Saturday, November 14, 2009

1796 ~ Pennsylvania Ave is a common country road; a mud-bespattered President, and (like today!), a 'Washington Mess'

George Washington
IN the last entry the Tayloe house called the Octagon was described; built in Washington DC 1799 with the express intent to be near the center of political power, although at that time one needed to exercise much imagination to forsee such a development. In fact ...A Lot of Imagination!

The following descriptions are taken from "Social Life in the Early Republic" by Anne H. Wharton.

[1796] a common country road....

"Faith in things invisible was much needed in the early days of the capital, and for some years to come, when Pennsylvania Avenue was little better than a common country road. "On either side of this avenue," says Mr. Latrobe, "were two rows of Lombardy poplars, between which was a path often filled with stagnant water and with crossing-places at intersecting streets. Outside of the poplars was a narrow footway, on which carriages often intruded to deposit their occupants at the brick pavements on which the few houses scattered along the avenue abutted. In dry weather the avenue was all dust, in wet weather all mud; and along it 'The Royal George,' an old-fashioned, long-bodied four-horse stage, either rattled with members of Congress from Georgetown in a halo of dust, or pitched like a ship in a seaway among the holes and ruts of this national highway. The Capitol itself stood on the brink of a steep declivity clothed with old oaks and seamed with numerous gullies. Between it and the Navy Yard were a few buildings, scattered here and there over an arid common and following the amphitheatre of hills from the southeast around to the heights of Georgetown,--houses few and far between indicated the beginning of the present city." pp58-9

[1800] an American President bespattered with mud....

"An interesting and varied life was that of Washington and the older towns surrounding it in the early years of the last century [1800s]. Upon the heavy dirt road that stretched between the White House and the Capitol was often to be seen the spare, slight figure of the Democratic President, well mounted, not very well dressed, frequently unattended, and not seldom bespattered with mud, while nearby the elegant gilded coach of the French or Spanish minister made its way with difficulty throught the tenacious clay." p78

& "The Washington Mess"....

The following November, when Congress met in the federal city for the first time [1800], the White House was still in an unfinished condition, and accomodations for Congressmen were quite insufficient. The Indian Queen had not yet hung out its sign of the Princess Pocahontas, nor had the sun of the famous Gadsby's, dear to the Congressional soul, yet arisen. The cost of living in the federal city in these early days was not great. The rate at the Indian Queen, kept by one Jesse Brown, was one dollar and a half per day, brandy and whiskey being free,--all too free, it sometimes appeared, especially on holidays, when the landlord dispensed liberal potations of egg-nog from a huge punch-bowl that had been used at Mount Vernon. A few boarding-houses there were at this time; but the large army of impecunious ladies who made Washington a city of boarding-houses rather than a city of homes had not yet arrived. A little later we read of Mrs. Matchin's on Capitol Hill, where Mr. Varnum, from Massachusetts, Speaker of the House, resided, and of Mrs. Wilson's, also on Capitol Hill, where Mr. Clinton lived during his term as Vice-President, in company with five Senators and fifteen Representatives, composing what was familiarly spoken of as "The Washington Mess." p73
"Social Life in the Early Republic" by Anne H. Wharton; Corner House Publishers, Williamstown, Massachusetts 1970, first published 1902

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