Archive for the ‘Buildings’ Category

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Boneyard Studios

To celebrate the end the workweek, I went for a long bike ride today with no particular destination in mind.  And as I was riding through an alley near Glenwood Cemetery in northeast D.C.’s Edgewood neighborhood, I happened upon a small triangular-shaped plot of land located at 21 Evarts Street (MAP) with what appeared to be homes that would be considered part of the “tiny house movement.” After looking into it later, I found out that the owner of the 5,000-square-foot lot is named Brian Levy, and the houses were planned as a commune known as Boneyard Studios.

The tiny house movement, also known as the small house movement, is a description for the architectural and social movement that advocates living simply in small homes. With the average size of new single family homes in the United States increasing significantly over the past few decades despite a decrease in the size of the average family, the movement is a return to houses that are generally less than a thousand square feet. Frequently, the distinction is made between small houses that are between 400 square feet and 1,000 square feet, and tiny houses that are less than 400 square feet, with some as small as 80 square feet.

The Boneyard Studios community was founded in 2012 by Levy, and hosted five tiny houses. The largest of the tiny houses is a Minim House, owned by Levy. It is intended as a showcase for his company’s homes. The Minim House is an 11-foot-wide and 22-feet-long home that has a pullout queen bed, a 5-foot desk and office space and a 10-foot galley kitchen. There’s also a multipurpose table that can be used to draft proposals for work or seat six for dinner, and a projector screen that doubles as a window shade. But it’s more unique features allow it to exist “off the grid.” These features include a rainwater collection and filtration system, an incinerator toilet and a solar array and off-grid electricity system.

Unfortunately, the project lasted only a little over two years before ending in the fall of 2014, mainly due to disputes among the tiny house residents as well as a new zoning regulation proposed by the D.C. Office of Planning, prohibiting any residential use of trailers on any alley lot in the District. So the houses continue to exist at the site to serve as a mini-house showcase, but at the present time are uninhabited.

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The Brodhead-Bell-Morton Mansion

On this lunchtime bike ride, as I was riding near Scott Circle in northwest D.C., I saw what looked like commemorative brass plaques on the side of a building.  Wanting to find out more about the plaques and the building, I stopped to look into it.  According to the plaques, the mansion is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and once belonged to Alexander Graham Bell.  Whetting my appetite to find out more about the house, I researched it later when I got back from my ride.

Originally designed in the Victorian style by John Fraser, with construction finishing in 1879, the house was built for John. T. Brodhead and his family.  Based on a subsequent series of prominent owners, it has come to be known as the Brodhead-Bell-Morton Mansion, and is located at 1500 Rhode Island Avenue (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s DuPont Circle neighborhood.

The Brodhead family did not live there long, however,  In 1882, just three years after construction was completed, Brodhead sold the home to lawyer and financier Gardiner Green Hubbard, the father-in-law of telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell.  According to the home’s National Register of Historic Places registration form, the Hubbards “offered the house to the Bells as an inducement to relocate from the Boston area, and Bell allowed himself to be persuaded.”

However, the original house was not large enough for Bell and his wife Mabel Gardiner Hubbard, so they added a two-story addition on the northeast corner and then a third floor with a steep slated roof.  Bell also made other changes to the house, the most interesting of which was the installation of the city’s first electric burglar alarm system.  It was composed of an elaborate system of wires and bells that connected every door and window in the house to a room Bell referred to as the “central office.”  Indicators in the central office would show instantly whenever a door was opened or shut, or only partially opened.  And if anyone tried to enter the house at night, bells would sound.

It’s too bad that Bell installed a burglar alarm system rather than a smoke detector, however, because a fire destroyed much of the building in 1887. Although it was insured, the damage from the fire was more extensive than what the policy covered.  Bell was able to have the mansion restored anyway.

Then in 1889, just a couple of years after the fire, Bell sold the mansion to Levi Parsons Morton just prior to Morton’s swearing in as Vice President under President Benjamin Harrison.  Morton immediately had the building enlarged with a new east wing, that was designed by John Fraser, the home’s original architect.  Some years later, Morton remodeled the house, converting it into the neoclassical Beaux-Arts architectural style that was all the rage at that time.  Under the hand of prominent American architect John Russell Pope, who later designed The Thomas Jefferson Memorial, The National Archives and Records Administration Building, and the West Building of the National Gallery of Art, among other important buildings, Morton had the house transformed into its present-day form.

The mansion would go on to have a number of additional prominent owners and residents, including the Embassy of Russia, U.S. Secretary of State Elihu Root, Massachusetts Congressman Charles Franklin Sprague, and Count Arturo Cassini, the Russian Ambassador to the U.S.  It then became home to the National Democratic Club, who sold it to the National Paint, Varnish and Lacquer Association.  Finally, in February of last year, it was purchased by the country of Hungary, which moved the Embassy of Hungary there late last year.

I’m glad I noticed the house during this bike ride, and then looked into it later.  The house turned out to have quite a history.  Of course, D.C. is full of history and interesting stories, if you just take the time to look for them.

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Alexandria City Hall

Alexandria Market Square and City Hall

On days when I want to go on a longer than usual lunchtime bike ride, one of my favorite destinations is Old Town Alexandria.  And that is where I rode to today.  And it was during this ride I visited the Alexandria Market Square and City Hall, located at 301 King Street (MAP).

The site of the Alexandria Market Square and City Hall originally began as a market beginning in 1749.  Then in 1752, lottery proceeds funded the building of a town hall and courthouse on the site. George Washington served as a justice in this court.  Later, in 1817, a new three-story brick building was constructed, including a town clock tower designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe.  But an extensive fire in May of 1871 gutted the building.  Given the importance of the building, the townspeople raised enough money to pay for an exact replica of the former building.  And that building, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in March of 1984, is still standing today.

The current Second Empire-style building was designed by Adolph Cluss, was a German-born American immigrant who became one of the most important architects in the D.C. area, in the late 19th century.  He was nicknamed the “Red Architect” based on red brick being his favorite building material, and his early communist sympathies, though later in life he became a confirmed Republican.  Cluss is responsible for designing scores of major public buildings in the D.C. area, including at least eleven schools, as well as markets, government buildings, museums, residences and churches.  His designs include the Franklin School and the Sumner School, as well as other notable public buildings in the capital, including the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Building, Calvary Baptist Church, and two of the city’s major food markets, Center Market and Eastern Market.

The original city hall was something of a complex, containing the court facility, both the principal police and fire stations of Alexandria.  The Alexandria-Washington Masonic Lodge also had its headquarters located in the building until 1945, when it moved out of City Hall and into the new George Washington Masonic National Memorial on nearby King Street.  Today the City Hall building houses many of the Alexandria government offices, including the City Council Chambers on the second floor.

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The East Front of the United States Capitol Building

The United States Capitol Building is a world-renowned architectural icon and one of the most recognizable buildings in the world.  It is located at 100 Constitution Avenue (MAP) atop Capitol Hill at the eastern end of the National Mall. Though not at the geographic center of the Federal District, the Capitol forms the origin point for the District’s street-numbering system and the District’s four quadrants.  I’ve ridden both to it and past it hundreds, if not thousands of times, and on this lunchtime bike ride Julius and I rode there again.  And although I usually write in this blog about the lesser-known monuments and attractions in D.C., for this last lunchtime bike ride of the year before I take a little time off from work for the holidays, I time I decided to break from tradition and write about the Capitol.

It was Pierre Charles L’Enfant who chose the location within the new capital city for the building in which Congress could meet. Tasked with creating the city plan, he chose what was then known as “Jenkin’s Hill” as the site for the “Congress House”, with a “grand avenue” that would later be named Pennsylvania Avenue connecting it with the “President’s House”, and a public space stretching westward to the Potomac River. That public space is now known as the National Mall. However, in reviewing L’Enfant’s plan, Thomas Jefferson insisted the legislative building be called the “Capitol” rather than “Congress House”.

In the spring of 1792, Jefferson proposed a design competition to solicit designs for the Capitol and the President’s House.  A four-month deadline was set, with a prize of five hundred dollars and a lot of land in the new capital city to go to the winner.  Of the 17 submitted designs, all of them were turned down.  A Scottish doctor named and amateur architect named William Thornton submitted the design which was eventually chosen, although it came in after the deadline for the contest.  The following year Thornton was appointed to serve as the first Architect of the Capitol, a position that still exists today.

Thornton’s original design was later modified by the famous British-American architects Benjamin Henry Latrobe, Sr., and then Charles Bulfinch.  On September 18, 1793, first President George Washington, along with eight other Freemasons dressed in masonic regalia, laid the cornerstone for the new Capitol Building.  The original building was completed in 1800, and Congress met for the first time in the newly-created Capitol in November of that year, approximately 11 months after the death of George Washington.  Eventually, the current cast-iron dome was added.  A new southern extension for the House of Representatives and the Senate’s new northern wing, designed by Thomas U. Walter and August Schoenborn, were added in the 1850’s, giving us the building we see today.

Like the principal buildings of the executive and judicial branches, the Capitol is built in a distinctive neoclassical style and has a white exterior.  Both its east and west elevations are formally referred to as fronts.  However, the east side of the Capitol is the only one with level ground for a proper entrance, so it was intended for the reception of visitors and dignitaries.  This gives the appearance that the building faces away from the Mall instead of toward it, like most other important buildings and monuments.  But the Capitol and the statue on top face toward the east so that it faces toward the people who are entering it.

Books could be written about the complete history of the Capitol, its appearance, and other aspects of the building.  But rather than go into that kind of additional detail, I decided to simply provide some of the information I find most interesting about the  building that is the seat of the legislative branch of the Federal government and serves as a symbol of American democracy.

  • The Capitol covers well over 1.5 million square feet on five separate levels, has 540 rooms, contains approximately 850 doorways, and has 658 windows, with 108 of those windows in the dome alone.
  • The Dome is 8,909,200 pounds of cast-iron and was constructed between 1855 and 1866.
  • The The building covers a ground area of 175,170 square feet, or about 4 acres, and has a floor area of approximately 16-1/2 acres. Its length, from north to south, is 751 feet 4 inches; its greatest width, including approaches, is 350 feet.  Its height above the base line on the east front to the top of the Statue of Freedom is 288 feet.
  • There used to be a law that no building in the capital city could be taller than the Capitol.  But that law was short lived, and today it is only the fifth-tallest building in D.C.  The Capitol is shorter than the Washington Monument, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the Old Post Office and the Washington National Cathedral.
  • The Capitol has its own subway, which has been there in some variation since 1909, and carries politicians from House and Senate office buildings to the Capitol.
  • There are marble bathtubs in the basement of the Capitol where members of Congress would take baths back in the 19th century.
  • The Capitol has its own crypt, which is located on the basement floor directly under the Rotunda. It is called that because President George Washington’s body was supposed to be entombed here. They even had holes dug for a viewing chamber where you could walk by and see him.  But Washington’s wishes were to be buried at his home on the Potomac River, Mount Vernon.
  • A bust of Abraham Lincoln located in the crypt and sculpted by Gutzon Borglum, has only one ear. The ear on the bust was originally supposed to face to the north because the sculptor believed Lincoln listened to Northern views and not those of the South. The ear now faces the South with its placement in the room.
  • Directly below the crypt there is a nuclear fallout shelter.
  • At any given time, several United States flags fly over the Capitol building and the flags have been flown continuously day and night since World War I.  Two flagpoles are located at the base of the Capitol Dome on both the East and the West sides.  Two other flagpoles are located above the North Wing (the Senate side) and the South Wing (the House side) and are flown only when the Congress is in session.  There are also several additional flagpoles located west of the Dome and are not visible from the ground, these flagpoles are used to meet the congressional requests for flags flown over the Capitol.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court also convened in the Capitol Building for 135 years, until moving into its own building in 1935.
  • There is a myth that the Capitol is haunted by an evil demon cat. The reason this myth exists is because of mysterious paw prints in the sandstone floor just outside of the former Supreme Court Chamber. They still have not found an explanation for the paw prints.
  • The Senate chaplain’s office has a rare oval window and it is one of the very few windows that still opens.  It can be seen on the left side of the west front.
  • For the first couple of decades, beginning in the fall of 1800 when the Federal government moved to D.C., the Capitol building was used during the administrations of Presidents Thomas  Jefferson and James Madison for Sunday religious services as well as for governmental functions.
  • Today there is still a private, locked chapel that is for the exclusive use of members.  According to the architect of the Capitol: “Its only purpose is to provide a quiet place to which individual senators and representatives may withdraw a while to seek divine strength and guidance, both in public affairs and in their own personal concerns.”

I’ve seen the Capitol Building almost every workday for the past thirty years.  But I learned new things about it as a result of this bike ride.  That’s just one of the reasons I ride.  And I look forward to more rides next year.  There are currently 435 posts on this blog about different places I’ve been to, events I’ve attended, or other interesting things I’ve seen throughout the city while out and about on my bike.  But I have an ever-growing list of more places to which I still want to ride.  And that list contains more places than the number places where I’ve already been.  So I anticipate that I will continue to be riding not only next year, but for the foreseeable future.

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The West Front of the United States Capitol Building

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Note:  The following historic photos obtained from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

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Top Left – Historic American Buildings Survey Copy of old photograph East Front of Capitol Dome under Construction, Showing Clairvoyee and Gates. (Library of Congress Call Number: Habs DC,Wash,1–1 .
Top Middle – West front of the United States Capitol, with the new cast-iron dome under construction. In the foregrd. is the Tiber Creek or Washington City Canal and the octagonal greenhouse for the Botanic Garden (Library of Congress Call Number: Lot 12332 [item] [P&P]. Contributor: Montgomery Meigs. Date Created: November 16,  1860.)
Top Right – Construction of Capitol Dome. (Library of Congress Call Number: Lot 12251, p. 49 [P&P]. Contributor: Benjamin Brown French. Date Created: Between 1860 and 1863.)
Bottom Left – Inauguration of Mr. Lincoln,
Photograph shows crowd attending ceremony; construction on dome of U.S. Capitol in background.  (Library of Congress Call Number: LOT 12251, p. 41 [P&P].  Contributor: Benjamin Brown French. Date Created: March 4, 1861.
Bottom  Middle – Photograph showing Capitol building with scaffolding surrounding Thomas Crawford’s Statue of Freedom atop the dome.  (Library of Congress Call Number: Unprocessed in PR 13 CN 1995:149 [item] [P&P], Date Created: between 1860 and 1863.)
Bottom Right – Photograph showing Union soldiers with rifles at attention in front of the Capitol.  (Library of Congress Call Number: Lot 12251, p. 55 [P&P]. Contributor: Benjamin Brown French. Date Created: May 13, 1861.)

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Note:  A complete renovation and restoration of the iconic Capitol dome was just recently completed.  In 2014, scaffolding was erected around the Capitol Building’s massive dome for a three-year restoration project, the first major overhaul of the dome in more than half a century.  After removing 14 layers of lead paint, applying 1,215 gallons of “Dome White” paint, the fabrication and replacement of exterior ornamentation, repairing deficiencies and over 1,300 different cracks in the cast iron and, finally, removing more than a million pounds of scaffolding, the Architect of the Capitol announced just last month that the restoration effort is officially complete.  So the freshly painted and restored Capitol Building and dome will look pristine next month when it serves as the backdrop for the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump.

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Scaffolding for Restoration of the Capitol Dome

[Click on the photo to view the full-size version]

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The Flags of History Display

Most people walking by don’t even to bother to look up and notice the display of historic flags along the front of the FBI Headquarters building.  But they should, because they tell quite a bit about the proud history of the United States.  Located along Pennsylvania Avenue, also known as “the Nation’s ceremonial route”, are ten historic flags, flanked on either end by today’s 50-star flag representing the 50 states of the Union.  And on today’s bike ride, I rode there to see the display that illustrates the development of the “Stars and Stripes”.  While I am not a vexillologist, I found all of the historic flags displayed outside the FBI building interesting and informative.

Beginning at the east end of the building near 9th Street and proceeding west toward 10th Street are these ten historic flags:

  • The Grand Union, or Continental Colors, serving from 1775-1777, was first raised on January 1, 1776, on Mount Pigsah, Massachusetts, about the time the Continental army came into formal existence. It combined the British Union Jack and 13 stripes, signifying Colonial unity.
  • The Flag of 1777, which had no official arrangement for the 13 stars. It was flown by John Paul Jones on the USS Ranger and was the first American flag to be recognized by a foreign power.
  • The Betsy Ross Flag, 13 stars, designed by George Washington, Betsy Ross, and Francis Hopkinson. Although rarely used, it was adopted by Congress on June 14, 1777 – the official date of the holiday which is today known as Flag Day.
  • The Bennington Flag, 13 six-pointed stars, allegedly flown August 16, 1777, over military stores at the Battle of Bennington, Vermont, when the Vermont militia beat back a superior British force.
  • The Star Spangled Banner, 15 stars and 15 stripes, immortalized by Francis Scott Key in our National Anthem during the bombardment of Fort McHenry, Maryland, in September 13, 1814.
  • The Flag of 1818, 20 stars, commissioned by a Congressional Flag Act that returned the design to 13 stripes and stipulated that stars be added for each new state.
  • The Great Star Flag, 20 stars, designed by Captain Samuel Chester Reid, U.S. Navy, at the request of New York Congressman Peter Wendover and flown over the U.S. Capitol on April 13, 1818.  This flag has the stars arranged in the pattern of a star, symbolizing the motto “E Pluribus Unum”: Out of many, one.
  • The Lincoln Flag, 34 stars, raised by President Lincoln on February 22, 1861, over Philadelphia’s Independence Hall to send a message to Southern states, which were preparing to secede from the Union.
  • The Iwo Jima Flag, 48 stars, which was commissioned in 1912 but came to symbolize our nation on February 19, 1945, when U.S. Marines raised it on Mount Suribachi after fearful fighting in World War II’s Pacific campaign.
  • The 49-Star Flag, commissioned in 1959 when Alaska achieved full statehood. It flew for only one year, until July 4, 1960, after Hawaii achieved its Statehood and when today’s 50-star flag became official.

And as I was leaving, I saw one more flag, on a flag pole around the corner of the 9th Street side of the building.  It’s the current United States flag, which the FBI’s police force reverently raises each day at 5 am and then takes down again at dusk. 

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The Octagon House

I may sound like I’m getting old by what I’m about to write, but Halloween isn’t what it used to be when I was growing up.  Some of the most popular costumes in recent years have been a twerking former Disney child star, a female prison inmate in an orange jumpsuit, and a fired high school chemistry teacher turned homicidal meth dealer.  I miss the more generic and traditional costumes, like ghosts.  So as I celebrated Halloween on today’s bike ride, I went on a ghost hunt. There are a number of reportedly haunted locations throughout D.C., and today I rode by a few of those places where ghosts and spirits are reported to have been encountered.

The first stop on my self-guided bike tour of D.C.’s haunted locations was The Octagon House, which is reported to be the most haunted residence in the city. It was built in 1801 by Colonel John Tayloe, III, and some members of the Tayloe family are reported to still be residing there today.  Two of Colonel Tayloe’s daughters are said to haunt their former home. The first allegedly died just before the War of 1812.  Colonel Tayloe and his daughter quarreled on the second floor landing over the girl’s relationship with a British officer stationed in the city.  And when the daughter turned in anger to go down the stairs, she “fell” down the stairs.  Or possibly over the railing.  Stories differ.  Either way, she died.  Her apparition has allegedly been seen crumpled at the bottom of the steps, or on the stairs near the second floor landing, and sometimes exhibits itself as the light of a candle moving up the staircase.

The death of the other Tayloe daughter, stories claim, occurred in 1817 or shortly thereafter.   She had eloped with a young man, thus incurring her father’s wrath.  When she returned home to reconcile with her father, they argued on the third-floor landing.  This daughter, too, “fell” to her death.  Her spirit is alleged to haunt the third floor landing and stairs between the second and third floors.

After the burning of the White House in the War of 1812, President James and Dolley Madison briefly lived at The Octagon House as well. Dolley Madison’s spirit is said to have been seen near the fireplace in the main ballroom as well as heading through a closed door to the garden.  Her ghost’s presence is reported to be accompanied by the smell of lilacs, which was her favorite flower.

Other spirits are also said to remain at The Octagon House as well. A slave girl in the house was allegedly killed by being thrown from the third floor landing to the first floor below by a British soldier during the War of 1812.  During the years since eyewitnesses have reported hearing her scream. The specter of a British soldier in a War of 1812 dress uniform was seen by a caretaker named James Cypress in the 1950s.  Perhaps it was the soldier who killed the slave girl.

A gambler shot to death in the home’s third-floor bedroom in the late 19th century has sometimes been seen still in the bed where he died. And ghostly footmen have been seen at the front door waiting to receive guests. Various witnesses have also reported hearing assorted moans, screams, and footsteps in The Octagon House.

The next stop on my ghost ride was the Dolly Madison House, also referred to as the Cutts-Madison House, located at 1520 H Street (MAP), near the northwest corner of Lafayette Square Park.  One of the most reported spirits in all of D.C. is that of former First Lady Dolley Madison. In addition to being seen at The Octagon House, her ghost has been encountered at additional locations, including the White House Rose Garden, and at her home on Lafayette Square. It is in this home that Dolley Madison spent her last years, and where she died in 1849. Since the mid-19th century, it is on the porch sitting in a rocking chair that her ghost has most often been encountered.

I then made a stop at the nearby statue of President Andrew Jackson, located in middle of Lafayette Square Park (MAP) across the street from the White House.  There are a variety of haunted accounts involving the boisterous President Jackson within the nearby White House. Most of the stories center around the canopy bed in the Rose bedroom on the second floor.  Mary Todd Lincoln and Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands are but a couple of the notable witnesses to President Jackson’s apparition.

My next stop on this haunted bike ride was the location where Congressman Daniel Sickles’ House used to be.  Located at 717 Madison Place (MAP), it is now the downtown site of the U.S. Court of Claims.

In 1859, Sickles shot and killed Philip Barton Key, who at that time was the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, and was the son of Francis Scott Key, who wrote the national anthem.  After learning of Key’s affair with his wife, Teresa, who was only 15 years old when she married the 33-year old Sickles, Sickles approached Teresa’s lover in front of his home and allegedly said, “Key, you scoundrel, you have dishonored my house. You must die.” He then shot Key. As he lay dying, Key gazed at the window where Teresa would signal him when the coast was clear for their trists. A jury acquitted Sickles after a sensational trial that featured the first use of the temporary insanity defense in U.S. legal history. Since that time Key’s visage has been reported to occasionally appear in the location where Sickles shot him.

I then proceeded to the Walsh Mansion, which currently serves as the Indonesian Embassy and is located at 2020 Massachusetts Avenue (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Embassy Row neighborhood.  The most expensive residence in the city at the time it was completed in 1903, the mansion was built by Thomas J. Walsh, a famous gold miner and industrialist. He was also known for giving the famed Hope Diamond to his daughter Evalyn Walsh McLean as a wedding present. However, along with the diamond came its curse.  According to the legend, a curse befell the large, blue diamond when it was stolen from an idol in India – a curse that foretold bad luck and death not only for the owner of the diamond but for all who touched it. Anyway, Evalyn continued to live in the house after her father’s passing until her death in 1947. However, by the time she died she had lost the family fortune and more, and to cover her significant debts, the Walsh Mansion was sold to the government of Indonesia. According to embassy staff, however, Evalyn never vacated the home. Rather, her spirit has been seen several times gliding down the mansion’s grand central staircase.

The Mary Surratt Boarding House was the next destination on my haunted tour of D.C.  Located at 604 H Street (MAP) in the heart of the city’s Chinatown neighborhood, the three-story Federal-style townhouse has been substantially renovated through the years.  But in the mid-1800’s it was a boarding house owned by Mary Surratt, who was convicted and hanged as one of the conspirators in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. The building currently houses a Chinese restaurant, named Wok and Roll, on the ground floor. But it may also house Mary Surratt’s ghost as well. From the 1870s onward, occupants of the building have claimed that Surratt’s spirit is responsible for the incomprehensible mumbling and whispers, footsteps, muffled sobs, and creaking floorboards which have unnerved them.

I also rode to the Capitol Hill neighborhood today, where the ghost of Joseph Holt is said to haunt the street near where he lived.  Holt was Judge Advocate General of the Army, and presided over the trials of the Lincoln assassination conspirators. During the trials, accused conspirators Dr. Samuel Mudd (who treated assassin John Wilkes Booth’s broken leg) and Mary Surratt (at whose downtown boarding house the conspirators met) were held at the Old Capitol Prison opposite the U.S. Capitol Building. The modern day U.S. Supreme Court Building stands on the site today. After Holt retired, he allegedly became a recluse in his Capitol Hill home. Local residents have told stories of Holt’s ghost walking down First Street in a blue suit and cape, pondering the guilt of Mudd and Surrat as he heads for the site of the Old Capitol Prison.

Lastly, before heading back to my office, I concluded my self-guided haunted bike tour by stopping by the U.S. Capitol Building. Many people would contend that the Capitol is soulless, but it is no stranger to departed souls. The Capitol Building is reputedly haunted by a former President, many past members of the House of Representatives, other government officials, officers who served during the American Revolutionary War, workers who died during its construction, and perhaps most famously, or infamously, a “demon black cat.”

One of the most illustrious ghosts said to haunt the Capitol Building is John Quincy Adams, the nation’s sixth President, who after serving as President went on to serve nine terms as a Massachusetts Congressman. In 1848, at age 81, Adams fell unconscious on the House floor while in the middle of a speech. Lawmakers carried him into the speaker’s office, where he died two days later. Ghost followers contend that his spirit subsequently made its way back to the chamber, now known as Statuary Hall. A plaque there marks the spot where Adams’ desk once stood. It is from that spot, believers attest, that his ghost sporadically redelivers his unfinished speech.

The infamous “demon black cat” is alleged to prowl the halls of Congress, and make appearances just before a national tragedy or change in Presidential administration. It was first seen in the early part of the 19th century, and a night watchman shot at it in 1862. It has also been seen by other night watchmen and members of the Capitol Police. It appeared before the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, the October 1929 stock market crash, and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The cat has not only been seen in the halls, but has repeatedly appeared in Washington’s Tomb. The Tomb, located two levels below the crypt beneath the Capitol Rotunda, was an original feature of the building, planned as a resting place for George Washington and members of his family. But the Washington family politely declined the offer, and the Tomb now stands empty. Or does it?

The specters of at least two soldiers are also said to haunt the Capitol Building.  A few eyewitnesses have claimed that whenever an individual lies in state in the Capitol Rotunda, a World War I doughboy momentarily appears, salutes, then disappears. A second apparition, which eyewitnesses say is the ghost of an American Revolutionary War soldier, has also appeared at the Washington Tomb. According to several stories, the soldier appears, moves around the unused Washington family catafalque, and then passes through the door into the hallway before disappearing.

Thus having concluded my haunted tour, I headed back to my office.  It was a great bike ride, despite the fact that I did not see, hear, or otherwise sense the presence of any ghosts in a city that seems to be full of them.

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Enlarge this map and zoom in for the best view.
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Saint Dominic’s Catholic Church

Whenever I’ve been anywhere near the Southwest Waterfront during one of my middle of the day bike rides, I have been able to hear church bells ringing out at noon.  So on this ride I decided to track down the source.  As a result, I ended up at Saint Dominic’s Catholic Church, which is a Roman Catholic and Dominican parish, located in D.C.’s Southwest Waterfront neighborhood at 630 E Street (MAP), which is adjacent to the L’Enfant Plaza Metro Station, and just two blocks south of the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum. 

The parish of Saint Dominic was first established in 1852 under the care of the Order of Preachers, popularly known as the “Dominicans.”  Two years later, in March of 1854, the original parish church was dedicated during the feast of St. Joseph, the patron of the province of Dominicans serving St. Dominic’s parish.  A decade later, just months after the conclusion of the Civil War, the cornerstone was laid for a new church building, designed by the now famous architect, Patrick Charles Keely, who designed nearly 600 churches and hundreds of other institutional buildings for the Roman Catholic Church or Roman Catholic patrons in the eastern United States and Canada.  The new and larger English Gothic church was dedicated in 1875, and it is that church that remains today.

The outside of the church building looks much like it did when it was originally built.  But the inside of the church is very different,  And the neighborhood and surrounding area where it is located is also unlike it was.

On March 12, 1885, a fire destroyed the entire interior of the Saint Dominic’s.  But the church’s interior was restored thanks to fund raising efforts of Catholic and Protestants alike.  As part of the parish’s new interior, a Hilborne Roosevelt Organ was installed.  Today it is one of the few surviving organs made by the cousins of President Theodore Roosevelt, and the sound quality remains largely unchanged since its installation.  Although no photographs of the original interior are known to exist, it is said that the new interior is even more beautiful than the original.

The area surrounding the parish has changed even more than its interior.  In 1954 much of Southwest D.C. was demolished and rebuilt in accordance with the District of Columbia Redevelopment Act of 1950.  The convent, school, and original priory which were originally part of the parish were demolished to make room for the Southwest Freeway and frontage road.  The main church building itself, however, was protected and saved as a result of an official act of Congress.  During the intervening years since the church was built, everything else in the neighborhood has changed too, either being developed or torn down and replaced with large buildings housing either government offices, such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Headquarters, or private businesses such as the Hyatt Place DC/National Mall Hotel.

Hopefully the parish bell tower’s large bronze bell, which was installed in March of 1889 and has been ringing each day for the past 127 years, will continue to draw people like me to experience this unique and beautiful church, which remains consistent in the midst of change.

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[Click on photos above to view full size versions]

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The Abner Cloud House and Mill

For this outing I decided to go for a leisurely ride on The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and Towpath.  Starting in Georgetown at the eastern end of the towpath, I rode west until I got to Fletcher’s Cove and Boathouse.  From there, the destination for this ride was just across the canal – the Abner Cloud House and Mill.

Located on the canal near where Canal Road, which parallels the canal and the Potomac River, intersects with Reservoir Road in northwest D.C. (MAP), the house was built in the 1801.  Nestled near the former Little Falls Skirting Canal, it is the oldest structure on the canal.  In fact, it actually predates the canal project itself by more than two decades.

A miller from Pennsylvania named Abner Cloud was the original builder and occupant of the house, and the operator of the flour mill which he built about two hundred yards upstream from it.  He and his family lived on the upper floors of the house, and used the basement as a storeroom for the flour and grains he shipped from his mill to Georgetown.

Interestingly, a Cloud mill worker married one of Abner Cloud’s sisters, and they constructed a mill not too far away in Rock Creek in 1801.  That mill is Peirce Mill, which I ran across during one of my previous bike rides.

Although Cloud died in 1812, his widow, Suzanne, continued to live there until she passed away forty years later, in 1852.  The mill continued to provide an excellent quality flour called “Evermay” to D.C. until it closed in 1870.  Ruins of the mill, located west of the house and for a long time obscured by overgrown brush, were uncovered through the efforts of volunteers as part of an annual event called Canal Pride Day, which is a day of restoration, revitalization, and fun in conjunction with the C&O Canal Trust, the official non-profit partner of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park.

In 1970, a restoration project of the Abner Cloud House was begun.  Completed in 1976, the house is now maintained by the Colonial Dames of America.  Today, the headquarters of the Colonial Dames of America, Chapter III, occupies the top two floors of the house.  The organization shares the house with the national park, and conducts interpretive programs for visitors.

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[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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The Harry S. Truman Scholarship

There is a long tradition of creating presidential monuments and memorials to honor our country’s past presidents and perpetuate their legacies.  This is especially the case in our nation’s capital.  The most well-known local presidential memorials are the Washington Monument, and the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials.  Some presidents even have more than one memorial to them here in D.C.  For example, Franklin Roosevelt’s original desk-sized memorial in front of the National Archives Building and the 7.5 acre FDR Memorial near the Tidal Basin, which are the smallest and largest presidential memorials in the city.

But on this bike ride I went to see one of the most unusual of all the presidential memorials – the one created for Harry S. Truman.  Or to be more accurate, I went to the house where the memorial resides.  Because instead of a statue, the official Federal memorial to our nation’s 33rd President is the Harry S. Truman Scholarship.  And under law, it is the only Federal memorial allowed to honor its namesake president.

The scholarship was created by Congress in 1975 as a living memorial to honor President Truman.  It is a highly competitive $30,000 Federal scholarship towards a graduate education, and is granted to approximately 55-65 U.S. college juniors each year for demonstrated leadership potential and a commitment to public service.

The scholarship is administered by The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation, which is an independent Federal executive branch agency.  The foundation is headquartered in a brick rowhouse located at 712 Jackson Place, near Lafayette Square Park, in northwest D.C.’s Downtown neighborhood.  The building I saw on this ride was not all that interesting.  But learning all about the foundation and scholarship made up for that. 

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Union Row

As with most large cities, there are a lot of alleys throughout D.C.  But some alleys are better than others, and they can vary as drastically as the neighborhoods of the city where they are located.  I often ride through alleys when I’m riding my bike.  But the alleys are usually there to simply to provide a narrow passageway between or behind buildings, or for off-street parking and storage space for trash cans.  But on this bike ride I happened upon an alley which had recently been renovated into some trendy living spaces.  And being able to imagine myself living there quickly made it one of my favorite alleys in the city.  Located at the corner of 14th Street and V Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s U Street corridor in the Shaw/Uptown neighborhood, the residences are known as The Warehouses at Union Row.

Union Row is a contemporary housing and business complex developed in 2007 by the P.N. Hoffman real estate development firm.  The Warehouses at Union Row were previously used for car storage, but were transformed into modern, industrial-looking three-level town homes that feature open floor plans with high ceilings and oversize windows to maximize natural light, and include private terraces on two sides of the home.  European kitchens with stainless appliances and granite countertops flow into spacious living and dining areas.  Additional amenities include a concierge, elevators, a courtyard, community meeting and party rooms, and off-street parking for cars (or bicycles).

The Warehouses at Union Row are within walking distance of the U Street Metro Station, and is conveniently located near a number of neighborhood cultural attractions.  These include the African American Civil War Memorial and Museum, the Howard and Lincoln Theaters, Meridian Hill Park, as well as some of the city’s best jazz clubs and dance halls, the 14th & U Streets Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings, and a wide variety of shops and restaurants, including Busboys and Poets across the street, and the iconic Ben’s Chili Bowl.

As I wrote earlier, I could easily imagine myself living in one of town homes that make up the Warehouses at Union Row.  However, for two reasons I am fairly certain that changing my address to Union Row will not be happening anytime soon.  First, there are no units available at the present time.  And the other reason is because units can sell in the half a million to million dollar range.  So absent winning the Powerball lottery, I think there are a lot of other alleys I could wind up living in before I become a resident of Union Row.

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