Archive for the ‘Historic Sites’ Category

The District Boundary Stones

As I often say, there is history all around you if you just know how to look for it.  And that is particularly true in the D.C. area.  On this bike ride back to the Jones Point Lighthouse (MAP), I came across a brass-lined window in the floor of the lighthouse’s front porch.  Looking through the murky glass I saw a worn and weathered stone marker which was partially underground near the shore of the Potomac River.  It looked like it could be a grave’s headstone.  But the shoreline seemed like an odd place to bury someone.  So I decided to look into it.  And when I did I learned some more local history that dates back well over 200 years.

What I came across was what some people refer to as one of our country’s first Federal monuments — a District Boundary Stone.  In 1791, at the behest of President George Washington, 40 boundary stones were set in place to designate the original physical boundary of the nation’s new capital city.

Of course the city’s boundary has since changed.  Land from both Virginia and Maryland was ceded in 1790 to form the District of Columbia.  But in 1846, the area of which was ceded by Virginia was returned, leaving the territory originally ceded by Maryland as the current area of the District in its entirety.  But amazingly, 36 out of the original 40 stones still exist today, although some are now in Virginia.  The other four stones are replicas, such as NE1 which was demolished by a bulldozer  or SW6, which was smashed by a car.

Some of the stones are well cared for, such as the original West Boundary Stone, which now sits in Benjamin Banneker Park in Falls Church, Virginia (not to be confused with the Benjamin Banneker Park in D.C.), and is surrounded by a five-foot fence installed by the Daughters of the American Revolution.  Others are not as fortunate, such as NE3, which sits at New Hampshire Avenue, Eastern Avenue and Chillum Road in northeast D.C., surrounded by trash at the edge of a McDonald’s parking lot.  The stone known as S1, the one at Jones Point, is in relatively good shape.

So, the Boundary Stones are federal monuments.  However, they are not treated like any other federal monuments.  For the District, the stones are ostensibly owned by the District Department of Transportation, but the ground they sit on is owned by the National Park Service.  Of the stones located on the land that was retroceded to Virginia, many of the stones sit in people’s yards, and the private citizens own the land on which they sit.  Others are in municipal parks or cemeteries.  But regardless of who owns the land on which they are located, the stones remain Federal property.  And the fencing that surround some of them are owned and maintained by volunteer organizations.

Eventually, I would like to see and photograph all of the Boundary Stones.  And a good way to do this would be participating in the next Boundary Stone Bike Ride, an annual event sponsored by the Boundary Stone Public House in the northeast D.C.’s Bloomingdale neighborhood.  Participants can ride one, two, three or all four sides of the original D.C. perimeter, which is about 60 miles altogether.  Last year’s ride, the fifth annual, was held on October 14th.  I think I’ll keep an eye on the bar’s web site for an announcement about this year’s ride. 

Enlarge this map and then zoom in for the most effective view.

Advertisements

An Historic Elevator

On today’s lunchtime bike ride I stopped to pick up a submarine sandwich at a place called Potbelly Sandwich Works, which is a restaurant chain that began in 1977 in Illinois, but opened locations throughout the D.C. area only a few years ago.  The location I went to today is located in the Litwin Building at 637 Indiana Avenue (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Penn Quarter neighborhood.  However, the chain is now worldwide. In addition to the United States, they also operate restaurant locations in the United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, Canada and India.

As I waited for my sandwich to be made I took notice of a very old elevator.  It is not currently in use, but can be seen located behind a sheet of hazy plexiglass.  Later I checked into the old elevator, and I found out that at one time, locals claimed that it was installed by the Otis Elevator Company in 1853.  If true, that would have meant that the elevator not only pre-dated the Civil War, but would have made it one of the oldest elevators in the world.

The Litwin Building was so named after the family of Fred Litwin, who ran a furniture and antiques shop in the building for 52 years before retiring in 2003 due to health reasons.  In fact, I remember visiting his store a number of time earlier in my career and talking with him.  And because Mr. Litwin was enamored with the old elevator, and ran one of the most social business in the city where he would often talk with customers at length about a variety of topics, including about the elevator, information about it made its way into local newspapers.

The 19th-century elevator that was hand-operated with two heavy ropes. Its safety device, a carriage spring that latched into bars in the elevator shaft if either of the ropes gave way, made it unique. Elisha Graves Otis invented the device in the early 1850’s and patented it.   This is why locals thought the elevator was made by Otis.  But after extensive research by the an archivist for the Otis Elevator Company, it was determined that the elevator is actually a Bates elevator, most likely dating to the 1870’s or 1880’s.  So even though it’s not one of the oldest elevators in the world, it just might be the oldest operating elevator in this country.

Mr. Litwin tried to sell the elevator at the time he retired.  In an article in The Washington Post he is quoted as saying, “It’s awful when you have a love affair with a machine and find that nobody wants it … We’ve called a lot of people involved with elevators to try to make a home for this.”  But despite being unable to, the elevator has survived.  The building was awarded National Historic status, so when The Potbelly Corporation bought the property, the restaurant was told they could not remove the historic elevator.

As I often say, there’s always something to see in D.C.  And from just looking around while I was standing in line waiting for their signature sandwich named “The Wreck” (salami, Angus roast beef, oven roasted turkey, hickory smoked ham with melted Swiss cheese topped with fresh lettuce, tomato and mayo on a multigrain roll), I was able to see, and later learn about, a small but unique part of this city’s history.

Georgetown’s “Swords Into Ploughshares” Fence

A while back I heard a story about an iron fence in Georgetown which was supposedly built using hundreds of rifles as the pickets.  Wanting to see for myself, I rode to Georgetown during today’s lunchtime bike ride and personally examined the iron fence in question, which surrounds the property at 2803 and 2805 P Street (MAP).

The story goes that in 1859, Hall M1819 rifles were being stored at an armory in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, while preparations were being made to ship some of them out west to San Francisco.  However, a famed abolitionist named John Brown and his militia, consisting of 21 men (16 white and 5 black),  had been watching the arsenal and planned to seize the shipment of firearms and use them to supply an army of abolitionists.  On October 16th of that year, the Brown militia marched into Harpers Ferry and took both hostages and control of the armory, and established what was briefly known as “John Brown’s Fort.”  However, Brown’s insurrection did not end well, to say the least, for the abolitionists.  A bloody battle ensued and U.S. Marines, led by Brevet Colonel Robert E. Lee and his aide J.E.B. Stuart, recaptured the Amory.  Brown was subsequently hanged for treason.

For whatever reason, the raid prompted the military to cancel the shipment of Hall Rifles.  Instead they were auctioned off instead.  A Georgetown merchant and landowners named Rueben Daw purchased the guns and used the barrels to build a fence.  Census records from that time indicate that Daw had also worked as a gunsmith, making it tempting to think that he might have enjoyed constructing the fencing around his property with gun barrels.

So do do I think the story is true?  Well, on one hand there are other stories about the fence.  But none of the stories began until a half a century after Daw passed away.  So it’s really impossible to know for sure.  On the other hand, while I was unable to definitively determine for myself the accuracy of the story, the Harper’s Ferry arsenal one is the most plausible.  Additionally, when I examined he fence there were some signs that to me indicated that the fence was constructed using old rifles.  For example, there are cracks in some of the pickets that not only reveal that each picket is hollow, but also that the walls of the pickets are far thicker than is structurally necessary for a perimeter fence.  And the gun barrel fence is significantly more robust than other neighborhood fences, with each picket measuring about an inch in diameter.  Additionally, some of the pickets have small protrusions which, to me, very much resemble gun sights.  Finally, the pointy spiked tops are clearly separate inserts rather than wrought from the same piece of metal as the tubes.

So given my opinion that the fence is, in fact, made from recycled old rifles, and taking into account that the other stories contain inconsistencies or factual inaccuracies, I tend to believe the most plausible story about the Georgetown’s gun barrel fence.  And at this time in our country’s history, in which our society is in the midst of a heated debate about the 2nd Amendment and gun control, I think we could use more “swords into ploughshares” stories like it.

         

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

Plant-Based D.C. Landmarks

Sadly, despite having worked in downtown D.C. for the past 30 years, I had never visited the United States Botanic Garden during the Christmas holiday season before this year.  I’ve been there many times but not during the holidays. But a friend who only lived here for a year before moving out of the area knew about the Botanic Garden’s annual holiday display, entitled Season’s Greenings, and the sights, smells, and sounds that accompany it.  When she asked me about this year’s display, it prompted me to go check it out.  And I’m so glad I did.

This year’s display is a multifaceted one that stretches throughout the Botanic Garden.  First, it includes the return of a series of D.C. landmarks made out of plant materials.  The holiday display also includes thousands of blooms throughout the Conservatory, from exotic orchids to a showcase of heirloom and newly developed poinsettia varieties in the seasonal Poinsettia Room.  Lastly, this year’s holiday decorations include a showcase of model trains chugging around, below, through, and above plant-based recreations of iconic sights and roadside attractions from across the United States.

I will be covering the Poinsettia display, and the model train and roadside attractions showcase in the near future.  Today’s blog post focuses on the collection of D.C. landmarks, all made from a myriad of plant and other natural materials, which is displayed in the Garden Court.  There are a dozen local landmarks and memorials on display this year.  The White House swing set, which had been included in previous years, was not present this year because the actual swing set is no longer at the White House.  In it’s place is the Albert Einstein Memorial.  Also new this year is the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened a little over a year ago.  All of the landmarks would be incredible in and of themselves.  But knowing that they are made of plants adds to the experience.

For added holiday cheer at the Botanic Garden, there are concerts on Tuesday and Thursday evenings in December, when hours are extended until 8pm.  If you can, I highly recommend going on one of these days for both the music and to see the exhibit and plant collections illuminated by colorful lights.  One of my first thoughts after seeing Seasons Greenings was wishing that I had known about it and gone in previous years.  So do yourself a favor and go so you don’t have the same thought years from now.

 

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

1 – U.S. Capitol Building
2 – The Thomas Jefferson Memorial
3 – Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson Building
4 – Lincoln Memorial
5 – National Museum of African American History and Culture
6 – National Museum of the American Indian
7 – Smithsonian Institution, The Castle
8 – U.S. Botanic Garden Conservatory
9 – U.S. Supreme Court
10 – Washington Monument
11 – White House
12 – Albert Einstein Memorial

NOTE:  My blog post on “Seasons Greetings: Railroads and Roadside Attractions” will appear next Monday.

Charles Hamilton Houston House

As I happened to be riding down Swann Street in northwest D.C.’s U Street Corridor neighborhood during this lunchtime bike ride I noticed an historic marker sign on a wrought iron fence in front of an otherwise non-descript brick row house.  So as I am prone to do, I immediately stopped so I could read the sign and find out why it was there.  From the sign I discovered the house, located at 1444 Swann Street (MAP), was the childhood home of Charles Hamilton Houston.  Later as an adult, Houston lived there again along with his wife, Henrietta Williams Houston.  Later after the ride I researched him to find about him.  In addition to information on the sign (below), here is what I learned.

Charles Hamilton Houston was born on September 3, 1895, here in D.C., to William Le Pré Houston, an attorney, and his wife, Mary Hamilton Houston, a teacher.  And as I would find out, his parents’ occupations would greatly influence their son’s life.

Houston attended segregated local schools, graduating from the academic (college preparatory) program at M Street High School (now Dunbar High School) at the age of 15.   He then went on to graduate Phi Beta Kappa from Amherst College in 1915, before returning to D.C., where be began teaching English at Howard University.  The following year, however, Houston joined the Army and served as second lieutenant in France during World War I.  Upon returning from the war in 1919, Houston began attending  Harvard University Law School, where he  was the first black student elected to the editorial board of the Harvard Law Review, and a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, a fraternity which was founded by and for black students.  He would go on to graduate cum laude with a Bachelor of Laws degree in 1922, and receive the Doctor of Juridical Science the following year.  That same year he was awarded a Sheldon Traveling Fellowship to study at the University of Madrid.  In 1924 he again returned to D.C, and joined the faculty at Howard University Law School and his father’s law firm.

From 1929 through 1935, Houston served as Vice-Dean and then Dean of the Howard University School of Law.  During this time he worked hard to develop the school, turning it into a major national center for training black lawyers.  He extended its part-time program to a full-time curriculum and gained accreditation by the Association of American Law Schools and the American Bar Association.  During this time Houston served as a mentor to a generation of young black lawyers and influenced nearly a quarter of all black lawyers in the country, including former student Thurgood Marshall, who became the first black justice on the United States Supreme Court.  Houston believed that the law could be used to fight racial discrimination and encouraged his students to work for such social purpose.

Houston left Howard in 1935 to serve as the first special counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), serving in this role until 1940. In this capacity he created litigation strategies to attack racial housing covenants and segregated schools, arguing several important civil rights cases. Through his work at the NAACP, Houston played a role in nearly every civil rights case that reached the U.S. Supreme Court between 1930 and Brown verses Board of Education.  Houston played a significant role in dismantling Jim Crow laws, especially attacking segregation in schools and racial housing covenants. He earned the title “The Man Who Killed Jim Crow”.

Sadly, Houston died from a heart attack on April 22, 1950, at the young age of 54.  It’s a shame to think had he lived how much more good he might have also been able to do during the civil rights movement.


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

The Department of Justice Building

Many people are not aware that eight Nazi saboteurs landed on our country’s shores early during World War II with the intent to commit sabotage.  Their names were George John Dasch, Ernst Peter Burger, Herbert Haupt, Heinrich Heinck, Eddie Kerling, Herman Otto Neubauer, Richard Quirin, and Werner Thiel.  Even fewer are aware that during this week in 1942, six of those saboteurs were executed here in D.C.

Operation Pastorius was a failed German plan for sabotage inside the U.S. during World War II. The operation was staged in June of 1942 and was to be directed against strategic American homeland targets.  In all, eight saboteurs were dropped off near shore by Nazi submarines and were able to make it to the U.S. mainland — four of them near Long Island, New York and the other four near Jacksonville, Florida.  After one of them turned himself in, the largest manhunt in the history of the FBI began for the remaining seven.  Within nine days, all of the saboteurs were captured.

Fearful that a civilian court would be too lenient, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Proclamation 2561 on July 2, 1942, creating a military tribunal to prosecute the German agents under a veil of secrecy.  Lawyers for the accused attempted to have the case tried in a civilian court but were rebuffed by the U.S. Supreme Court in a case that was later cited as a precedent for trial by military tribunal of any unlawful combatant against the U.S., including those currently being held in the military prison at Guantanamo Bay as part of the War on Terror.

The military tribunal took place in July of 1942 in Assembly Hall # 1 on the fifth floor of the U.S. Justice Department building on Pennsylvania Avenue.  All eight would-be saboteurs pleaded innocent, denouncing any allegiance to Adolph Hitler or the Third Reich. The prosecution, headed by the U.S. Attorney General, asked for the tribunal, consisting of seven military generals, for the death penalty.  All eight Germans were found guilty.   Exactly one month later, based on the Presidentially approved recommendation of the military tribunal, six of the eight were executed in the electric chair on the third floor of the D.C. Jail.  They were subsequently buried in a potter’s field called Blue Plains in the Anacostia area of D.C.  The other two Germans, George John Dasch and Ernst Peter Burger, were sentenced to terms of 30 years to life at hard labor.

On today’s bike ride, I went by the U.S. Department of Justice Building where the first military tribunal against an enemy combatant was held.  I also rode by the District of Columbia jail, where they were executed in the electric chair on the third floor.  I also rode to the Anacostia neighborhood in southeast D.C., where those who were executed were buried in unmarked graves in a potters field.

A look at the statistics will show how things have changed dramatically over the past 71 years.  During World War II, there were a total of eight enemy combatants charged by the U.S.   All eight were tried, convicted and sentenced, and the sentences were carried out.  There were only 57 days between June 12th when the Germans first landed on U.S. soil with plans to commit sabotage, until their sentences were carried out and they were executed or began serving their prison sentences on August 8th.

By comparison, the statistics for today’s enemy combatants is much different.  In the current military tribunal process, the shortest time between initial capture and conviction was five years, three months and the longest time nine years, seven months.

To date, 779 detainees have been held at the Guantanamo Bay facility since the War on Terror began after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.  Of the 779 detainees, roughly 600 were eventually released without charges, many after being detained for years.  The total number of detainees currently remaining at Guantanamo stands at 41, although 5 of the 41 detainees have been approved by the U.S. for release to home or third countries but remain at Guantanamo.  There have been 15 children under age 18 who have been held at Guantanamo.  Nine Guantanamo detainees have died while in custody, six by suspected suicide. Only seven detainees have been convicted in the War on Terror military tribunals.  And of the 41 detainees that currently remain at Guantanamo, 26 have not yet been charged with a crime.

Today’s ride reinforced for me how important it is to know what your government has done, and is doing.

1     2    3     4

    6     7     8

Above are the FBI mugshot photos for: 1.George John Dasch;  2. Ernst Peter Burger;  3. Herbert Haupt;  4. Heinrich Heinck; 5. Eddie Kerling; 6. Herman Otto Neubauer; 7. Richard Quirin, and; 8. Werner Thiel.

Protestor in Front of the White House

newschoolbaptist01

New School Baptist Church

I almost always go for an extended bike ride on long holiday weekends.  And although this weekend was not a long one, when it’s February and the temperature is in the upper 70’s here in the D.C. area it’s impossible to stay inside.  So I took one of my recumbent bikes and went for a long, leisurely ride this weekend.  And during the ride I happened upon the historic site of the New School Baptist Church, which is located along The Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail at 15557 Cardinal Drive (MAP) in Dale City, Prince William County, Virginia.

According to the historic marker it was the site where slaves from plantations in the area “gathered between 1861 and 1865.  They built a brush arbor church, worshipped God and became a faithful congregation.  On December 5, 1881, Reverend John L. Bell and four other church leaders purchased one acre of this land for eleven dollars and called themselves the New School Baptist church.  George W. Thomas helped erect a wooden, steepled church which was renamed Neabsco Baptist Church.  The building was used also to educate children of former slaves and free persons of color.  This church has undergone two renovations.  Hand-hewn timbers below the flooring of the present church are silent reminders of the toll of many persons who held a dream during troubled times.”

While I was there I also ventured behind the church where the church’s historic cemetery is located.  There are headstones there that are so old that the names and dates are worn away.  The cemetery also proudly has the grave of a World War I veteran, Owen Thomas, whose family members still attend the church.

Neabsco Baptist Church has undergone many changes throughout its history and is about to undergo another major change.  On six acres of recently-purchased land adjacent to the existing church building they are curretly building a new and much larger sanctuary to accommodate its growing and dynamic congregation.  Even with its long history it’s pastor, Pastor Joshua Speights, Jr., feels some of the best days for the church are still ahead.  So it appears that the 156 year-old church will continue to make history well into the future.

newschoolbaptist02     newschoolbaptist04     newschoolbaptist03
[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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.

wilkesstreettunnel01

Wilkes Street Tunnel

During all of my lunchtime bike rides over the past several years I have been able to enjoy hundreds of aspects of the city and surrounding area.  From monuments and memorials to churches and cemeteries, there is always something interesting to discover and learn about.  But on this ride I happened upon something that up until this point I had not seen before.  As I was riding in Old Town Alexandria I happened upon an old underground tunnel.

Located near the eastern end of Wilkes Street (MAP), with an entrance to the west of Windmill Hill and Shipyard Parks, it turns out that it is the Wilkes Street Tunnel, which originally was a railroad tunnel used by Union troops during the Civil War to ship supplies from Alexandria to Richmond and points south.  And I didn’t even have to wait until after my ride to learn about it because there is a plaque on the wall at the western end of the tunnel that provides its history.

The plaque reads, ” The Wilkes Street Tunnel was part of the Orange & Alexandria Railroad, founded in 1848 to promote trade with western Virginia. The Orange and Alexandria inaugurated its track in Alexandria on May 7, 1851 with a run to the north end of Union Street to the Wilkes Street Tunnel. Thus, the tunnel linked the railroad to warehouses and wharves along the waterfront. Located nearby, the Smith and Perkins foundry manufactured locomotives for the Orange and Alexandria and other railroads.

Wilkes Street Tunnel is typical of cut-and-cover tunnel construction. Presumably, the tunnel was cut through the bluff overlooking the Potomac River and covered to continue the streets above. After the sides were built up with stone, the arch probably was constructed over wood falsework from both sides using a centering technique to form the brick barrel vault. The tunnel was deepened after World War I to accommodate higher boxcars.

The Orange and Alexandria line was one of the many Alexandria railroads taken over by Union forces at the onset of the Civil War. While this northerly section of the railroad was incorporated into the U.S. Military Railroads, the length of track south of the Rappahannock River remained in Confederate hands.

Both sections played an major role in the strategies of North and South, as well as a decisive element in the Confederate victory at the Second Battle of Manassas or Bull Run. The Wilkes Street Tunnel gave Union Army access to the wharves for shipping military supplies on car ferries south of Aquia Creek, terminus of the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad.

Shortly after the Civil War, the old Orange & Alexandria line was incorporated into the Washington City, Virginia Midland & Great Southern Railway controlled by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. Wilkes Street Tunnel played a part in the rivalry between the Baltimore & Ohio and Pennsylvania Railroads for supremacy in the north-south trade across the Potomac River. The Pennsylvania Railroad acquired Congressional authorization for exclusive use of Long Bridge (14th Street). To maintain a competitive position, Baltimore & Ohio offered trans-Potomac service by way of carfloats linking Wilkes Street with Shepherd’s Ferry on the Maryland shore until about 1906.

The Wilkes Street track continued in operation until 1975 when declining industrial activity along the waterfront no longer warranted rail service. The tunnel is significant today as Alexandria’s only 19th century transportation site surviving intact.”

The interior of the tunnel consists of dry-laid grey sandstone vaulted walls.  Its dimensions are approximately 170 feet long with exterior stone and brick surfaces, and an interior consisting of grey sandstone masonry, with a 15-foot deck and an arch with a vertical clearance of 17 feet.  The city completed a structural refurbishment of the tunnel in March of 2008, and a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held on March 11th.  Today the tunnel is open to pedestrians and bike riders like me.

wilkesstreettunnel02

starspangledbanner02

The First Public Performance of The Star Spangled Banner

On this bike ride as I was riding east in the protected bike lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and the U.S. Capitol Building, I happened to see a small plaque on the front of a building.  Out of curiosity I circled back and stopped to see what it was.  And as it turns out the plaque, located 601 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP), commemorates the location where “The Star Spangled Banner” was sung in public for the first time.

The Star-Spangled Banner” is the national anthem of the United States.  It was recognized for official use by the United States Navy in 1889, and by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916.  And it was made the national anthem by a Congressional resolution on March 3, 1931, which was signed by President Herbert Hoover.

The song’s lyrics come from a poem entitled “Defence of Fort M’Henry”, which was written in September of 1814 by Francis Scott Key, who just a few block past the western end of Pennsylvania Avenue has a memorial park named after him.  Key was inspired to write the poem by the sight of a large American flag flying above Fort McHenry during its bombardment by the British Royal Navy during the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812.  The words were later set to the tune of a British song which was already popular in the United States entitled “To Anacreon in Heaven”, written by John Stafford Smith for the Anacreontic Society, a men’s social club in London.

Despite the fact that the song is notoriously difficult for nonprofessionals to sing because of its wide range, The Star Spangled Banner today is traditionally sung most often at the beginning of many public sporting events in the United States, as well as other types of public gatherings.  But on this bike ride, I discovered where the patriotic song was sung in public for the first time a little over two hundred years ago.

starspangledbanner01

The plaque reads, “On this site in 1814, “The Star Spangled Banner” was first sung on public.  The most famous of several hotels on this block was Brown’s Marble Hotel (1851 – 1935), an innovative greek revival landmark, where John Tyler and Abraham Lincoln were guests.  In the 1830’s, Beverly Snow, a free black, operated the epicurean restaurant on the corner of 6th Street.  The Atlanta Coast Line Railroad Building was completed at the same location in 1863.  Its façade was incorporated into the present office building, erected by the B.F. Saul Company in 1985.”