From GW Encyclopedia
HAMBURG: THE COLONIAL TOWN THAT BECAME THE SEAT OF THE GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY
By JESSIE FANT EVANS, A.B., Ed.D. (1935)
With the National Capital undergoing rapid growth and change, it is well that there should be preserved for The George Washington University an account of old Capital landmarks whose histories are intermingled with our own. The early University, like the Capital of that day, was rural in character, occupying in 1819 a large tract on what was then the boundary of Washington. The relics of that first home linger in a place name (University Place, running from Clifton to Fairmont between Fourteenth and Fifteenth Streets NW.) and a section of the old brick wall that still survives. Responding to the needs of a new day, the University in the seventies gave up its holdings on "College Hill" and moved to the heart of the city. Lacking the means to erect imposing structures, it later utilized the old homes of Hamburg.
Now these old homes are disappearing before the onward movement of the University. But this chapter should not be allowed to slip from our records. We are grateful to Mrs. Evans for her part in its preservation. The devotion to the city and to the University of this citizen of Washington and alumna of George Washington has brought forth a valuable contribution to our local history and University annals.
It is fitting that such a work should appear over the imprint of the General Alumni Association, for the alumni—who have formed the past, as they do the present and will the future of the University—are the natural keepers of its tradition. Other booklets are to follow, dealing with various phases of the history and growth of The George Washington University.
CLOYD H. MARVIN
President of the University
The George Washington University is often spoken of as being "in the heart of the Nation's Capital." How true this is, Washingtonians themselves scarcely realize. For this academic community, to which come each year some seven thousand students from all parts of our own country and from forty foreign lands, lies in an area which seems somehow isolated from the hurrying tempo of modern Washington. The University buildings, though just four squares west of the White House, State Department, and United States Treasury, are located within view of George Washington's beloved Potomac, near the point where the Memorial Bridge links the Capital City with his native Virginia. The neighborhood still retains the characteristics of that older day—not one century ago, but two—when this part of the Nation's Capital was not Washington, but an independent town called Hamburg.
When the independence of the English colonies in America was still but a dream of the liberty-loving, Jacob Funk, a German emigrant, bought a tract of approximately 130 acres in that portion of Frederick County, Maryland, out of which Montgomery County was later carved. These holdings were within the limits of the present city of Washington. They comprised approximately the area in the northwest section bounded by H Street on the north, Upper Water and B Streets (at that time the bank of the Potomac) on the south, Twenty-third Street on the west, and a line midway between Eighteenth and Nineteenth Streets on the east.
In 1768 the tract was laid out by this colonist of vision into 287 building lots, and a town was incorporated which— probably after his native city in Germany—he called Hamburg. The nearest neighboring towns at this time were Georgetown, Carrollsburg, and Bladensburg, with the intervening country woodland and pasture.
Within this incorporated area, at what is now the southeast corner of Twentieth and G Streets, Mr. Funk reserved a lot upon which a German church was built. The church occupies this site today and still conducts German-language services. Its present edifice was erected in 1891.
The house which Mr. Funk built for himself is believed to have been located between Twenty-second and Twenty-third Streets and is said to have been constructed of bricks imported from Holland, because they were much smaller and of a different texture from the bricks used in this vicinity.
Old records speak of a spring, where many came for water, located about half a mile from the old Glass House or Factory which was situated in Hamburg between Twenty-first and Twenty-second Streets. Near a rock in the Potomac River, just west of the Glass Factory, General Braddock is said to have landed in 1755, during the French and Indian War, en route with his army from Alexandria preparatory to being joined by the youthful Washington with his reinforcement of Colonial troops. By old citizens this rock for many years was referred to as "Braddock's Rock," and the place near it is "Braddock's Landing," the story being that Braddock's men filled their canteens here before taking up their march on their ill-fated expedition westward against Fort Duquesne.
Braddock's Rock may be seen today in the grounds of the Naval Medical School Hospital. Below the existing grade level, it is protected by a cover and is designated by a marker.
According to a legend long current among old Washingtonians, a British drummer boy fell overboard from one of the bateaux as the British troops were being ferried across the Potomac from the Alexandria side to Braddock's Rock, and was drowned. His body was never recovered. On stormy nights, they will tell you, his drum can still be heard, beating the pas de charge.
"Hamburg Wharf," at the foot of Twenty-first Street, was important for many years in the early history of Washington as a place of landing. As late as 1806 an act of Congress fixed at twenty-five cents the rate of hack fare "from the President's House to Hamburg Wharf."
On December 20, 1792, when "the Federal City in the Territory of Columbia" was in the making, Jacob Funk assigned his holdings in Hamburg in trust to William Deakins, Jr., of Georgetown, Treasurer of the Board of Commissioners, and Benjamin Stoddert, an original holder of land in the District of Columbia and our first Secretary of the Navy. These two trustees were "to execute deeds to holders of lottery tickets issued for the sale of lots in Hamburg." On April 7, 1793, Thomas Johns, James M. Lingan, Uriah Forrest, and Benjamin Stoddert deeded all their lots in Hamburg and Carrollsburg to Thomas Beall, of Georgetown, and John M. Gannt, trustee, "in trust to convey the same to the United States Commissioners for the purpose of building a Federal City." A portion of this tract was conveyed by the trustees to John Lenthall on July 18, 1800, "this being the first conveyance of this lot to a bona fide purchaser."
General Washington's interest in the town of Hamburg is clearly indicated in several letters written upon the subject, one of which was addressed by him from Philadelphia on February 17, 1791, to William Deakins and Benjamin Stoddert, who were later to serve as trustees for Jacob Funk. Indeed, General Washington afterwards purchased "Square numbered 21 said to be in Hamburg," which he willed "to George Washington Parke Custis, grandson of my wife and my ward."
It is not generally known that Thomas Jefferson thought this section of the city the ideal one for the location of the Capitol itself, and in connection with his rough outline of a plan for the new Federal City wrote the following:
"The highest summit of land in the town heretofore called Hamburg within the territory, with a convenient extent of grounds circumjacent, shall be appropriated for a Capitol for the accommodation of Congress, and such other lands between Georgetown and the stream heretofore called the Tyber as should on due examination be found convenient and sufficient shall be appropriated for the accommodation of the President of the United States for the time being and for the public offices of the government of the United States."
The exact location which President Jefferson indicated as his choice for the Capitol building, according to the research of Miss Maude Burr Morris, of the Columbia Historical Society, was the site at the southwest corner of Nineteenth and G Streets, now occupied by the "Lenthall Home for Widows."
This home, incorporated in 1833, is the memorial of two devoted daughters to the memory of their distinguished father, the John Lenthall who was the first bona fide purchaser of a lot in Hamburg. Born in England in 1762, the son of Sir William Lenthall, Speaker of the House of Commons, John Lenthall came to America in 1793 when he was thirty-one years old. An architect, he was attracted, no doubt, by the opportunities for the practice of his profession in the Nation's Capital. When, in 1803, Benjamin Henry Latrobe, also an Englishman, took charge of the construction of the Capitol, Mr. Lenthall was selected to be "Clerk of Works and Principal Surveyor." He met an untimely death in the falling of one of the vaulted arches in the Capitol basement.
With the growth of the Federal City, the area which had once been included in the town of Hamburg became an exclusive residential section of the Nation's Capital. Probably in few cities in the world were so many families of similar culture and ideals congregated in happy homes as were to be found in this vicinity during the latter part of the last century. Owing to certain exigencies of the times, and perhaps because of disposing fate itself, The George Washington University, founded in 1821, occupied two previous sites before permanently locating in this vicinity twenty-two years ago. Since that time the University has acquired nearly all of the old homes in the block bounded by G, H, Twentieth, and Twenty-first Streets, as well as others in adjacent squares; has built two large buildings, Corcoran Hall and Stockton Hall, both in the Colonial atmosphere; and is about to erect others consistent in design with the neighborhood's distinguished past.
Today historic old houses which once sheltered those who were dominating figures in our local and national life, are the classrooms in which eager young men and women prepare themselves for their careers. Beautiful old doorways are no longer the entrances to homes of the long ago, but give a gracious welcome to classrooms wherein the youth of our time seek and find doorways to the knowledge of all the centuries that have gone before.
Americans, looking with awe and reverence upon the background and traditions of the picturesque old buildings of the University of Paris, Oxford, or Heidelberg, are apt to be unmindful of equally interesting buildings in our Nation's Capital whose stories are associated with those who helped mold the country's destiny. Could the history which former occupants of The George Washington University's old buildings had a part in the making, be thrown upon a screen, what a stirring pageant would pass before our eyes. For here, in a background that was perhaps the most distinguished neighborhood of its time, those who commanded our land and sea forces, and those who dominated the political and judicial life of their day, had their homes.
2100 G Street, designated as Building A of the University, houses the office of the President and the Council Room of the Board of Trustees. The house, built about 1875, when the neighborhood was the center of aristocratic officialdom, was once the home of Admiral Thomas H. Patterson. After varying vicissitudes of time and fate, today it serenely surveys a busily passing academic world from the peaceful charm of its garden. Within, original fireplaces and mantels, rare pieces of Colonial furniture, ancient maps, fine etchings, and exquisite bits of old brass and porcelain, create an atmosphere which admirably links the best of the past with the present.
Just across the street, at 2101 G Street, in Building F, students of the Division of Fine Arts study architecture and graphic art in a truly fine old house built for his dearly beloved and lovely daughter, Elena Porter Campbell, by Admiral David Dixon Porter, who saw valiant service with Admiral Farragut and who is the author of a naval history of the Civil War. Here, in spacious, high-ceilinged rooms, beautifully arched doorways are balanced by tall, heavily shuttered windows. Black marble mantels are harmonious in their quiet dignity. The graceful curve of the walnut stair-rail is accented by the niched recess at the second-floor landing.
2033 G Street, or Building G of the University, on the northeast corner of Twenty-first and C Streets, is the headquarters of the Comptroller and his staff. This in all probability is the oldest residence in possession of the University. Here there lived for many years one of Washington's most colorful citizens, General Maxwell VanZandt Woodhull. The son of Commodore Woodhull of the United States Navy, he was born in Washington and came to live in the house when his father bought it in 1857. It was his home thereafter until his death in 1921, at which time he bequeathed it to the University he had served as a Trustee since 1911.
General Woodhull's military title was earned during the Civil War. He entered the Volunteer Army of the United States shortly after his nineteenth birthday, and he was just past twenty-one when he was made a brigadier general for "conspicuously faithful and efficient service" to his country. Among General Woodhull's prized possessions was a personal letter from his friend, General John A. Logan, to General Ulysses S. Grant, recommending him for an officer's commission in the Regular Army. This letter was never presented because at the close of the war General Woodhull determined to serve his country in other fields, subsequently acting as Secretary of the American Legation in London and as Chief of the Consular Bureau in the Department of State.
The Woodhull home is today substantially unchanged by its University occupancy. The Comptroller has as his office the spacious room on the second floor which was once the General's bed room, with its lovely, carved marble mantel, high ceiling, and broad windows looking south and west. The windows which face south on G Street open on a small balcony enclosed with a wrought-iron railing of interesting design. One may still see the hook in the ceiling of the room from which once was suspended the mosquito-netting canopy which enveloped the General's four-poster during the summer months. During the later years of his life the General retired very early, the house being locked and barred at nine and no one being admitted after this hour. The General maintained that during the summer a breeze from the south usually sprang up at this time, which cooled his bedroom and made sleep a pleasant necessity.
In the bay-windowed room below the bedroom, now the Admissions Office of the University, which General Woodhull when he occupied the house used as a library, he penned a volume entitled West Point in Our Next War: The Only Way to Create and to Maintain an Army, the thesis of which was the need for expansion of West Point facilities to insure sufficient officer personnel in time of war.
The Woodhull home was one of the first residences in this vicinity to install gas for illuminating purposes, but the General could never be interested in having it wired for electricity. General Woodhull was probably the last person in Washington to use a herdiac [horse-drawn] cab. It was his preferred method of transportation. Every day for fifteen years, at precisely the same hours morning and afternoon, a herdic backed up to his curb to take him upon his errands and drives. From his seat above, the driver would open the doors which gave entrance from the rear of the cab, the General would climb in, and off they would go.
In the General's day, a spacious stable in the rear of his residence housed an ante-bellum coach of unusual distinction. Upholstered in light blue satin, its shiny black body was suspended on swinging straps to give greater riding resiliency. Nearly six feet tall, the General was exceedingly erect, with a very florid complexion. He wore the Burnside style of whiskers. During his later years he always carried a gold-headed ebony cane upon which he was accustomed to rest his clasped hands as he sat expounding his convictions or giving forth instructions. His square-topped derby with its broad black band was a familiar sight in the neighborhood. Utterly unconcerned with changing fashions, the General at periodic intervals supplanted the old derby with a new one made precisely like its predecessors from a hat form which had been fashioned exclusively for him by his hatter.
A partizan Republican, he was famous for the expletives and epithets with which he was wont to condemn to blackest perdition the policies of the opposing party. Equally fervent were General Woodhull's religious convictions. The Unitarian Church, of which he was a devout member, he considered "the last trench of Protestantism." Fervently believing in prayer, he declared that "it was always helpful, if for no other reason than to appeal to the better part of one's own nature
He was deeply interested in the University's welfare and progress. It was undoubtedly General Woodhull's influence that was responsible for the University's removal to its present site in the G Street area, and for ten years before his death his residence was practically on the campus.
Many an interesting tale is told by former students of being summarily "brought to time" by the General for some infraction of University regulations which he had witnessed in his progress up G Street. The General invariably handled these situations himself, cane in hand, without resort to University officials, as many an alumnus will gratefully relate. A bronze tablet, placed at the entrance to his former residence, commemorates General Woodhull's war record and his service and benefactions to the University.
2027 G Street, recently torn down to make way for a new University building, was once the residence of Commander Easby of the United States Navy, who was Chief of Naval Construction in the Navy Department and the son of the Captain Easby who was a shipbuilder of importance at Easby's Point and the owner of extensive limekilns there. The University purchased this property and the adjoining house, also now torn down, from Commander Easby's two daughters, Rosa L. and Fanny, who never married and who were known for their good works and quiet, unostentatious charities.
Building K of the University, which was once St. Rose's Industrial School, is occupied by the University Library, the common meeting ground of all the University's diversified groups of students. The acquisition of the building by the University was made possible through the generosity and public-spirited interest of Abram Lisner, of the Board of Trustees, in whose honor it is known as Lisner Hall. Here, in addition to the adequate requirements of a modern university, are interesting old volumes to delight the booklover's soul. There are rare vellum-covered volumes dating back to the early part of the sixteenth century, valuable and extensive, many of them from the collections of Professor Curt Wachsmuth, of the University of Leipzig, and Professor Richard Heinzel, of the University of Vienna. As you unlatch their quaint old clasps, you may view, selecting at random, a copy of Boccaccio's Ii Filocopo, printed in Venice in 1612, with Richard Heinzel's signature upon the outer vellum cover. Perhaps one of the rarest books in the University Library is a volume in which have been bound ten early English sermons of Robert Harris, President of Trinity College, Oxford, which were issued separately and printed between 1610 and 1628. The Huntington Library in California has four of these sermons, but the volume in the University Library is probably the most complete collection of Harris's sermons in an American library.
A quaint bit of Americana is a volume entitled Washington's Political Legacies, to which is attached an account "of his illness, death, and national tributes of respect paid to his memory with a biographical outline of his life and character." Published in Boston by subscription in 1800, the list of subscribers includes the leading citizens of the time, and by permission the book is dedicated by the publishers to Mrs. Washington. Another copy of this volume is in the Rare Book Division of the Library of Congress.
A volume fascinating in its appeal to the collector of books is one bearing General Woodhull's name and inherited from his library. It is the second issue of the first edition of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, published in 1866. Still another in this same category is an 1852 edition of Swallow Barn, or a Sojourn in the Old Dominion, by John Pendleton Kennedy, with this comment on plantation life in Virginia: "Here was a thriftless gaiety, a dogged but enviable invincibility of opinion, and an overflowing hospitality that knew no ebb."
It is interesting to note a reference to the University in G. W. Colton's General Atlas, published in New York in 1863. The University appears on one of the old maps in this work with the citation: "It has a good library, a valuable philosophical apparatus, and other means and facilities for pursuing a liberal course of studies. The catalogue embraces a President and 12 professors, including those of the Medical College which is under the same management."
In this same connection it is interesting to quote from The Washington and Georgetown Directory, Strangers' Guide-Book for Washington, and Congressional and Clerks' Register, compiled and published by Alfred Hunter (with penciled notation that the author died Saturday, March 2, 1872), and printed by Kirkwood and McGill in Washington in 1853. Evidently scholastic endeavors were in no way interfered with by fears of Washington's summer heat, for on page x there is this comment about The George Washington University (Columbian College): "The collegiate year begins on the third Wednesday in July when Annual Commencement occurs. There is a vacation of one month from the third week in March to the third week in April. The college was established in 1821 and it has educated a large number of young men, many of whom are now filling distinguished stations of honor and usefulness in our own and other countries. In local advantages the University is unsurpassed by any institution in the country, possessing all the facilities for imparting a thorough and liberal education."
2017 G Street, which is Building M of the University, goes down to fame in the letters of Henry Adams. Here, on the third floor, this famous member of a famous family had bachelor quarters during the winter of 1869-70, and from them he went back and forth in the Washington of his time. His wagon hitched to the star of reform, he wrote from 2017 G Street for various magazines and newspapers diverse attacks and defenses upon the political issues of the day, while Washington's practical politicians laughed and went their way. He knew many congressmen and newspapermen. His associates and friends, through his old New England family and the powerful friendship and interest of Senator Hoar, of Massachusetts, numbered such giants as Fish, Jacob D. Cox, Evarts, Sumner, Secretary of the Treasury Boutwell, Chief Justice Chase, and a score more.
The letters addressed to his English friend, Charles Milne Gaskell, during the time he lived at 2017 G Street, may be read verbatim in Letters of Henry Adams, edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford, pages 169-87. Extracts from two are quoted:
WASHINGTON 7 Dec.1869
Sunday night I had Jacob Dolson Cox, Secretary of the Interior, to dine with me here, and a very small party at which very important conversation took place. We eagles do soar, we donkeys do bray. . . General Bade who was Motley's Secretary of Legation last season has returned and taken up quarters on the floor below me. We dine here every evening in state and full dress, including white cravats. Between us we know everybody and those we don't, know us.
The former drawing room and dining room of 2017 G Street, now used as classrooms, are substantially unchanged, and one can readily visualize how they must have appeared at the time of which Mr. Adams writes. 158 G Street was the old numbering of the house, and its change to a new number, 2017, is commented upon in this letter:
2017 G STREET, WASHINGTON
13 January 1870
Which is not a new address but only a new number and means that I live on G Street in the 17th house beyond 20th Street. There's arithmetic for you. What a thing it is to live in a new country.
At a time when Adams was caustically referring to "President Grant's simplicity in foreign affairs being more disconcerting than the complexity of a Talleyrand" and bitterly assailing many other public figures in the Nation's Capital, he was learning the fascination of Washington's springtime. The wild beauty of Rock Creek and of the Potomac River made their impression. Characteristically, he writes of "the purified charm which was lent to the Capitol as one caught sight of its dome over miles of forest foliage." It is little wonder that years later he should make Washington his residence, and that when his grief over the loss of his wife could not be assuaged, should have Saint-Gaudens fashion, and erect in Rock Creek Cemetery, that bronze monument, "Grief," to which a visiting world has worn a reverent footpath.
2024 G Street, where the Home Economics laboratories and classrooms are located, once served as General Grant's headquarters, prior to its occupancy as a home by General Orville E. Babcock, secretary to President Grant. The beautiful mantels in the drawing rooms and dining room of this house are said to have been removed from the White House and installed here by a former tenant when the White House was remodeled during President Theodore Roosevelt's administration. The back garden blooms today in all its old-time loveliness, and a wisteria vine of great age, which entirely covers the rear of the house, blossoms each spring.
2020 G Street, which is next door to "Babcock House" and is designated as Building D of the University, was once the home of Dr. John Frederick May, who was graduated from The George Washington University (then Columbian College) with the degree of A.B. in 1831 and M.D. in 1834.
Dr. John Frederick May was the son of Dr. Frederick May who, from the time he came to Washington in 1795, so well contributed to the laying of enduring foundations for the civic and professional life of the city. In 1819 the elder Dr. May founded the Medical Society of the District of Columbia, and in 1826 he was appointed to the Medical Faculty of The George Washington University. He was the builder and one of the owners of the Columbian Building at the corner of Tenth and E Streets, then the headquarters for the University's Medical School, where he and others lectured to the medical students.
The younger Dr. May became Washington's most famous surgeon before the Civil War and, like his father, was noted for his civic benefactions. After studying abroad in the hospitals of London and Paris, he became Professor of Anatomy and Surgery in his alma mater. It was Dr. John Frederick May who identified the body of John Wilkes Booth, assassin of President Lincoln, by means of a scar on Booth's neck, left by an operation for the removal of a tumor which Dr. May had performed upon him some time previously. Booth's vanity would not permit him to forego a famous scene with Charlotte Cushman, with the result that he returned to the stage too soon and seriously reopened the wound during the course of an embrace incident to their act, with the resulting telltale scar which was later to be a factor in Dr. May's identification of him after the murder of President Lincoln.
Dr. May, according to those who remember him, was a fine, upstanding figure of a man, a veritable giant for height, as were his sons. The May daughters were tall and extremely graceful, and were famed for their wit and beauty not only in the Capital City but in Baltimore and New York, where they paid frequent visits. One married William C. Whitney. Carrie became engaged to James Gordon Bennett, Jr., later sole owner of the New York Herald Tribune. The story of the breaking of Miss May's engagement to Mr. Bennett rocked the social circles of the nation at the time of its happening. Probably because of the gossip and unfavorable comment this incident heaped upon Mr. Bennett, he preferred to make his home in Paris, from where he dictated the Herald Tribune's editorial policy with a czar-like masterfulness, not permitting an editorial to appear in its pages that had not first received his cabled acquiescence.
Once again this old home at 2022 G Street was destined to have the limelight of publicity focused upon its distinguished occupants. During Grant's term of office as President of the United States it was the home of General William Worth Belknap, Secretary of War and the stormy petrel of a fierce controversy which agitated the Grant administration. Here again, what were the real facts in the case will never actually be known. The charges centered about the appointment of a certain John S. Evans to a post tradership at Fort Sill, Okla., and the reputed payment by Evans of $25,000 for immunity from removal from office in 1876. General Belknap was impeached, but the Senate vote lacked the two thirds necessary for conviction. As a matter of fact, General Belknap's previous resignation from the Army had actually removed him from the Senate's jurisdiction. General Belknap had been a distinguished officer during the Civil War, attaining a brigadiership upon the recommendation of General Sherman for his courage in command during the campaign through Georgia and across the Carolinas; and for him the greatest sympathy was maintained by President Grant and his fellow Cabinet members, who felt that General Belknap was the innocent victim of circumstance.
About 714 Twenty-first Street lingers an unauthenticated story concerning its planning by an admiral who was an authority on ship construction and who was, apparently, more at home afloat than ashore. Before going to sea he drew up explicit specifications and directions for the building of the house, with orders that they were in no wise to be deviated from by so much as a "jot or title." Whereupon the builder whom he had called in to execute his ideas was under the necessity of tactfully inquiring: "Is it your plan, Sir, to use a ship's sliding pole for stairs?" The admiral had entirely omitted this very necessary provision from his calculations.
In 1887 this home was the residence of Admiral S. Ramsey and was subsequently acquired by James B. Lambie, a prominent Washington business man, who lived there for forty years prior to the University's acquisition of the property. Its sunny upstairs rooms are now given over to rest and study quarters for the women students of the University and to the offices of the Director of Women's Personnel Guidance. The spacious downstairs drawing rooms have been attractively furnished, in keeping with the background and traditions of the University, by three University organizations, the Columbian Women, the Panhellenic Association, and the General Alumni Association, and are a center for the social activities of the young people of the University.
Where the laboratories of The George Washington University School of Engineering are now located, at the southeast corner of Twenty-first and H Streets, there was once an old-fashioned house with high steps ascending to its front door. Here lived Thomas Fillebrown, a native of Hallowell, Me., with his blind wife. One of their three sons, Thomas Scott Fillebrown, became a commodore in the United States Navy and died while in command of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Mr. Fillebrown himself was in the employ of the United States Government. Many years before his death he set up his own monument in Oak Hill Cemetery with his name suitably carved upon it. Every Sunday afternoon, attired in high stock, tall silk hat, and a long-tailed coat, it was his custom to betake himself in solitary state to the cemetery to survey the stone which was to memorialize his final resting place.
Mr. William Wilson, who owned one of the largest fuel-supply yards in the city, had a home on part of the site now occupied by Stockton Hall, the University Law School building, on Twentieth Street between G and H Streets.
There are many other houses in the neighborhood, outside of the University's holdings, which are of interest because of the distinguished names associated with them. Doughty Admiral Scott lived at 2028 G Street. His niece, Mrs. Richard Townsend, was a social leader of her time, and his grandniece, Mathilde Townsend, now Mrs. Sumner Wells, the charming subject of one of Sargent's loveliest portraits, is one of Washington's famous hostesses.
Another home on G Street which was a mecca for Washington's socially elite, was that of Admiral Charles H. Poor, at 2030 G Street. His three attractive daughters, who were great belles, were married from this residence. Annie became the bride of Charles Carroll Glover, destined to become one of Washington's most distinguished bankers and a civic leader of vision and purposeful courage. Their son, Charles Carroll Glover, Jr., is Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors and Vice President of the Riggs National Bank, a Trustee of The George Washington University, and an earnest and able supporter of civic projects. A daughter, who returns to her native Washington for frequent visits, is Madame van Swinderen, wife of Jonkheer Rene de Marees van Swinderen, Minister of the Netherlands to the Court of St. James.
A neighbor of the Scotts' and the Poors' was General John Story. Mrs. Story is remembered as having been as exquisite as a bit of Dresden china to the day of her death. Their daughter, Caroline, was known as "beautiful Caroline Story" and was one of the most popular and charming debutantes that has ever graced a Washington season. Her marriage to Count Conrad de Buisseret, of the Belgian Embassy, was considered a real love match. During the World War, while her husband was on diplomatic detail to Russia, she lost her life from diphtheria contracted while doing emergency nursing service in a Belgian hospital near the front lines. Mrs. Story, the aged mother, performed a heroic feat in crossing the ocean alone during the worst period of the submarine disasters to bring the young De Buisserets to be under her care in America until the conclusion of the war. The eldest of these grandchildren, Franois, who was the successor to his father's title, many will remember when he was subsequently an attache at the Belgian Embassy here. His untimely death cut short what promised to be a brilliant career in the diplomatic service of the Belgian Government.
On the northeast corner of Twentieth and G Streets stood the home of Admiral Richard Kindleberger, of a family distinguished in Navy and social circles. General Nelson A. Miles, the famous Indian fighter, afterwards occupied this residence. His erect figure, military bearing, and snowy white hair made him a marked figure even in this neighborhood of outstanding Army and Navy heroes.
2000 G Street was owned and occupied by "Handsome Captain Archibald Butt", military aide to President Theodore Roosevelt. Captain Butt's bravery and tragic death in the sinking of the Titanic, and that of his devoted friend, Francis Millet, the architect, who made his home with Captain Butt, is commemorated by a graceful fountain just south of the White House grounds. 2000 G Street was also at one time the home of Senator Oscar Underwood. Originally the property was owned and occupied by Albert A. Wilson, marshal of the District under President Cleveland and for many years president of the Firemen's Insurance Company.
General Adolphus Greeley, hero of the Arctic Relief Expedition, owned and lived in the house at 1914 G Street. General and Mrs. Greeley and their children, all of more than usual height, were referred to as "those tall Greeleys." Their home, as did so many of the old homes in this neighborhood, had the English-type ground floor dining room. Its rather low ceiling proving an inconvenience to the Greeleys, the General had the plaster overhead torn out and beams finished in the manner of a ship's cabin. The result gave not only the desired "head room" but an attractive decorative effect.
One of the lines of Hamburg ran through the residence of Mr. James Morris Woodward, at 723 Twentieth Street, who has himself lived in this neighborhood many years and whose paternal grandfather, Thomas Purcell, were highly esteemed citizens in their native Washington. Old records and licenses in the possession of Mr. Woodward show the Washington City Seal of 1802 and depict the Capitol as it was then, without a dome or wings.
At Nineteenth and G Streets, on the northeast corner, where the Maury Apartment is now located, lived Lieutenant Matthew Fontaine Maury, afterwards Commander Maury, U.S.N., who in 1842 was appointed Superintendent of the Depot of Charts and Instruments of the Navy Department, a post which then included the superintendency of the new Naval Observatory. Largely self-taught beyond a high-school background, since there was no Naval Academy in those days, he had definite ideas about education, urging the study of mathematics and science against that of Latin and Greek, and he was the first naval officer to advocate a naval academy as a necessary training school for naval officers. The sobriquet which he bore, "Pathfinder of the Seas", was an unusually appropriate one, for he knew more about the Gulf Stream and other ocean currents than any living man. His work, Wind and Current Chart of the North Atlantic, issued in 1847, became the authority for the maritime world, adding immeasurably to the safety and profit of those who follow the sea. The George Washington University at its Commencement in 1853 bestowed the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws upon Commander Maury in recognition of his contributions to knowledge. This same year, at the insistence of Commander Maury, the United States called the celebrated Brussels Conference for the cooperation of nations in matters pertaining to maritime affairs, at which time Commander Maury recommended the extension of meteorological observation to the land. Our present Weather Bureau and Signal Service are largely the outcome of his perception and advocacy. Despite the many honors showered upon him by his Government, his countrymen, and foreign nations, he continued to be of a modest and unassuming nature. Commander Maury's knowledge of the sea made possible the laying of the Atlantic cable. Not only did he prophesy the still-water plateau in the Atlantic between Newfoundland and England, but he conducted the soundings and suggested many helpful details. At the celebration of the completion of that great undertaking, Cyrus W. Field said: "Maury furnished the brains, England gave the money, and I did the work." His textbook, The Physical Geography of the Sea, was the first recognized textbook of modern oceanography, went through numerous editions, was translated into many languages, and is still a work of charm and interest.
In the ivy-covered house on the southwest corner of Eighteenth and G Streets once lived William Wirt. He was one of the shining lights of the American legal profession in the early days of the Republic, and as such was selected by President Jefferson to prosecute the case for the Government against Aaron Burr. He wrote a really great book in his authoritative biography of Patrick Henry, that morning star of the American Revolution. William Wirt, when serving as Attorney General of the United States, was one of the group of Cabinet officers who, with President James Monroe and General Lafayette, attended The George Washington University's first Commencement, on December 15, 1824.
G Street at one time had something of the atmosphere of an Embassy Row, for the French Embassy was located at 1916 G Street, while the Danish Minister lived on the north side of G Street between Twentieth and Twenty-first.
On the whole, the G Street of Hamburg has changed less than its parallel companion street, F. Yet on F Street, too, there still remain many of the interesting old homes.
The magnificent central-hall residence at 1925 F Street, with its broad paneled doorway, looks out upon a Washington that has undergone vast changes since it was fashioned by the master builders of its time. Today, owned by Mrs. James F. Curtis, it is an exclusive club. During the Presidency of Cleveland it was occupied by the Honorable Hilary A. Herbert while he was Secretary of the Navy. To old Washingtonians it will always be known as "Ray House," because there first lived Alexander Ray, well-known businessman, who conducted a prosperous milling business in Georgetown. A son, A. Ross Ray, occupied the house on the northwest corner of F and Twentieth Streets. Two grandsons hold prominent positions today in the financial life of America. One, George L. Harrison, is Governor of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York; the other, Ray L. Harrison, is a vice president of the Mellon National Bank of Pittsburgh. Their mother was Nannie Ray Harrison.
Colonel James L. Edwards, father of the late John L. Edwards, prominent businessman, owned what was once 1906 F Street, where the Park Central Apartments now stand. Always referred to by his contemporaries as "a gentleman of the old school", Colonel Edwards served for many years as Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Although an Episcopalian, he took much interest in the Western Presbyterian Church, and at his funeral the Reverend Dr. Coombs, affectionately known to the neighborhood as "Old Coomie," and the Reverend Dr. Charles Cuthbert Hall, Rector of The Church of the Epiphany, of which Colonel Edwards was a member, jointly officiated, Dr. Hall referring to Colonel Edwards in his sermon as a rather better Christian than he was a Churchman."
The dignified old colonial home on the northwest corner of Eighteenth and F Streets was originally owned by the Carrolls of Carrollton. Later it became the home of John Marshall, Chief Justice of the United States. Many years afterwards this same property was bought and remodeled in keeping with its earlier traditions by another Chief Justice of the United States, Melville W. Fuller.
Before many years have passed it is likely that many of the old homes belonging to the University will have disappeared, to be replaced by modern university buildings more nearly commensurate with the University's requirements.
Although the George Washington University is illustrative of the truth that scholarship and teaching are not dependent upon bricks and mortar or stained glass and ivy, still we who are devoted to the University envisage arising on the banks of the Potomac an academic community which in physical aspect as well as in educational service will fulfill the dream of him whose name it bears.
Meanwhile, these old homes which once sheltered the nation's leaders have served well. From them have gone forth graduates to fill public office outnumbering those which any other university in this country has trained for such service to the nation. Whatever changes time may bring, the history and atmosphere of Hamburg will remain an indelible part of the background and traditions of The George Washington University.
Photographic Credit: Foggy Bottom Collection/MS0868
Author or Source: University Archives subject files
Document Location: University Archives
Date Added to Encyclopedia: December 21, 2006
Prepared by: G. David Anderson; Lyle Slovick
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