Friday, June 01, 2018

It's not fake news: There was once 109 houses of prostitution within steps of the White House!

We recently ran across this fascinating map at the Library of Congress that they believe was published in the 1890s...109 houses of prostitution within steps of the White House!

Friday, February 23, 2018

330 T Street, NW in LeDroit Park: Owned by Prominent Lawyer Fountain Peyton, Born Enslaved

           The owner and builder of the house at 330 T Street, NW, Charles A. White, applied for and was granted an Application for Permit to Build numbered 1338 for its construction on April 28, 1880.   White listed builder Fred W. Pilling as responsible for its construction, but neglected to list an architect responsible for its design.  The estimated cost of construction was $5,000, about twice that of the typical townhouse being built in Washington, DC at the time. 
          Charles Abiather White authored a total of 236 books during his long career in geology, paleontology, and biology - we'll talk about him in a future blog post.  He would own and live in the house for 28 years, until July 1908, when he sold it to a prominent African-American lawyer.   

1910 Census taken at 330 T Street, NW
The new owner, Fountain Peyton, listed his occupation in the City Directory as a lawyer.  He and his family were listed at the house in the 1910 census.  Peyton had been born enslaved in 1861 in Stafford County, Virginia.  Both of his parents had also been born in Virginia.  His second wife Mary E. had been born about 1869 in Maryland, also the birthplace of both of her parents.  Together, they had five children, all of whom called 330 T Street home that year.  They had all been born in Washington, DC and included: Benjamin (born about 1889), Mary L. (born about 1890), Elliott (born about 1892), Esther C. (born about 1900), and Jennette J. (born about 1901).   Peyton indicated that he owned the house with a mortgage.  He and his wife had married about 1886.         

1887 Hopkins Map.  330 T is seen on the southeast corner of Maple (T) and Linden (4th) Streets
The entire Peyton family was then described as 'Mulatto.'  Census enumerators that year were instructed “to be particularly careful in reporting the class mulatto.  The word here is generic, and includes quadroons, octoroons, and all persons having any perceptible trace of African blood.”  Importantly, it was up the census taker to observe and determine race, not the subject being interviewed, often resulting in a multitude of errors.              

            Peyton indicated on the 1910 census form that he worked as a federal prosecutor.  The Peyton’s were again listed at the house in the 1920 census, below, along with several boarders.  Only their children Benjamin, then age 31 and an author, Elliott, then age 28, Ester, then age 27, and Jenette, then age 19, remained at home in 1920.  Elliott worked as a chauffeur for a taxicab company, and Esther worked as a schoolteacher.  Fountain Peyton indicated that he then has his own general practice.   It is interesting to note that the Peyton’s were then enumerated as black. 
1920 Census for 330 T Street, NW
            The Peyton family welcomed four boarders into their home in 1920.  They were all enumerated as Mulatto, and included Burton Boteler, age 8, Edward Chapman, age 14, Ursaline Brooks, age 4 1/2 , and Joseph Boteler, age 6. Quite impressive indeed, considering the Payton’s had already raised five children of their own.
        Fountain Peyton penned a rather unusual book on an African-American Shakespearian actor named Ira Frederick Aldridge that was published in 1917, a rare combination of a black author highlighting a black actor at the time, according to the Library of Congress.[1]  
             The Stafford County Historical Society was able to research Fountain Peyton, a remarkable story from being born enslaved, being educated, becoming a lawyer, and breaking many of the racial hurdles and stereotypes of the era.  Their brief history reads as follows:[2]

"Many slaves lived in Stafford, but the names of most have been lost to history. A number of those who were able to leave the county and get to Washington or elsewhere became successful. Fountain Peyton was one such man. Born a slave in Stafford, he became a successful attorney in Washington, DC. This article is based upon material fond in The Washington Bee, a newspaper that served Washington’s Negro population during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The author has supplemented the material contained therein.

Fountain Peyton was born a slave in Stafford County, the son of Wingfield Peyton and Mary (Whiting) Peyton (born c.1838). Mary was born and raised in the Clift and Moncure families. When she was bout twenty years of age, a death in her owner’s family resulted in her being sold to a slave trader who sent her to Richmond preparatory to shipping her to the Red River territory by way of New Orleans. Separated from her home and family, all seemed lost until she was informed that Benjamin Wamsley, who lived in the general vicinity of her former home in Stafford, had purchased her. She was brought back to Stafford and reunited with her family and friends and about a year later married Wingfield Peyton. He had been born on the Wamsley plantation. Fountain was born there in 1861.

During the Civil War, Fountain’s father was taken south by the Confederates. Mary seized the opportunity to escape to Washington, taking little Fountain with her. Arriving in Washington, they were classed by the Union army as “Contrabands of war.” Mary and Fountain endured all the hardships that fell to the other contrabands who came there under like circumstances. Nothing more is known of Mary Peyton.

At age six, Fountain commenced school in Washington and proved to be an exceptionally bright child. As he grew older, he partially supported himself by selling newspapers. His ambition from childhood was to become a lawyer. After eight years of public school, he entered Wayland Seminary, a school established by the Baptist Home Mission Society. He paid his fees by teaching grammar and mathematics there. He subsequently applied to Howard University, but discovered that while competent in math and English, he didn’t have enough training in the classical languages. Fountain left Howard and became a teacher at Leonardtown, Maryland, a position he held for five years. Presumably, he used this time to become familiar with those subjects he was lacking. Fountain then passed his Civil Service exam and took a job as a letter carrier in Washington. He reapplied to Howard University and was accepted into the law program there. His job with the post office took most of his time and he struggled to attend class and study. ‘Even the lecture hour was the hour for collecting mail; but he would remain to her the lecture, then seize his mailbag and run all over the route in order to get in at the post office on schedule.”
On April 26, 1890 Fountain graduated from Howard, third in his class of fourteen. He immediately opened an office and commenced his practice. One of about three Negro attorneys in the District of Columbia at that time, he quickly became noted as a successful criminal defense lawyer. Fountain was the first black lawyer to argue a case in the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia and was the first black Examiner in Chancery for Washington. He was appointed to the city’s School Board in 1915 and by 1918 was chairman. He served until at least 1919."

           Fountain Payton and his wife were again listed at the house in the 1940 census, he being retired at age 79.  Their daughter Esther continued to reside there, still employed as a public school teacher.  Interestingly, the boarder named Ursaline from 1920 had taken on Peyton as her last name, and indicated that she worked as an Assistant History Professor at nearby Howard University.  Fountain Peyton indicated that he estimated the value of the house as $8,000.  

Fountain Peyton died in August of 1951. His obituary appeared in the August 10, 1951 edition of the Washington Evening Star, which reported that he had been active right up to the week before his death.  It recalled that as a young kid selling newspapers, he was one of a group that would regularly run to sell a paper to President Grant “because of the extra tip he gave.”  After his retirement in 1921, he remained active, wrote short stories, and studied French as a hobby.  One of his favorite past times, the obituary listed, was dismantling and reassembling radios on the dining room table.  He was buried in Payne Cemetery.      

        Title to the house was put into daughter Esther Peyton on March 31, 1953.  She continued to reside there until her death, when a representative for her estate sold the house on July 1, 1994 to DC Councilman Frank Smith, Jr. 

        Current owner Aaron Rinaca is in the midst of a spectacular authentic renovation of the house, down to the fine details recreating missing architectural elements like copper finials, porch railings, and slate roofing.      

                                                                  Copyright Paul K. Williams 



Saturday, January 13, 2018

Your House in Bloomingdale Might Have Once Been the Site of a Huge Greenhouse

The "Glorious Square 519"

Surrounded by R Street, 3rd and 4th Streets, and Florida Avenue, NW

             Long before the house at 319 R Street NW (below) was built between 1902 and 1903 by Harry Wardman and designed by Nicholas R. Grimm, an older brick house occupied the exact same location. It was constructed before the requirement of a building permit, which was necessitated by the City of Washington beginning in February of 1877. Utilizing a combination of maps, tax assessments, geneology and deed research, however, it has been determined that the house had been built about 1850.  Located outside the city at the time, it had no address, but eventually became known as 317 R Street. 

            It was built and owned by George Glorious, as was the entire Square 519.  As one can see on the 1887 Hopkins Map, illustrated above, Glorious operated a large scale greenhouse where he grew flowers for resale.  Early listings for his business reveal that it was located at what was then known as 316 Boundary Street (Florida Avenue today), with retail locations at 1112 7th Street, NW and at stall number 247 at the Center Market (right).  It was located where the National Archives building stands today on Constitution Avenue, NW.          

            According to the 1870 census, which was taken at 317 R Street, George had been born in Prussia (Germany) in November of 1821.  He moved to Washington, DC in 1846 and shortly thereafter, established his floral business.  His wife Mary had been born in Bavaria (Germany) in April of 1824.  Together, they had five children that included Mary (born 1852), Andrew (born 1854), George Jr. (born 1856), Barbara (born 181858), and Ignatius (born 1865).   Glorious indicated that his real estate was then valued at $70,000, a tremendous sum at the time.  His personal property was then valued at $500.  Both sons Andrew and George indicated that they worked in the family business as gardeners. 
             The Glorious business was included in an 1884 publication titled Historical and Commercial Sketches of Washington and Environs, seen at left.  Glorious had established the business about the same time he came to Washington, DC, about 1846 at the age of 24.  His specialty was roses, but apparently conveyed all varieties of cut flowers and plants.

            The 1880 census taken at 317 R Street revealed that all the children remained at the house that year, all unmarried, and most of whom worked for the family business.  Son George was married and had his own son named George by 1884.  Eleven years later, the Washington Post reported that the young boy had been seriously injured when he fell off an awning pole at the house on August 15, 1895. 

            The 1900 census taken at 317 R Street lists only George, Mary, and their daughter residing at the house.  However, the family stayed close by – daughter-in-law Elizabeth and her two children resided at 320 Florida Avenue, and son George resided with his wife Anna and their five children at 316 Florida Avenue, NW. 

            With the city rapidly developing and expanding, the George Glorious decided to sell Square 519 to developer Harry Wardman.  The sale was announced in the November 1, 1902 edition of the Evening Star newspaper who reported it as “Glorious Square.”  The sale price was $35,500.  Glorious, however, wisely negotiated Wardman building a house for himself on the location of his former home, now known as 319 R Street, NW, where the family remained for many years.  Other houses in the development were also built for members of the second generation of Glorious family members. 

      319 R Street, NW (right) is currently being renovated (2018). 

Copyright Paul K. Williams

[1] Building permits in Washington were not required until 1872, and not archived until 1877.  Permit No. 1 was issued to Martin McMalty on February 17, 1877 for a $50 repair to his house on H Street on Capitol Hill.  The first house issued a building permit occurred on the same day, when Thomas Henry was awarded Permit No. 2 for his $15,000 house to be built at 916 6th Street, NW.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

The 1917 scandals and affairs of DC's builder Chester A. Snow

Patent Attorney and Investment Builder Chester A. Snow

A successful patent attorney, Chester Ammen Snow also invested in building several apartment buildings in Washington, including the Holmes and the Irving at 3014 and 3020 Dent Place in Georgetown, built in 1902 and 1903, respectfully. He was a partner in the CA Snow & Co. firm along with Edward G. Siggers, and they maintained an office at 708 8th Street, N.W., adjacent to the Snow household. By 1910, the City Directory indicated that his partner had changed to an individual by the name of Clarence A. Doyle. Their advertisement from that year appears above.

Chester A. Snow was born in April 1844 in Virginia to Reverend Dexter and Catherine Snow. The family moved to Washington, DC by 1880, and lived together in a large house at 712 8th Street, N.W., by 1900. The extended family was enumerated there that year, and included the elder Snow, and Chester and his wife Clarissa (Parfet) Snow. She was also a native of Virginia, having been born there in 1870.

Chester was age 50 and Clarissa age 24 when they had married in 1894. They had one child together, Chester, Jr., in 1898, that would go on to head the C. A. Snow Company, which was already flourishing by the time he had been born. An announcement in the July 29, 1907 Washington Post indicated that the wealthy couple were going to depart for a round-the-world trip in September of that year, to include India, Japan, and Egypt. Clarissa died sometime between 1907 and 1910, possibly on the trip itself.

According to the census taken in 1910, Chester, then age 66, had moved into a house at 1818 Newton Street, NW, along with his niece Maud Emory, then a widow age 42. They were taken care of by two servants and a cook. Snow was a longtime leader of the Washington Humane Society, and made the Washington Post several times as a complainant in cases against residents using horses that were “old and unfit to work,” or forced up snowy hills without sand being used for traction (Washington Post, January 20, 1905).

However, Snow began courting a 36 year old resident named Addis M. Hubard in early 1913, and the two were married on July 29th of that year (Washington Post, July 25, 1914). They had a son named Dexter Hubard Snow on July 25, 1914, who had been born in Europe, where Addis had remained following their extended Honeymoon. 

Their marriage lasted just three years, however, as first reported in the January 23, 1917 issue of the Washington Post, that they had been separated since November of 1916. Their sensational divorce trial, which revealed an intimate relationship between Snow and his niece Maud, made headlines for weeks throughout the ordeal, and was no doubt the subject of much gossip in the city’s social circles. Testimony even included many love letters written between all three parties. Custody of Dexter was the focal point of the trial. It likely did not help matters that Chester Snow hit and injured an 18 year old child named Harvey Magner, playing near his office on 8th Street, NW, during the trial.

Addis claimed that their “love died on the honeymoon,” and that she was prevented from entertaining guests in their home, denied use of their automobile, and “never treated as a wife.” Snow countered, of course, and alleged that their “honeymoon was spoiled because of his bride’s nervousness and spells of hysteria.” In the end, Addis was granted custody of the child, and both received a divorce.
The trial also shed light on the financial success of Snow, who his second wife estimated as being worth $2 million. He also owned a farm property coined Fenwick, near Woodside, Maryland. 

Chester A. Snow, Jr., took over the C.A. Snow Company following an education at the University of Pennsylvania and The George Washington University, and it became exclusively involved in the real estate business. He had begun working there in 1916. Seen at left, he married Enid Sims on February 19, 1923.

Chester Snow died in 1937 at the age of 93. His son by his first wife, Chester A. Snow, Jr. died in August of 1977 in Washington, DC, and his son by his second wife, Dexter H. Snow, died in Amherst, Virginia in May of 1996.

Copyright Paul K. Williams