Skip to main content
THE HISTORY AND DEVELOPMENT OF MARYLAND AVENUE
IN THE NATIONS CAPITOL
A THESIS PREPARED
RAYMOND F. BARTELMES
FOR INITIATION INTO THE
BETA CHAPTER OF MARYLAND
TAU BETA PI HONORARY ENGINEERING SOCIETY
may 3, 1935
PLAN OF MARYLAND AVENUE
Maryland Avenue, as planned by L'Enfant, was to be one
of the principal avenues of the city radiating from the Capitol
building. After the avenues and streets were laid out, the Gov-
ernment disposed of the land along them not to be used for pub-
One of the first property owners on Maryland Avenue
was Robert Brent, first mayor of the city, who erected a fine
mansion at 12th and Maryland Avenue, S. W. Mr. Sewell, an early
resident, built a large brick house at 2nd and Maryland Avenue,
N. E. It was from this house that a shot was fired that killed
the horse Gen. Ross, commander of the British land forces, was
riding up Maryland Avenue after the Battle of Bladensburg August
Land in vicinity of Maryland Avenue, S. W. , was very
swampy but with the draining of these swamos , settlement came to
the Avenue and it was here that some of the finest houses in the
city stood. When the railroad tracks were laid along the avenue,
this section was cut off from the rest of the city and developed
less rapidly. Maryland Avenue in Southwest was first graded in
I85O, Later It was paved with sections of cobblestone, wood and
granite. It was first paved with asphalt in the period lSSJ-
1902. Within the last 3 years most of the k venue in Southwest
has been resurfaced.
Maryland Avenue, N. E., developed slowly and it was not
until IS72 that it was first graded and graveled. A few years
later the whole avenue in Northeast was paved witn asphalt blocks.
Practically all of this paving was replacing with a sheet asphalt
paving in recent years. In 191^ a center parkway was constructed
in the middle of the Avenue from Stanton Park to 15th Street at
the time the Avenue was being resurfaced, making it one of the
most beautiful in the city.
THE EVENING STAR OF WASHINGTON, D. 0.
JAMES CROGGON and JOHN PROCTOR
WASHINGTON EVENING STAR
MAINTENANCE ENGINEER FOR D . C.
SUPERINTENDENT OF TREES AND PARKING IN D. C.
CAPTAIN WHIT El
DIRECTOR OF HIGHWAYS IN D. C.
RELEASE ENGINEER IN CHARGE OF RECORDS IN D . C
REPORTS OF THE COMMISSIONERS OF D , C. 1S71-193**-
THE HIS TORY AND DEVELOPMENT OF MARYLAND AVENUE
IN THE NATION'S CAPITOL
L' ENFANT '3 PLAN
"The Congress of the United States on July 16, 1790,
established a permanent seat of government and authorized com-
missioners to be appointed by the preptident to purchase land
for the site. The agreement was executed, delivered and en-
trusted to Major Pierre Charles L'Enfant to prepare plans for
laying out a city.* L'Enfant, a native of France, had always
been impressed by the broad, tree-lined avenues of Versailles
and Paris, and it was with these in mind that he undertook to
plan the city.
By L' Infant's plan the Capitol building was the grand
centre from which streets and avenues radiated like the spokes
of a wheel. The streets radiated at right angles and the
avenues diagonally. The avenues were twice the width of the
streets or one-hundred sixty feet, which width they are to the
present day with a few exceptions.
EARLY HI3T0RY OF PROPERTY ALONG- MARYLAND AVENUE
Maryland Avenue extended from Boundary Avenue, now
Florida Avenue, to Fourteenth Street west. The portion of Mary-
land Avenue in the eastern part of the city was slow to develop,
but Maryland Avenue Southwest developed rapidly and soon became a
section of the city in which the finest houses stood.
Land along the Avenue was acquired as a gift from the
Government or bought for a small sum. Much of the undesirable
land in swampy sections regained in the hands of the Government
for many years.
The square south between 11th, 12th and Streets and
Maryland Avenue, No. J26 of ten lots, was, in 179 1 *-, assigned to a
Mr. Young but in 1797 h at * passed to the name of Jacobus Merson.
The appraisement in 1S30 w 9 - 8 from seven to twelve cents per
square foot. In that year it was owned by H. T. Weightman and
John Webb under tax deeds; three years afterward it went to
Joseph Gales, and later the heirs of Merson redeemed it. In the
forties much of it was used in the lumber trade. Mr. Church, a
lumberman, acquired the square and erected a number of houses and
the square is now the site of many family homes.
The triangle formed by Maryland Avenue, 9th and D
Streets, square 3^6, was a plot which in 1797 went to the Govern-
ment. Later it was owned by Thomas Law; in IS17 it went to
Samuel Elliot; and in 1832 Elizabeth Brannan owned the plot.
Square 327, bounded by Maryland Avenue, E, 11th and
12th Streets, was made into eleven lots and in 1797 t* 9 - 8 assigned
to Mr. Young, father-in-law of Robert Brent, first mayor of the
City of Washington. It was then valued at one cent per square
foot. Mr. Brent acquired title in 1S09, and he made a sub-
division of thirty-two parcels.
On the Southeast corner of this block Robert Brent
built a fine old mansion. It was a substantial two-story and
attic brick structure and in that house he died on September 7,
1819* In recent years after the house had become considerably
decayed, it was torn down and replaced by an apartment house.
In the houses that extend eastward from 12th Street on
Maryland Avenue, have lived a number of the old and aristocratic
families of Washington. The next house east of Brent's home was
built by the mayor for his son, Robert Young Brent, and later it
was occupied by Dr. James E. Morgan. Next east live Mrs. Roland,
aunt of Judge Robert E. Mattingly. In the next house lived John
Knight, an engraver of the Coast Survey.
In square 726 near the Capitol grounds, Aaron Van Horn,
in 1820, owned property facing Maryland Avenue, on which he had
an imposing house for that day. The house stood in the midst of
a beautiful garden and was valued at $1,900, a high value for
In the forties, Ignatius Mudd , afterward Commissioner
of Public Buildings, resided on Maryland Avenue between First and
Second Streets, Southwest. In this same block, early in the
fifties, a lager beer saloon and gardens were established. Be-
cause of its proximity to the Capitol, it was here that many of
our lawmakers met to discuss problems of state over steins of
EARLY MER PRINTS AND TRADESMEN ON MARYLAND AVENUE
Benjamin McQuay, in 184-5, had a home with feed store on
Maryland Avenue, Southwest. John Elvans, the well known hardware
dealer of that day, resided on this Avenue, as did W. C.
Bamberger, a wheelwright. John Sinclair, a machinist; George
Hercus, a pumpmaker; George Crandell and one ox two other trades-
men also resided on this historic avenue.
HISTORIC SEWELL HOUSE
A, big house,
with heavy walls and an
entrance that can be de-
scribed as having an
aristocratic look, stands
at the Northwest corner of
B and 2nd Streets. Mary-
land Avenue, pursuing its
slanting course from the
Capitol grounds toward the
northeast, cuts across 2nd
at B, so that the house
faces on Maryland Avenue
and on B. Today this
house is mentioned as "The
Barbour House" because of
fact that it
of John S.
, also representative and
He lived there from
1S71 to May, 1892,
a much earlier time remeai-
this as " Sewell House".
house and the site on which
it stande have several claims to a place In local history.
Lord Baltimore built the first house to occupy the site
sometime in the ISth century. 8ome of the walls and rafters in
the basement still remain.* The rafters were rough cut by axeB
as can be seen by examining them, Sewell built the house that
Btands there today early in the 19th century.
Perhaps chief among the historic claims of this house
is that from within, and from the garden adjoining the house, a
shot or fusilade was fired which killed the horse on which
General Roes, Commander of the British land forces, was riding
while he and his troops were marching through the eastern part
of the city late in the afternoon of August 25, 1S14-, after the
Battle of Bladensburg. In some of the British accounts of the
incident, it is alleged that this attempt to kill the British
commander caused the issuance of the order for the burning of
the public buildings and other property.
On the northeast corner of Maryland Avenue opposite
Sewell House, General Dearborn, Secretary of War, erected a
house. At the time General Ross 1 horse was killed this house
was unoccupied, but some of the snipers were shooting from in
and around the house; so the General had the house immediately
burned to the ground.
♦NOTE - Told to author by member of National Woman's Party, who
occupy the building.
MARYLAND AVENUE SOUTHWEST
Land in the
vicinity of Maryland Avenue,
Southwest, was swampy and
was never intended for build-
ing purposes in L*Enf ant's
plan. Because of this swampy
condition the locality became
known as M Swampoodle rt and
••The Island". This latter
name because Tiber Greek, St.
James Creek and the Washing-
ton Channel surrounded the
district. In ISlb, the Wash-
ington City Canal was built
and drained the swampy areas.
After this settlement along
Maryland Avenue was more
A port ion of Mary-
MARYLAND AVENUE, S. W.
land Avenue from lM-th to 11th Streets was a link in the great
southern mail route and consequently was much travelled and well
During the Mexican War, a section of Maryland Avenue
was used as part of a race track. A turn in the track was at
7th and Maryland Avenue and here the sporting gentry gathered to
urge on their favorite horse.
Prior to the Civil War there was a considerable
traffic of slaves through Washington. While awaiting favorable
opportunity for "running " the slaves, they were held in dark
cellars known as "pens" . Such a "pen" stood near 7th on Mary-
land Avenue. Conditions were such in these pens, that many of
the slaves died and were buried on a lot at 7th and Maryland
THE RAILROAD UP MARYLAND AVENUE
About IS7O, railroad tracks
were laid along Maryland Avenue,
Southwest, and the railroads came to
use that noble street as a freight
and a switching yard. That section
was not only blockaded against the
central business section of the city
but grade-crossing casualties were of
frequent occurrence. Because of
these accidents the railroad had to
dig a deep cut down below the former
bed of the Avenue. This cut is stone walled and is eight tracks
wide. The streets cross the cut on concrete bridges. The
tracks extended from 14th to 1st Street on Maryland Avenue. The
Pennsylvania Railroad ran as far as 6th Street, thence up 6th to
the depot. The B. & 0- Railroad ran the whole length of Mary-
land Avenue, Southwest, and at First Street turned off to the
New Jersey Avenue station.
The Avenue ran between the tracks from First to
Seventh Streets and thence to Water Street, being split into two
roadways thirty feet wide with the tracks between.
City improvement of streets ^nd avenues was not at-
tempted for fifty years after the founding of the City. Until
I860 Maryland Avenue and East Capitol Street alone were the
thoroughfares in the eastern section of the city, although there
were some zigzag wagon tracks in evidence in the neighborhood.
Though Maryland Avenue was in the route of travel early, East
Capitol Street improved more rapidly,
Maryland Avenue, Southwest, for a long series of years
remained a dirt road, though then there was considerable travel
by Long Bridge. About IS50, however, by an appropriation made
by Congress it was graded and graveled.
The cost of improvements made in IS7I was 5210,322 and
the residents along the Avenue were assessed on an average about
In IS72, Maryland Avenue, Northeast, was graded and
gutters and curbing put in from 1st to 15th Street. Gravel foot
walks were made between Sth and 15th Street and in IS75 these
were replaced by brick footwalks. In thi3 year a flagstone foot
way was laid from 1st Street to the Intersection of Maryland
Avenue and D Street .
In IS73 , Maryland Avenue between 9th Street and
l4th Street west was graded, curbs were set and brick: and blue
rock pavements were laid by Albert Gleason, contractor. From
1st to 3 r <* Street the first curbs were set and a wooden pavement
By July 1, I879, the average width of the carriageway
was sixty feet and the total width of the Avenue was one hundred
and twenty feet from property line to property line. The whole
of Maryland Avenue east of the Capitol was covered with gravel
and had been graded. This grading caused the houses on the
south side west of Stanton park to be left standing on high
terraces. At this time in southwest, the Avenue from First to
Third Street was covered with 4,3^ square yards of wood paving;
from yvA Street to 7th Street was covered with cobble and blue
rock; and from 9*k "to Water Street was covered with granite.
RECOLLECT IOHS OF At? EARLY RESIDENT ON MARYLAND AV ENUE
Clifford Lanham, Superintendent of Trees and Parking
in the District of Columbia, lived at 329 Maryland Avenue, N. E. ,
about 65 years ago when he was a boy. Mr. Lanham recalls that
all of the Avenue in northeast Washington has been paved for the
last sixty years. He said, "the first paving was an asphalt
block which made a durable paving but settled in spots because
of lack of binding between blocks and unevenness in the base.
GOING EAST OS MD. AVE.
TOTARD STAHTON PARK
This made the street rough and led to
the removal of the blocks which were
replaced by better paving material.
There never has been any central
parking west of Stanton Park." Mr.
Lanham farther said that he and his
father before him supervised the
planting of most of the trees in the
District of Columbia and there have
been trees lining this Avenue as long
as he can remember.
DEVE LOP MENT SI NCE IggR, MARYLAND AVENUE , N. E.
1ST TO 4-TH STREETS
In ISS7, an asphalt
block paving was laid on the
original gravel base from 1st
to M-th Street on Maryland
Avenue, by contractor,
Patrick Maloney. The area
covered was 12,000 square
yards and cost $2 per yard.
The Avenue from 1st to 2nd DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE BLDG.
Street Is still paved with asphalt block and is the original
aBphalt block except for minor repairs. The section between
2nd and 4-th Street was removed in 1933 and replaced with a
standard aspnalt pavement on an
eight inch concrete base. Five
thousand square yards were
paved at a cost of $1.66 per
square yard by contractors,
Corson and Gruman.
l+TH TO 1BTH STR EETS
In 1SS9, the Avenue
from 6th to 11th Street was
paved with asphalt block on a
gravel base by the W. A. B. & T„
Company. This company laid
15,000 square yards at |2 per VIEW SHOWING ASPECT
yard. Patrick Maloney laid PAVING BLOCKS
asphalt block paving from 11th MARYLAND AVENUE,N.E.
to 13th Street in IS90 and from ljth to 14-th Street in IS91.
The section of paving from 6th to 15th Street was torn
up and replaced in 1914- with a standard asphalt pavement on an
eight inch concrete base. 27,000 square yards were thus paved
at $1.66 per square yard by the Cranford Paving Company.
CENTR AL PA RKING
A plan was made prior to 19I 4 - to have a parkway
approximately ten feet wide down the center of Maryland Avenue
east of Stanton Park. Work had already started on the 1914- job
when it was decided to build the parkway; so curbing was con-
struct ed, on an extra order on the original contract, in the mid-
dle of the Avenue. Seven thousand linear feet of S" x lj" con-
crete curbing was laid at a cost
of 00-52 per lineal foot. This
concrete curbing was the first
of its kind in the District of
Columbia- It has held up re-
markably well and because of
this fact has led the District
to use concrete curbing almost
exclusively in recent years.
At the present time it costs the
city $0.^5 per lineal foot for
this type of curbing. The park-
way itself is one of the best VIEW SHOWING
kept and most beautiful in the CENTRAL PARKING
city; it is under Federal Highway supervision.
PUBLIC C OMFORT STATION AT 15TH STREET AND MAR YLANE AVENUE. N. E.
In 1917 a public
comfort station was built
in the intersection of
Maryland Avenue and 15th
Street. For a few years
after it was constructed
it served its purpose;
SITE WHERE COMFORT STATION STOOD
however, automobiles continued to increase until it was running
a big risk for anyone to try to reach the place. Also the
building obstructed the view of automobile drivers and caused
many accidents. By 1933 it nad become such a traffic hazard
that it was torn down.
DEVELOPME NT OF MARYLAND AVENUE. S . W.. SINCE lggQ
1ST TO 3R D STREET
In 1SS3 , the Avenue from 1st to 3rd Street was paved
with an asphalt paving on a six inch conrete base. Four Thousand
square yards of paving were paid at $2.29 P e r square y^rd. The
Concrete was made with the old type "hydraulic" cement. This
asphalt pavement was one of the first and probably the first
asphalt pavements in the District of Columbia. After" fifty ye?rs
of service this paving was replaced, in 1933, by Corson & Gruman,
contractors, with a standard sheet asphalt pavement on an eight
inch concrete base. Seven thousand square yards of this type of
paving were paid.
3RD TO H STREET
In 1902, three thousand square yards of paving similar
to that laid from 1st to 3rd Street were constructed by the
Warner Quinlan Company, predecessors of Corson and Gruman. The
cost was $1.72 per square yard. This paving was replaced, in
193^, under the National Industrial Recovery Act with Public
Works funds, with a standard sheet asphalt pavement on a nine
inch concrete base. Five thousand square yards ware constructed
at a cost of $1.5& P er square yard. This street has one of the
thickest bases of streets to date
in the District of Columbia. The
cost, considering the quality of
the work, waB very low. The job
was done by the Highway Engineer-
ing & Construction Co.
4- fr TO 6TH STREET
In 190M-, the Cranford
Paving Company constructed a sheet
asphalt pavement on a six inch
concrete base from 4-^ to 6th
Street, a' total of 2,000 square
yards being laid at $1-51 per VIEW SHOWING- N£W ASPHALT
square yard. This section of the PAVING LAID WITH P.W.A.
Avenue was given a thorough FUNDS
heater repair in 1926, 5,000 square yards being repaired at $0.65
per souare yard.
6 TH TO 7TH STRUCT
Maryland Avenue from 6th to 7th Street, in 190S, was
repaved with a six inch concrete base over which was laid an
asphalt sheet. The job was done by the Cranford Paving Company;
3,000 square yards at $1.69 per square yard.
9TH TO 18TH STREET
In 190S, the Avenue from 9th to 12th Street was resur-
faced oy the Cranford Paving Company with a similar surface as
from 6th to Jth Street; the cost was the same per square yard
except for the section between
11th and 12th Street, which cost
$1.4-8 per square yard, at which
cost 1,000 square yards were con-
ON MARYLAND AVENUE
FUTURE E XTENSION OF MARYLAND AVENUE
In 1393, the Highway Plan was established for all
territory in the District of Columbia outside of the Original city,
This plan provided for the ultimate extension of Maryland Avenue
from 15th and H Street to the Anacostia River, the roadway to be
the same width as the original Avenue; i. e., one hundred and
sixty feet. The Avenue will cross Anacostia River on a bridge
and join with Oklahoma Avenue and the route will continue to in-
tersect with the Defense Highway.