Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Hidden History: The Famous Photographer who Built 1327 R Street NW

The house at 1327 R Street, NW has an interesting history that we recently uncovered: it was built by and home to a notable photographer George Prince and was later the location of the African American Mo-So-Lit Club.  This post will focus on Prince (get it?), and one tomorrow will develop the the latter (get it?).  

It was built immediately after the issuance of building permit number 2249 which was issued by the city on June 14, 1888.  Photographer George Prince hired well known architect Thomas Franklin Schneider to design the residence, which was built at a cost of $12,000, a substantial sum for the time.  

George Prince and his family moved into 1327 R Street after it was completed, likely in the late fall of 1888.  He had been born in Washington, DC in March of 1846, according to the 1900 census (above).  He married Mary Ann McCormick on January 20, 1871 in this city.  Together, they had six children that included John A. (b. 1872), George Loren (b. 1876), Arthur Clare (1879-1950), Maria (b. 1880), Ethel Veronica (1881-1953), and Leslie Edgar Francis (b. 1886).

George Prince was one several prominent photographers in Washington, DC, and according to the 1891 City Directory, maintained a studio at 403 11th Street, NW.  More than twenty of his photographs are archived at the Library of Congress, including his images of the McKinley inauguration in 1899, and the 1912 inauguration of President Roosevelt.  He signed his portrait photographs as “George Prince, fotographer.”  His portrait of President Roosevelt taken in 1900 appears at right. 
One of Prince’s competitor’s in the portrait photography business in Washington, DC was none other than noted Civil War photographer Mathew Brady.  While his thousands of images from the conflict are famous today, in the 1880s and 1890s, they were virtually worthless and not yet part of the federal government’s collection.

Meanwhile, Brady had more menial photographic duties such as taking a group portrait of the members of the Patent Convention on the steps of the Patent Office in April of 1891.  The April 12, 1891 Washington Post reported that George Prince appeared on the scene at the same time, and began to set up his own photographic equipment – Brady promptly positioned himself in front of Prince’s camera (left).  A skirmish ensued, and Prince pushed Brady.  Brady complained and eventually a $25 fine was incurred by Prince.  Just four years later, Brady, blind from his exposure to developing chemicals, died and was interred in Congressional Cemetery on Capitol Hill.        

Carl Steiger posted the only known photograph of George Prince on the website Find-A-Grave, seen at right.

George and Mary Prince divorced on October 5, 1899, an unusual event for the time.  Mary was awarded a monthly alimony of $100, also an unusually high figure for the time when a modest brick house could have been built in the city for $2,000.  On May 18, 1909, the Washington Post reported that Mary had George arrested when she learned that he was removing furniture from his own house and planned a move to Seattle.  The courts awarded her with a $3,000 bond to ensure future alimony payments. 

Beginning in 1908, other married couples began to be listed as occupants at 1327 R Street along with Mary Prince; the 1910 census confirmed that Mary and two of her children (Leslie and Maria) were listed as tenants.  George Prince later married a woman named Clara.

 Mary Prince died on November 14, 1927, and her ex-husband George Prince died on November 13, 1929; both are interred in Rock Creek Cemetery. 

Copyright Paul K. Williams 

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