Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Eckington Garden Tour 1909 (and not 2009!)

Washington Post, September 9, 1906
The idea of holding a yard or garden contest for urban dwellers might always seem like an odd occurrence with our small city lawns, but they have served as an ever popular fundraiser for the past few decades.  Few may have suspected, however, that these have been popular for the last 100 years, with one held in the Eckington neighborhood in 1909, just four years after many of the long rows of town homes were built. 

The September 9, 1906 Washington Post covered a garden contest amongst members of the North Capitol and Eckington Citizen’s Association, who were “imbued with a desire to make the locality as attractive as possible.”  It was judged by “three newspapermen” who remained nameless, but who almost ensured that the event would be covered by the Post, who named three prize winners. 

The area of the citizens association included the 2300 block of 1st Street, N.W.  It was built in two phases in 1902 by the Middaugh and Shannon real estate development company; the seventeen homes from 2302 to 2330 1st Street were issued a building permit on March 14, 1902, while a permit was issued for seventeen homes across the street from 2303 to 2331 1st Street on June 23rd of that year.  The homes were designed by architect Joseph Bohn, Jr. 
2300 Block of 1st Street, NW

The house that won first prize at 2332 1st Street was occupied by Dr. Jesse B. Schafhirt, who listed himself in the 1907 City Directory as a “surgeon dentist” with an office in the “second floor front” of the LeDroit Building at 8th and F Streets, N.W.  Today that building serves as the eastern portion of the Spy Museum.  Interestingly, the architect of the houses on the 2300 block of 1st Street also had an office in the LeDroit building in 1902, and was likely the way Dr. Schafhirt came to know about the development.  His house was occupied in 1910 by Eugene Finch, an assistant supervisor of a Railroad.

The second place winner’s house at 2327 1st Street was also occupied by a new resident in 1910, Francis Phillips, a stenographer at the Commerce Department.  Fire Department employee and third place winner Harry Barker lived close by at 1625 1st Street.              

It is also interesting to note that at least one resident of the 2300 block of 1st Street was unhappy with the contractor’s work on their residence.  A long letter written to the DC Inspector of Buildings in 1903 by the owner of 2313 1st Street, Mary F. Rainey included several items of concern.  They included a “skylight in the dining room that should be protected, in case of a heavy storm or other accidents [that] might break the outer glass of said skylight…thereby endangering the life or lives of any person or persons who may happen to be in the room at the time.”

She claimed three pieces had already fallen, and that the house was damp, the plumbing defective, the concrete walk in the backyard was not properly graded, slate falls off the front turret, and “several bricks are left out and several others defective.”                               
The article on the Eckington lawn contest read:

“Two Dr. Jessie B. Schafhirt, of 2332 1st Street, NW, was given the first prize of $5, the  second, $3, went to C.F. Bryant, 2327 1st Street, NW; and the third, $2, fell to Harry B. Barker, a fireman of No. 12 Engine Company, who has made the lawn of that house one of the most attractive in the vicinity. 

Engine Co. 12 in Eckington
Believe in Enterprise

The members of the association believe in enterprise, which they feel sure can be couple with beauty in bringing Eckington up to a high standard as a place homes.  Nothing in their estimation contributes so largely to this end as well keep lawns and parkings.  They have urged in particular the necessity of having the parkings in a good condition, but hitherto they have been made unable to consider them an ornament to the locality. 

In visiting the different parts of Eckington it was apparent that there had been a decided effort on the part of most persons to make their lawns attractive and oft times artistic.  About one out of every three had made some attempt to improve his yard, and the total effect showed what even the slightest effort could do toward improving a street.

In making the awards the committee was influenced by three things – the condition of the grass, the use f plants, both as to flowers themselves and their adaptability to the size of the lawn, and whether the yard made an attractive picture for the greater part of the year or only when a certain plant was in bloom. 

With these considerations in mind, they drove about Eckington, and while they found that many places met one or two of the conditions, the three finally selected were the only ones which satisfied in all. 

In many instances the use of plants was too profuse for the size of the lot.  In fact, this and the poor condition of the grass were the two points which worked against many of the lawns.  On several lots the plant known as the elephant ear had been used, with the result that the yards were all ears and nothing else.  The other features, which might have been utilized with good effect, were entirely concealed by the huge leaves of the plant. 

 On other lots this plant had been used with excellent effect, and especially where they were sufficiently deep to permit it, made a pleasing picture when grouped at the base of the home.  But, on a small lot, planted in the center, it appeared as if the owner had an elephant on his hands.      

 In naming Dr. Schafhirt’s lot as the winner of the first prize, the judges did so because it came the nearest to filling all of the conditions.  The lot is on a corner, which gives fine opportunities for a profusion of flowers without presenting an overcrowded appearance.

A large variety of plants has been planted on it, but they have been selected with the idea of having one or two in bloom from spring to fall.  In this way, there is no confliction, and the yard presents a pleasing appearance most of the time. 

In the spring two flowering peach trees lend their blossoms, and after they have gone, a crimson rambler adds color to the scene, and so on throughout the season some flower is in bloom.  At present, the lawn and lower part of the house is gay with clematis and geraniums. 

The lawn itself is well kept, and the parking around the trees has even survived the attacks of pedestrians. 

Mr. Byrant, to whom the second prize was given, has a small lot, and it was the effective way in which he has used sop small a space that led the judges to give him second place. 

It was the intention of the association to confine the awards to private individuals, but the work done by Harry B. Barker at No. 12 engine house was, an opinion of all, entitled to reward, and consequently, he qualified for third place.  His efforts have made the engine house one of the show places in Eckington.”                  

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