Washington DC – The Public Markets

THE public markets of Washington are among the finest in the United States, and are objects of considerable interest to strangers. They consist of the Center Market, on the south side of Pennsylvania Avenue, between Seventh and Ninth streets northwest; the Northern Liberty Market, on Fifth Street, between K and L streets northwest ; the Northern Market, on Seventh Street, between 0 and P streets northwest; the Eastern Market, on Capitol Hill, at the junction of Seventh Street east, and North Carolina Avenue ; and the Western Market, on K Street, between Twentieth and Twenty-first streets northwest. They are supplied with a profusion of fine vegetables and fruits, game, fish, oysters, and the best qualities of meats. Washington being situated in the centre of a luxuriant agricultural region, and adjacent to the great oyster and fishing-grounds of the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay, is enabled to have an abundance of food products in its markets. It has also special facilities for obtaining early vegetables and fruits from the South, and meats from contiguous districts and from the West.

The Center Market is the largest of the markets, and in many particulars, it is considered to be the market par excellence of the country. The building was begun in 1870, and opened in July, 1873, its erection having cost S350,000. It is located on one of the most central squares in Washington, which has been devoted to market purposes since the foundation of the city, and is surrounded by extensive grounds and wide streets. Here was the well-known ” Marsh Market” of ante-bellum days—a rough, dilapidated building, or series of buildings, but filled to overflowing with good “marketing,” and distinguished for its quaint, motley assemblages.

Four capacious brick buildings constitute the Center Market, those on the Pennsylvania Avenue front being very ornate and pleasing in design. They form a square and are connected, so that in going through the market they seem very much like one building. They are four hundred and ten feet in length, and their average width is eighty-two feet. The total space available for market purposes is 84,818 feet. One building is used exclusively for wholesale business in meats and produce. It is three stories high and contains fourteen large stores, with elevators to the upper stories. The other buildings are two stories in height, and have great arched roofs. They contain six hundred and sixty-six stalls and stands for the retail business, and have wide aisles and spaces. There is room for three hundred wagons around the market, and the covered sidewalks will accommodate innumerable hucksters’ stands. The rents for stalls and stands are from $5 to $14 per month, and the yearly rent-roll is nearly $60,000. The market is owned by the Washington Market Company.

The daily business in and around this splendid structure is enormous. During the morning hours there are throngs of buyers of all classes of society—fashionable women of the West End, accompanied by negro servants, mingling with people of less opulent sections, all busily engaged in selecting the day’s household supplies. It is a scene of wonderful variety and animation, and has much of the picturesqueness noticeable in the markets farther south. And on Saturday evenings, when the market is glowing with myriads of lights, and is lively and bustling with the excitement of a great traffic, it has peculiar interest and fascination. An extensive variety of articles, other than food products, can be purchased. Flowers and plants of numberless sorts are spread out in tempting array ; tin, wooden, and crockery ware, and various household utensils ; clothing, jewelry and trinkets, sweet-smelling herbs and barks, pictures and books, smokers’ articles—these, and more, are to be obtained. Cooked food is offered, such as hominy, smoking hot, sold by the quart for family use; and everything in the baker’s line is to be found in abundance. Indeed, the market is a vast, convenient bazar, where one can be readily supplied with innumerable things in daily demand.

The Northern Liberty Market is the second in magnitude. It was erected in 1875 at a cost of $140,000, and is an imposing brick building, three hundred and twenty-four feet in length, and one hundred and twenty-six in width, and is notable for its great height and ponderous arched roof, supported by colossal iron girders. The other markets are substantial brick buildings, excellently arranged, and of good size.