruction of the tragedy of the assassination.

The White House, of course, which the President left on his way to the theater would be the beginning of the reconstruction. Even Ford’s Theater on Tenth Street, between E and F Streets, where Booth pushed in behind the Presidential box and fired his shot, still stands, a broad square-fronted structure with sharp gable rising in the middle, although it very long ago ceased to be used as a theater. It is closed to the public; it is used by the Government as a storage warehouse; and the arches that once opened into the theater lobby are closed. In be-hind the old theater, and entered from the middle of the block on F Street, is an alley with a few little houses, and from this open space, reached by a final right-angled turn, was the stage entrance that Booth used, having first tied his horse in the alley. It arouses grimly vivid memories, to think of the broken-ankled Booth, coming into this very alley-way and untying and mounting his horse after having committed a crime which shocked the world. Booth had hired his horse at a little stable, toward the western end of C Street in the four hundred block, now part of a slate-colored garage into which the building has been enlarged.

The house in which Lincoln died is still standing. Instead of carrying Lincoln on a stretcher or in a military ambulance to the White House, which was only a few blocks away, and where he could have had every attention, and unlimited care and privacy, he was carried and lifted with difficulty and physical suffering up the twisted iron-railed little steps into the little house, a rooming house, at number 516 Tenth Street. With further difficulty, he was carried into a very narrow room and laid upon a narrow cot, which had been occupied by a young soldier named Clark, who seems to have been ashamed of even so much connection with the mighty Lincoln, for he wrote to a sister, saying that when a reporter wanted his name, he didn’t give it, because he did not care to have his name given such publicity.

The way in which the dying Lincoln was treated was amazing. Everybody seems to have crowded close about him, including most of the members of his Cabinet, who hurried to the place as soon as notified. Lincoln had no chance for breathing fresh air; and it was not surprising that the end shortly came.

The building in which he died is now used as a museum of Lincoln relics, gathered with infinite care, from near and far, by a Lincoln admirer, and many of the memorials are of great interest. There is here a great case of photographs of Lincoln, mostly by Brady, and as clear and perfect as if printed yesterday. And it is worth while noting that he appears in these photographs vastly superior in looks to the descriptions often given. Look carefully over scores of these pictures, and you see that his manhood and his clothes are superior, not inferior, to the general style of the time. It was deemed a smart thing of that period to jest at Lincoln’s appearance. New York could accept Greeley’s whiskers and weird clothes, but shuddered at Lincoln’s features and tailoring.

Already some of the events of Lincoln’s last night of life have become vaguely mythlike. There is no agreement, even among formal historians, as to what was his last writing or his last official act. Some believe, but this seems to have been invented for dramatic effect, that his last writing was signing a pardon for a young soldier. Another story has it that his last note was a statement that no pass was any longer required to get into either Petersburg or Richmond. It is more likely that his last written words were hastily scribbled upon a card, allowing “Mr. Ashmun and his friends to come in at 9 A.M. tomorrow.” Earlier in the day, he seems to have written General Van Allen, who had been urging him to greater care as to risking his life: “I intend to adopt the advice of my friends and use every due precaution”

The house of Mrs. Surratt, 604 H Street, where she and the other conspirators met and devised the assassination, is still standing, a two-story and basement house, with dormers; a buff-painted brick house with steps going up to a long-paneled door. The street is here a quiet and shaded street of rather old-fashioned boarding houses, and it is very interesting to find this particular house still in existence. How fascinating it would be if one could still go, in Rome, to the very house where the conspirators against Caesar met!

Across the park from the Capitol, on the same side as the Library, is an old-looking row now altered into houses, with mansard roofs. This row of buildings, which has always been treated essentially as one large building, has recently been acquired by the National Woman’s Party, who announce that they will make it “a political watch-tower for women; a vantage point from which to keep Congress under perpetual observation.”

Over a century ago these buildings were compositely known as the “old Capitol,” because Congress met there for some time after the burning of the real Capitol by the British. After that it was used as a politicans’ boarding house, and it was here that Calhoun died, after Webster’s final visit to him. The Civil War saw it used as a prison. Wirz of Andersonville was hanged at the rear of the Old Capitol.

In an open space, off at one side of the Capitol toward the railway station, one may not in-frequently see chickens wandering about, and there comes a not entirely clear reminder of the geese who, by timely cackling at the Capitol, saved Rome. What may be looked on as a sinister warning to Congressmen and all others, is a Judas tree displaying its curious shade of pink directly between the two Capitols.

On the night of the assassination Booth made his way on horseback, to the Anacostia, and there crossed the bridge only a few minutes before orders were received from the War Office absolutely for-bidding any one to leave the city.

Between the Capitol and the Anacostia on Massachusetts Avenue, in Lincoln Square, is what was for many years the best known statue in Washing-ton, for it was pictured and talked about by people everywhere, though for years it has now been practically unvisited and forgotten. It represents Lincoln striking the shackles from a slave, and it was paid for by money contributed by slaves whom his Proclamation freed.

Continuing beyond this one finds, in a gloomy lo-cation on the bank of the Anacostia, a most curious place, known as the Congressional Cemetery. Close beside the cemetery are such structures as the Alms House, the Work House and other similarly unhappy buildings. It would be hard to imagine a more gloomy enclosure than this cemetery. The original idea was to put up a stone for every Congress-man dying during his term of office, whether he was to be buried here or not, and also whether or not his family wished the body to remain here after being buried. Tobias Lear, long the trusted private secretary of George Washington, was buried here after his unhappy death by suicide. Elbridge Gerry was buried here after his sudden death in his carriage on the street; and one might wonder if so gloomy a sepulture was a punishment for his “Gerrymander” ! A number are here, who are neither Senators nor Representatives, such as a certain Count Gurowski who was husband of the Infanta of Spain and long a figure in Civil War days, intimately known to the Diplomatic Corps, and generally deemed a spy. He lies under a crested stone.

Before we get too far from localities more or less connected with Abraham Lincoln, it is well to call attention to I Street near New Jersey Avenue, and to a row there of three large double houses, of brick and stone, built by Lincoln’s strong personal friend and mighty political opponent, Stephen A. Douglas; Douglas having made choice of the center house for his own home. Curiously, of these two great men from Illinois, the one of Northern affiliations was born in Kentucky, and the one of Southern affiliations in the rocky northern state of Vermont.

In the general district south of the Capitol, between the Capitol and where now stands the War College, much was built in the early days, for this region was expected by many to be the most prosperous part of the city. The buildings put up in those early days were of excellent class, although as two wars had come, with one almost immediately following the other, private individuals were not prepared to put up residences of the class of Annapolis or the James River.

The great Robert Morris turned his attention to this region. He was already the most daring speculator in backwoods land, owning a hundred thousand acres in one place, a million acres in another, a half million in another and so on. And even if prices ranged from ten cents to a dollar an acre for much of it, the totals involved were enormous. Naturally when the new Capital City was planned, Morris could not resist buying an immense amount of the area. While the site of the city was still almost al-together woodland, he owned thousands of lots. It was said that he owned more lots in the District of Columbia than did all the other owners combined.

In 1796 he began building twenty two-story brick houses fronting on South Capitol and N Streets, which were never quite finished but went to ruin: As early as 1824 a description said that many of the doors and windows had been torn out for fuel and that the roofs had fallen in. They had never been lived in. And this at a time when the new and growing city was demanding homes ! There, in that region directly south of the Capitol, and almost at the edge of the Anacostia, you may still see mouldering, scattered brick, almost hidden by cow-grazed turf, with here and there a chimney or a fragment of wall, or an ancient cellar way, “where heaves the turf in many a mouldering heap.” Many of the unfortunate investments of Robert Morris may still be seen. And a striking feature of this entire desolate region is that it is tapped by South Capitol Street, nowadays scarcely used, although it is a splendid boulevard. The enormous losses of Morris in Philadelphia, supplemented by his losses here, made him a bankrupt, and he was consigned for years to a debtor’s prison. Years before he had saved the United States by his generous financing but there was no one to save him. It was a pathetic ending for the great Robert Morris, and in his will he briefly wrote: “Here I have to express my regret at having lost a very large fortune acquired by very great industry.”

It is depressing to go about in this region on the Anacostia, between the Navy Yard and the War College, for there are numerous new little houses recently built here and not looking at all attractive, and there are a number of streets which are still just tracks through the earth, and the largest single standing ruin is a large barn or warehouse, built from fallen down structures, and whose long side is composed entirely of torn-out old paneled doors.

A highly romantic character among the early Washington speculators was Thomas Law, a young Englishman who had risen high in India under Warren Hastings, first as that great man’s secretary and then as judge, collector, and so on, as Hastings advanced him. When the trial of Hastings impended and Law was ordered back to England as a witness, he shrewdly took himself and his fortune to America. He quite impressed George Washing-ton himself, by his appearance and apparent ability. He married Eliza Parke Custis, granddaughter of Martha Washington, and built a strikingly imposing house at Sixth and N Streets; a house still standing and facing across to what is now Potomac Park, and to the Heights of Arlington. It is still in appearance practically as it was built, except that the original steps to the high-set front door have been replaced by steps of iron. The house is balconied, has a narrow single dormer and is banded with two lines of white marble, extending around the house. There are two extremely large chimneys and the first floor windows have curving tops and those of the other two stories straight. It gives a sense of the extremely picturesque to find this house, built by Warren Hastings’ secretary, still standing in this shabby part of Washington. The house has an isolated lonely look; it looks like a house of tragedy ; and it is not surprising to find that Law lost most of his money, and that he and his wife separated after a few years of married life.

On C Street are numerous old houses, mostly in one single block, with fanlights and dentiled cornices, dormers, and pillared doorways; still attractive.

On old Fourth Street, in this same part of town, between N and 0 Streets, down near the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers, is what is understood to be the oldest building in the city, or rather an entire row of buildings put up at one time by a certain James Greenleaf. They are of red brick, with windows green shuttered and white stone capped. The second story faces out upon the cobbly gray pavement from twelve front windows, and on the lower floor are eight windows and four doors. There is one attractive oval window and, from the roof-line of the center of the row, rises a pointed gable to give the buildings distinction. The street, although broad, is entirely arched by beautifully interlacing elm branches. And the houses have always been known by the charming name of Wheat Row.