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Research was conducted in repositories and archives located in and around Washington, D.C., including the Washingtoniana Room, Martin Luther King Library; Library of Congress; National Archives, College Park, Maryland; Smithsonian Institution Archives; AnthropologyLibrary of the Smithsonian; Office of Architectural History and Historic Preservation at the Smithsonian (SI-AHHP); and the Washington, D.C., Historic Preservation Office.


The cultural prehistory of eastern North America and the Middle Atlantic region can be divided into six periods: Paleoindian and Early Archaic (11,000 to 6500 B.C.), Middle Archaic (6500 to 2500 B.C.), Late Archaic (2500 to 1000 B.C.), Early Woodland (1000 to 500 B.C.), Middle Woodland (500 B.C. to A.D. 900), and Late Woodland (A.D. 900 to 1600). The periods have been defined largely on the basis of changes in material culture, settlement systems, and subsistence strategies.


The Paleoindian (ca. 11,000 to 8000 B.C.) and Early Archaic (ca. 8000 to 6500 B.C.) periods have traditionally been considered separate periods. More recent studies suggest that the Early Archaic is more accurately characterized as a continuation of cultural trends and patterns established during the Paleoindian period (Custer 1990; Gardner 1989). For the purposes of this report, the two will be considered together.

The Paleoindian and Early Archaic periods coincide with the Late Glacial, Pre-Boreal and Boreal climatic episodes (Bryson et al. 1970). These episodes were characterized by cold winters and cool, moist summers. Seasonal climatic patterns were less pronounced than at present. Pollen cores from Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia indicate that spruce, fir, and northern pine forests with extensive open areas dominated the landscape during the early stages, with an increase in northern hardwoods (e.g., oak, hickory, and chestnut) and a reduction in open grasslands typifying the later stages (Carbone 1976:41-50). During the Paleoindian and Early Archaic periods, the adaptive pattern seems to have concentrated on larger game animals, such as deer and elk, and the relatively sparse human population probably lived in small, semi-nomadic bands that exploited a variety of microenvironments within extensive territories. Evidence suggests that people harvested varied resources within relatively small localized areas very early in the East as opposed to the mobile lifeways of bands of Plains Indians in the West (Humphrey and Chambers 1985:9).

The focus of settlement during the Paleoindian and Early Archaic periods was the major river drainages, with outcrops of fine-grained lithic materials (such as jasper or chert) playing a significant role in determining the scheduling of group behavior (Gardner 1989). Early Archaic groups sustained a preference for high-quality lithic materials, but also began to exploit local materials, such as quartz (Gardner 1989:12-14, 22-23). Both Paleoindian and Early Archaic projectile points, which are found more frequently throughout the region, are generally found on large river terraces or upland surfaces (Wesler et al. 198 1:178).

2.2.2 MIDDLE ARCHAIC (CA. 6500 TO 2500 B.C.)

The Middle Archaic period was characterized by increasing temperatures, decreasing precipitation, and the establishment of seasonal climatic patterns. The spread of open oak-hemlock-hickory forests dominated the landscape, and elk and whitetail deer became the predominant large game species in the region. The utilization of resources in new environments is most apparent in the archeological record of the Ridge and Valley and Blue Ridge physiographic provinces, where deciduous forests spread during the Middle Archaic, providing a wider range of faunal and floral resources (Custer 1990). Sites in these two regions are not as concentrated along major river drainages as they were in the preceding Paleoindian and Early Archaic periods, but are found in upland settings near lower-rank streams and springs (Custer 1990).

The increasing number of sites, coupled with the increase in site size and functional diversity, indicate both a population increase and a shift in subsistence-settlement patterns during the Middle Archaic period. The appearance of new tool types specifically designed for plant processing (such as axes, mauls, and grinding slabs) and the presence of sites in new environmental settings suggest that Middle Archaic populations began exploiting new resources (primarily floral) in new environments on a seasonal basis (Rappleye and Gardner 1979). Settlement patterns in the Coastal Plain show continuity with those established during the Paleoindian and Early Archaic periods: people favored larger river terraces for large base camps, but periodically utilized smaller campsites in upland areas for hunting or gathering activities, or for the procurement and processing of lithic materials (Custer 1990). Raw material procurement sites located in proximity to high-quality lithic outcrops are no longer a common site type in Middle Archaic and later settlement systems however (Custer 1983, 1984).

2.2.3 LATE ARCHAIC (CA. 2500 TO 1000 B. C.)

The Late Archaic period coincides with the Sub-Boreal climatic episode that was characterized by a period of maximum warmth and dryness followed by increasing moisture and decreasing temperatures (Carbone 1976; Custer 1988); however, this interpretation has been challenged (Stevens 1991). Changes in climate, vegetation, and hydrology during the Sub-Boreal episode resulted in increasing diversity and density of riverine resources (Carbone 1976:77-78; Catlin et al. 1982:124; Custer (1984:90-91).

Slowing in the sea-level rise created salt and brackish estuarine marshes attractive to migratory birds and suitable for the development of extensive shellfish beds farther inland. In addition, anadromous fish, such as shad and herring, were able to travel farther upstream during spawning runs. Traps and weirs may have been used to catch fish in narrow areas of the river above the falls. An Archaic point was recovered from a series of fish traps indicating that these structures may have been built at that time (Humphrey and Chambers 1985:12). Late Archaic peoples increasingly exploited riverine and/or estuarine environments throughout the Middle Atlantic region, and followed a more sedentary way of life; thus, sites are frequently located at the head of estuaries (Mouer 1991; Catlin et al. 1982:132; Humphrey and Chambers 1985:11).

Lithic artifacts from the early Late Archaic are characterized by a variety of stemmed projectile points. During the terminal Late Archaic, the recognized shifts in subsistence-settlement systems are generally associated with the distribution of Savannah River, Susquehanna, and other broadspear projectile points (Mouer 1991; Gardner 1982:60). Tools for working wood, such as adze, axe, and the wedge, indicate further exploitation of the woodland environment. Wood was cut and shaped for containers, shelters, and perhaps watercraft. The appearance of awls, needles, and punches in the archaeological record reflect the manufacture of baskets, fiber mats, and nets (Humphrey and Chambers 1985:12). An important innovation during the Late Archaic was the appearance of vessels fashioned from soapstone (steatite). This development indicates a more sedentary lifestyle, as such artifacts would encumber a mobile group.

2.2.4 EARLY WOODLAND (CA. 1000 TO 500 B.C.)

The first two-thirds of the Woodland period, which is subdivided into early, middle, and late, correspond to the Sub-Atlantic climatic episode (800 B.C. to A.D. 1000). This climatic episode was characterized by a return to wetter conditions and a slight cooling trend, establishing plant communities which approximate modem conditions (Custer 1984:91). During the Sub-Atlantic episode, the decreased rate of sea level elevation provided stable temperature and salinity conditions, thus permitting the proliferation of estuarine species.

The Early Woodland period in this area was characterized by domestication of native plant species and the widespread manufacture of pottery (Humphrey and Chambers 1985:17). In the Potomac Valley, this is represented by the introduction of Marcey Creek (1200 to 800 B.C.) and Accokeek (800 to 300 B.C.) ceramics (Egloff and Potter 1982:97-99). Projectile point technology and diagnostic point types changed little from the preceding terminal Late Archaic period. Relatively small Early Woodland populations were located along the freshwater streams near the fall zone during the spring and early summer to take advantage of the anadromous fish runs (Gardner 1982:60). These locations would have served as base camps for small household groups from which numerous satellite sites (such as hunting camps, point manufacturing loci, quarry sites, and exploitative foray camps) would have operated. During the late summer to early winter, these small household groups moved down river to coalesce and establish large base camps and exploit the extensive shellfish beds. Although there are few excavated data from the Maryland Coastal Plain to support this model, evidence from the White Oak Point Site in Virginia does support this interpretation (Waselkov 1982:17). The area between the two base camps may have served as seasonal transient camps.

2.2.5 MIDDLE WOODLAND (CA. 500 B.C. TO A.D. 900)

The Middle Woodland period (ca. 500 B.C. to A.D. 900) was characterized by a variety of ceramic types of the Pope’s Creek (500 B.C. to A.D. 200) and Mockley (A.D. 200 to 900) wares (Egloff and Potter 1982:99-104). Some societies in the Middle Atlantic region adopted sedentary lifestyles, generated food surpluses, developed ranked societies, and participated in extensive trade networks and elaborate mortuary practices during the late Middle Woodland period (Custer 1982:30-33). The Western Shore Coastal Plain of Maryland is dominated by the Selby Bay complex, which was characterized by Mockley ceramics and Jack’s Reef projectile points. The Jack’s Reef projectile points are generally manufactured from non-local materials, especially rhyolite (Curry and Kavanagh 1989:16-17). “The seemingly abrupt termination around A.D. 900 of the procurement and exchange of rhyolite by Mockley phase groups of the coastal plain coincided with the appearance of agriculturally based village sites in the piedmont, along the middle Potomac River and its tributaries” (Potter 1993:141). Increases in the size and density of sites suggest both a population rise and increased sedentism during this period, while continuity in site location suggests subsistence-settlement systems changed little from the Early Woodland to the Middle Woodland periods.

2.2.6 LATE WOODLAND (CA. A.D. 900 TO 1600)

The Late Woodland period (A.D. 900 to 1600) corresponds to the Scandic and Recent climatic episodes. Until better data are available regarding late Holocene climatic changes in the Middle Atlantic, it is best to view the environments of these episodes as similar to conditions encountered by the first Europeans in the area (Custer 1983:82). Common ceramic wares in the Coastal Plain and adjacent Piedmont of Maryland and Virginia include Townsend (A.D. 900 to 1600) and Potomac Creek (A.D. 1300 to 1600) wares. The diffusion of the bow and arrow and its associated small triangular projectile points (such as Madison) began at this time. The contemporaneous and ubiquitous presence of triangular points in the Middle Atlantic region demonstrates the widespread acceptance of the bow and arrow during the Late Woodland period.

The Late Woodland period is traditionally associated with a fundamental change in the subsistence-settlement system. Populations throughout much of the Middle Atlantic region no longer practiced a semi-sedentary lifestyle based on the exploitation of seasonally available plant and animal resources. Rather, Late Woodland populations depended on cultivated crops and supplemented their diet with wild plants, nuts, animals, birds, fish, and shellfish (Barfield and Barber 1992; Geier 1992:288-289). This diversified and abundant food supply facilitated the establishment of sedentary villages and the production of food surpluses. However, the inevitable demand for broad expanses of arable land resulted in changes in the settlement system. Villages were located on the broad floodplains and terraces of higher-order streams near their confluence with the larger rivers.

The dramatic increase in the density of small villages, the increased depth of the cultural deposits, and the large number of storage pits associated with these sites suggest Late Woodland populations were not only sedentary, but were increasing and occupying larger territories. The combination of population growth, adoption of sedentary villages, and the ability to produce food surpluses resulted in the development of more complex sociopolitical structures during this period. Thus, the middle of the Late Woodland period is characterized by the emergence, or in some cases the reappearance, of ranked societies. These ranked societies continued to expand and develop into the complex tribes and chiefdoms encountered by Europeans in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries (Turner 1992:114-120).


Contact between local Indians in Maryland and Virginia and Europeans may have begun as early as the 1580s. Contact accelerated after Captain John Smith’s exploration of the Potomac in 1608 and became more intense in the second quarter of the century (Humphrey and Chambers 1985:26-28).

When Smith explored the Potomac as far as Little Falls, he located and mapped a number of Native American villages and groups in the vicinity of the project area. Several villages and the names of the Indian groups living in them are shown on Figure 3. Located on the Virginia side of the Potomac River were the Tauxenents, centering around Mount Vernon; the Patawomake, at the mouth of Potomac Creek; and a village called Nameroughquena opposite the south end of Analostan (now Theodore Roosevelt) Island. Along the Maryland side of the Potomac, a tribe or confederation of people known as the Conoy controlled a territory extending perhaps as far north as Baltimore (Humphrey and Chambers 1985:23). In Maryland, several villages located along the eastern side of the Anacostia River were indicated on Smiths map. Smith identified two villages in what is now Washington, D.C. One was located below Little Falls on the terrace between MacArthur Boulevard and the C&O Canal. Another, the largest, was the village of Nacotchtanke, located just east of the confluence of the Anacostia and Potomac rivers, in an area that is now the Benning neighborhood (Humphrey and Chambers 1985:23). According to the accounts of early European fur traders, Nacotchtanke served as an important gathering place for trading activities between Algonquian-speaking peoples along the coast and Iroquoian-speaking groups from farther inland. The Necostins of Nacotchtanke were apparently powerful enough to monopolize trade and, at first, regulate European access to inland trading groups (Humphrey and Chambers 1985:25-26).

Archeological evidence from the region suggests that Native Americans occupied various areas in what is now Washington, D.C. The lands along the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers, Rock Creek and Tiber Creek, and the many tributaries that ran through the Washington, D.C., area offered game animals and fish, a variety of plant foods, and lithic resources. The early archaeology of Washington, D.C., done by William Henry Holmes, S. V. Proudfit, and others, reveals a number of village, camp, and quarry sites within the present boundaries of the city (Figure 4). Quarry sites are mainly located along Rock Creek, Piney Branch, and Broad Branch (Figure 5). Piney Branch quarry, located north of Mount Pleasant running diagonally from Sixteenth Street southwest toward Rock Creek, and most of Rock Creek valley (now Rock Creek Park) were two main quarrying and workshop areas used by Native Americans to acquire material and manufacture stone tools. Other quarries that were used were Dumbarton Heights, Shoemaker quarry (near American University), and a small quarry on the Observatory grounds. Soapstone quarries provided the raw material for making soapstone vessels and pipes. Two well-known ones were Soapstone Valley and Rose Hill quarry, located along Connecticut Avenue south of Albemarle Street and north of the Zoo (Figure 5) (Proudfit 1889; Meltzer and Dunnell 1992:62-79). In addition to major village sites, already mentioned, there were numerous base camps, used temporarily to exploit a seasonal resource, along both sides of the Potomac River from tidewater to Great Falls and along the Eastern Branch (Meltzer and Dunnell 1992:62-79). Many of these were fishing camps used while catching anadromous fish swimming upstream to spawn.

Locations along streams were often selected by Native Americans for camp or village sites and for the exploitation of food resources. The area that is now downtown Washington, D.C., was located between two rivers, had Tiber Creek and a marshy area to the south, and numerous smaller creeks and tributaries throughout. The floral and faunal resources along these waterways were probably plentiful and were exploited by Native Americans. The absence of reported prehistoric archeological sites in the immediate vicinity of the project area is probably a reflection of site destruction due to urbanization. Hawkins’s reconstruction of the 1792 topography of Washington shows that the Patent Office was built was the top of a hill (Hawkins 1991). Prehistoric use or occupation of the area was probable. Therefore, appropriate contexts for prehistoric archeological resources in the project area include those associated with occupation and exploitation of riverine flora and fauna in Paleoindian, Archaic, or Woodland periods (cf. Historic Preservation Division 1991:1-3).


The capital city of the nascent United States was laid out at the confluence of two rivers: the Potomac and the Anacostia. As surveyed, the 100-square-mile Federal city bridged the states of Maryland and Virginia and was located only 10 miles from George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon. Pierre L’Enfant designed the city of Washington in 1791, though his plan was not immediately applied to the landscape. The realization of the L’Enfant plan relied on the acquisition of property privately held by a few landowners. Scotsman David Burns owned much of the core of the planned city, and nearly all the frontage along the north side of Goose Creek (later renamed Tiber Creek).

Included in Burns’s holdings was land now bounded by Seventh, Ninth, F, and G Streets, northwest of the Capitol, designated by L’Enfant’s plan as Reservation 8 (Faehtz and Pratt I 874a). Along the F Street ridge at this location a small hilltop rises on which the Patent Office now stands (Figure 6). The land slopes away from the knob of the hill, creating favorable natural drainage (Hawkins 1991:26). In 1800, this area was sparsely populated and heavily forested. Scattered frame dwellings were outposts on the verge of the “White Oak Slashes,” wild, forested land to the north and east (Hines 1866:30). The stiff clay of the slashes supported a botanical diversity that by the 1850s had been obliterated by development. A writer describing in 1861 the demise of the woodland asserted that “drainage, grubbing, and perpetual depasturation has reduced the slashes to mere surfaces for the production of malaria, and as proper cemeteries for the dead animals of the city” (Haley 1861:37).

The area’s relatively high elevation, out of the marshy bottomland around Pennsylvania Avenue and south, made it an attractive area of commercial and residential development during the nineteenth century. A fast-moving tributary of Tiber Creek issued forth from a spring near Fifth and L Streets, creating a natural sewer soon exploited by home-builders, hotels, and nearby businesses (Weeks 1994:72). During periods of high water in the creek, perch, smelts, eels and various small fish could be caught as far north as E Street (Topham 1924:12).

Conceived of as the civic center of Washington, the city hall, courthouses, the jail and other major civic buildings were intended for the roughly 20-acre area north of Tiber Creek. In the early decades of the nineteenth century, the designated civic center was still heavily forested and contained only a handful of mostly frame dwellings. Fronting E Street between Seventh and Eighth Streets, NW, was the three-story, stone-and-brick Blodgett’s Hotel (Figure 7), designed in 1793 by James Hoban but never completed. Blodgett’s Hotel, “one-hundred and twenty feet long and sixty feet wide. . . . [was] ornamented with a pediment and six Ionic pilasters. From the eminence on which it [stood] (this eminence has the shape of a tortoise shell), the richly wooded hills [rose] on every side, and form[ed] a scenery of unequalled beauty” (Warden 1816:37). Blodgett’s Hotel was purchased by the U.S. government in 1810 to house the Patent Office and the General Post Office, which may have been a factor in spurring growth in the neighborhood.

The development of any neighborhood is contingent on practical factors. Affordable or desirable housing and accessibility to food, work, and places of worship play defining roles in the success of a neighborhood and influence the demographic make up of the population. Development in the vicinity of Reservation 8 was influenced by these factors and followed the typical development pattern of the city of Washington. Unlike many cities that grow outward from a single point, such as a port or public square, Washington’s small colonies grew concurrently around disparate public buildings in a radial fashion, eventually joining at the edges to form a uniform settlement. Described as “communities-with-in-a-community,” the small enclaves, or “subcommunities” that grew up around public buildings were populated by government workers and bureaucrats who often lived close to their respective workplaces, while shopkeepers, trades people, and service industries rounded out the neighborhood (Young 1966:65-68). Residents of the Patent Office neighborhood commonly were employed at the City or General Post Office and Patent Office (all located in Blodgett’s Hotel until 1836) or the Treasury (Fifteenth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue).

Washington’s development centered on landmark public buildings and loci of activity, such as markets, places of employment and commercial areas. Landmark and nodal development are two common forms of city growth and neighborhood formation (Lynch 1960). In Washington, the landmark buildings that helped formulate the visual and perceptual identity of neighborhoods were also nodes where many neighborhood residents were employed. The result of Washington’s duality of development was a study in contrasts. Massive, columned government buildings that were architectural expressions of political ideals were juxtaposed with modest, residential vernacular architecture housing government workers and other city residents (Frydman 2000:n.p.).

Inspired by ancient Rome, the classical architecture of Washington symbolized the order, balance, substantiality and rationality promulgated by the founders of the new republic. L’Enfant’s plan, which organized the major public buildings separately from one another but on axial lines, was the foundation for the reiteration of political order through architecture. George Washington hoped to encourage (and force) individuals to support these ideals of symbolic architectural development through aesthetic uniformity and fire suppression (Hoaglund 1989:58-59). A 1791 act required that new buildings were to be of stone or brick, no less than 35 feet high and no higher than 40 feet, for the sake of uniformity. By 1796, these zoning laws were relaxed to stimulate growth that was lagging behind the government’s expectations. Frame buildings were allowed, but not within 24 feet of a brick structure, ostensibly for fire containment (Hoaglund 1989:65; Watterston 1847:171). Privies and sheds were exempted from that restriction (Hoaglund 1989:65).

James Monroe officially repealed the zoning laws for the year 1819, again with the purpose of stimulating growth (Elliott 1822:81-85). By the 1820s, arrayed around the major public buildings was an assemblage of modest frame and brick vernacular structures, most of which could be described as modest or average, some of which were more aptly described as shanties in the shadow of monumental, canonical classicism (Reiff 197 1:55). Washington in the early to mid-nineteenth century is hard to visualize today, as the lines of sight between the major government buildings have been lost between high-rise office and commercial buildings. At the time of early development, the planned monuments would have risen above an assortment of houses of various sizes, styles, and methods of construction, most of which defied zoning laws.

Washington, lacking an industry other than its burgeoning bureaucracy, developed a service industry to perpetuate the local economy. Housing was essential to this economy, and consequently boarding and rooming houses, and the rental of houses built on speculation by those who could afford to, became central to the city’s economic success. In this essentialist economy “the commerce of the city is confined to the retail of commodities of daily consumption, and the manufactures to domestic use” (Warden 18 16:78). House rents were directly proportionate to the cost and quality of the house’s construction and its location (Warden 1816:41).

Among the other buildings in early nineteenth-century Washington were churches. Father Anthony Cafferey purchased lots on F Street between Ninth and Tenth Streets for establishment of St. Patrick’s Catholic parish church in 1794. A seminary associated with the church educated young members of several Maryland-native, Catholic families that chose to settle in the vicinity of the church. Other churches were built in the neighborhood representing a variety of denominations. The Protestant Methodist church, built by the 1830s, occupied a lot on the Ninth Street frontage south of F Street.

Centre Market was inaugurated on Eighth Street between the former canal (now the north side of the Mall) and C Street in December 1801, providing area residents with direct access to produce and meats (Historic American Buildings Survey [HABS] 1993:No. DC-718; Topham 1924:10). The market was a nucleus of commercial development in the neighborhood, around which commercial and residential settlement expanded. Also known as “Marsh Market” for its location on the swampy banks of the canal, the market was the main outlet for fresh meat, fish and produce from its inception to its demise in the 1930s (Topham 1924:11).

The Northern Liberties Market was opened between Seventh and Ninth Street at K Street, NW, by 1846 (Topham 1924:45-47). Residents of that neighborhood agitated for the market in the I 830s, indicating that the population north of the Patent Office had grown enough by that time to warrant its own market.

After 1810, when the Patent Office was installed, Blodgett’s Hotel housed a succession of governmental offices, including the City and General Post Offices (Froncek 1977:86; HABS 1969:2; Weeks 1994:78). After the burning of most of the federal buildings by the British during the War of 1812, Congress reconvened at Blodgett’s Hotel on 19 September 1814 (District of Columbia Archives, vertical files: F Street). In 1836, the Patent Office and the City and General Post Office, all housed in Blodgett’s Hotel (Figure 7), were destroyed by an accidental fire. The destruction prompted the construction of the new Patent Office to the north and cleared the path for the construction of the General Post Office building (1839-1842; 1855-1860), designed by Robert Mills and completed by Thomas U. Walter (Reps 1991).

The Third Ward of Washington was originally bounded by E Street on the south, First and Tenth Streets west and Boundary Street (Florida Avenue). In 1820, the Third Ward was the second most populous of the city’s six wards. The total population of 2,550 individuals was composed of 1,977 whites, 267 free Negroes, and 306 slaves (Schmeckebier 1955:70-71). The majority of Washington’s early nineteenth-century population consisted of laborers, servants, mechanics, and artisans, followed by trades people and retailers. The professional class—doctors, lawyers, and architects—and the political and social elite rounded out the city (Carson 1990:6-8).

The Patent Office area was populated by both the working and professional classes. Two of the most important architects of the period, Robert Mills (1781-1855) and George Hadfield, occupied houses on Square 406 directly south of Reservation 8 during the 1820s and 1830s. Mills, considered the first American-born professional architect, lived with George Blagden at the southwest corner of the F and Eighth. Hadfield, an English-born architect who came to America in 1785 lived in a house on F Street between Eighth and Ninth Streets (HABS 1969:3; General Assessments [GA] 1824; GA 1829-31; U.S. Bureau of Census [USBC] 1820). These two architects were responsible for some of the most significant architecture of the period in Washington and Virginia. Hadfield was a supervising architect of the Capitol between 1795 and 1798 and designed the central block of Arlington House (1818) for George Washington Parke Custis. Mills had been a draftsman for Thomas Jefferson, and honed his architectural skills under the tutelage of B. Henry Latrobe. Both lived close to some of their major D.C. works: Mills’ General Post Office at Eighth and B Streets (1839-1842) and the Patent Office on F Street between Eighth and Ninth Streets (Mills, supervising architect to A.J. Davis, Ithiel Town and William P. Elliott, architects 1836-1840 and later); and Hadfield’s City Hall (1820-1850) at Fourth and D streets.

By the 1830s, the city core between the president’s house and the capital was the focus of intensive growth (Figure 7). The population of the Third Ward had more than doubled to 5,746 individuals, including 4,273 whites, 814 free Negroes, and 659 slaves. This was the largest population of any of the city’s five wards, though the ward was only the third or fourth largest in area (Schmeckebier 1955:70-71). In addition to the government workers who populated the neighborhood was a mixed group of men and women who provided a variety of services.

According to Tanner’s Atlas by 1836, the neighborhood was largely built out, though only landmark government buildings and churches were individually noted (Figure 7). Reservation 8 had been designated by L’Enfant as the location for the national church, but still appeared empty at the time of Tanner’s atlas (Leach and Barthold 1994:12; Weeks 1994:76-77). In 1800, the square had been occupied by a Mr. Orr, whose old frame house was one of the few buildings noted in the neighborhood at that time (Hines 1866:30). After remaining nearly vacant for over four decades, ground was broken for the Patent Office in 1836.

In 1830, Washington claimed a population of 19,340 individuals living in 1,492 brick dwellings and 1,592 frame dwellings for an average of 6 1/3 persons per household (City Directories LCD] 1830:v). That frame dwellings outnumbered brick indicates that George Washington’s vision of a substantial, brick and stone city to reflect symbolically the substantial new nation and L’Enfant’s formal plan had not come to pass. Between 1820 and 1829, 533 brick and 500 frame dwellings were erected; between 1830 and 1839, 346 brick and 547 frame dwellings were erected; and between 1840 and 1845, 469 brick and 1,236 frame dwellings were erected (Watterston 1847:213).

Contemporary correspondence of the Steiger Family provides insight into life in the neighborhood during the 1830s. William T. Steiger, a Maryland native, was an employee of the Patent Office (in Blodgett’s Hotel), opposite of which the family rented a frame home on E Street. In 1836, Maria Steiger wrote that “[olur City is flourishing. . . every boarding house is crowded, and changes in owners. Congress men & strangers have to pay 10$pr. week each for board, and yearly boarders have either to come into those terms or make room for them . . . . Everything is extravagantly high” (Steiger to Elizabeth Shriver 4 December 1836 in Hoyt 1947:57). In 1839, the Steigers built their brick house on Eighth Street between E and F Streets. In March of that year, Maria Steiger wrote to her mother:

Our city is improving in all parts, and particularly near our lots, both public buildings & private dwellings. We shall have the post office which is to be built of marble opposite, the patent office on our left, and what you will say better than all, the Market House on the right within two squares, and I had almost forgot the church immediately to the rear. (Steiger to Shriver, 12 March 1839 in Hoyt 1947:55).

Robert Mills’s Post Office was a significant architectural expression in the city and a landmark in the neighborhood. The building inspired the editors of the city directory of 1843 to editorialize about the symbolism of the marble-clad structure, “from which material we can only form an allegory of permanency,” in comparison with the sandstone structures elsewhere in the city, such as the Patent Office to the north (CD 1843).

This building being of marble is of the most gorgeous exterior. Its lively, brilliant, and spangled whiteness, when brought into comparison with its motleyed and dingy compeers, begets the idea of bloated imbecility and premature decay, standing side by side with youthful, healthy and elastic beauty. But this edifice requires that emblem of strength and dignity — the portico, with its majestic pillars.. . to give it the true characteristic of a national structure (CD 1843).

This layman’s architectural criticism indicates the importance and significance of government architecture to the average citizen and to the perception of the federal city. The importance to Maria Steiger was also recorded in her correspondence, when she wrote that

The city post office will be directly opposite us, we expect, for the plan of the building is to make the principal entrance of the city post office at one of the gable ends, and it is everybody’s opinion it will front Eighth Street. I hope they may do so, for I don’t know any thing more amusing than to see the people going back & forward for their letters &c.—especially of a rainy morning when there is plenty of sleet (Steiger to Shriver, 12 May 1839 in Hoyt 1947:55).

Ground was broken for the Patent Office in July 1836, months before the burning of the Old Patent Office in Blodgett’s Hotel (Evelyn 1997:29-31). The original building, now known as the South Wing, is believed to have been designed by William P. Elliot in association with Ithiel Towne and A.J. Davis (Hartman-Cox Architects and Oehrlein Associates Architects 1999). Robert Mills, whose Post Office directly to the south was constructed nearly concurrently with the Patent Office, was Architect of Public Buildings, and therefore served as the supervising architect. The sandstone and granite building was completed in 1840, at which time work was underway to establish the National Gallery within the building and on its grounds (Evelyn 1985:228-241; Evelyn 1997:103,206). Funding requests and plans for additional wings soon followed. Perhaps to “compete” with the marble Post Office to the south, to preserve the Aquia sandstone, and later to conform to its marble wings, the South Wing was painted in brilliant white lead.

The National Gallery, a repository for specimens brought to Washington from the U.S. Exploring Expedition, was housed in the Patent Office Building (Evelyn 1985:228; Evelyn 1997:275-282). Specimens of natural history from across the globe, along with the displays of patent models, would have formed one of the most interesting and unique set of collections available to the public. Botanical specimens were housed in a greenhouse north of the South Wing (the only wing built at that time) and were reportedly one of the most popular exhibits at the National Gallery (Evelyn 1985:236; Goode 1892:351-54) (Figure 8). A corner of the greenhouse can be seen on the far right of a historic photo (Figure 8). Demands for space and expansion of the Patent Office and its collection forced the relocation of the greenhouse to near the current site of the Botanical Gardens, at the foot of Capitol Hill (Evelyn 1985:240). By 1858, many of the National Gallery exhibits were moved to the Smithsonian Institution, which had accepted responsibility for their curation (Goode 1892).

Among the employees of the Patent Office in the later 1850s was Clara Barton. After teaching school for a while, Clara Barton worked as a clerk at the Patent Office, earning “a salary of fourteen hundred dollars a year.” It was unusual for a woman to be employed by the government at that time, especially at a salary equal to that of a man (Leech 1986:2 18).

The neighborhood was built out by the early 1850s, during which time the Patent Office was extended the length of Seventh Street by the East Wing (1849-52), and the West Wing (1852-56) was begun (Hartman-Cox Architects and Oehrlein Associates Architects 1999). By 1856, the two granite and marble wings were completed, and work was soon to commence on the North Wing (1857-67), also of marble. Mills’s Post Office was enlarged to encompass its entire square around this time (HABS 1969:3; 17; CD 1850). In 1850, the Third Ward registered 923 dwellings and an estimated population of 5,538 based on an average of six people per household. The Third Ward was no longer the most populous, having the third largest population in the city, and the fourth largest number of dwellings (CD 1850).

The city began infrastructure improvements in 1853, when gas lamps and sewers were installed in the Third Ward (HABS 1969:6). Gas service was begun to the Patent Office at this time. Until 1856, garbage collection was performed on a limited, cyclical basis by ward scavengers. Between 1820 and 1822, the commissioners and the Board of Health enacted a scavenging system to remove “nuisances and all offensive substances” and to require the cleaning out all privies every two months (April to October) and every three months (October to April). A scavenger was appointed from each of the city’s wards (CD 1822:109). Scavengers would remove public nuisances, “considered as a source of disease embrac[ing] anything which produces noxious effluvia or offensive smell” (emphasis in original, Minutes of the Board of Health, 30 April 1822, cited in Crane 2000:2 1). According to Crane, after the cholera epidemic of 1832 “citizens of the city were urged to clean and lime their yards” (Crane 2000:22). It was not until 1856 that the city began a systematic garbage collection campaign, requiring that citizens “collect solid and fluid offals in separate vessels, so that a city contractor could collect them” (Crane 2000:22).

Street improvements were carried out as early as the 1850s into the early 1870s, when raising, leveling, and grading was undertaken. Brick, wood, and flagstone were the primary forms of pavement (CD 1850). The streets around the Patent Office were lowered by about 12 feet (Figure 9) in 1873 (Hartman-Cox Architects and Oehrlein Associates Architects 1999:2.3).

Funds for aesthetic improvements to the landscape surrounding the Patent Office were regularly sought for by Robert Mills in his role as the supervising architect (Hartman-Cox Architects and Oehrlein and Associates Architects 1999). An 1854 plan drawn by Mills appears to be the earliest evidence of the style of landscape favored for the building (Figure 10). The geometric parterres with round features aligned axially is similar to the current layout of the building’s courtyard, though no plan for the courtyard landscaping is known to exist, nor is it known when that work was undertaken. The earliest photograph of the courtyard with its completed landscaping (which is apparently similar to the existing layout), was taken ca. 1867, at a time when the exteriors of all four wings were completed (Figure 11). The simple geometry would have been designed to complement the rational, Greek Revival building.

During the Civil War, the Patent Office Building was used as a barracks and as a hospital, impeding work on the construction of the North Wing. By the middle of 1861, the First Rhode Island Regiment was using the West Wing as a barracks. Bunks were arranged around and between display cabinets full of curiosities (Leech 1986:68; Evelyn 1997:412-413). By fall of 1861, the building was being used as a temporary hospital. The East, North, and West Wings were used as such from September 1861 to June 1862, and from September 1862 to April 1863 (Evelyn 1997:413). Walt Whitman visited the temporary hospital several times and described the incongruity of the suffering and death of the soldiers in beds right next to glass display cases of miniature models of inventions (Evelyn 1997:413-4 14). The use of the building as a hospital and for other war-related uses continued until late 1863, when inside work on the construction of the North Wing continued.

After the Civil War, President Lincoln’s second inaugural ball took place in the East Wing model hall, which is now known as the Lincoln Gallery in honor of the event. Guests entered through the south portico and proceeded through the National Gallery into the East Wing. Dancing took place in the north model hall and dinner was served in the west model hall (Evelyn 1997:416-4 17). Walt Whitman contrasted the bright lights and festivities with the recent use of the building as a hospital in which men had died in great pain (Evelyn 1997:417).

During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, change was underway throughout the Patent Office vicinity (Figure 12). F Street between the Patent Office and the Treasury was still primarily residential in character in the 1 870s, but by the following decade, commercial development was fast encroaching on the tree-lined residential district (DC Archives, vertical files: F Street). Old Centre Market was razed by fire in December 1870. It was replaced in 1871 by a large, modern building designed by German-born architect and city engineer Adolf Cluss (Topham 1924:84). Cluss and his partner Paul Schulze were soon hired as architects for the restoration of the Patent Office after the North and West Wings were heavily damaged by fire on 24 September 1877 (Hartman-Cox Architects and Oehrlein Associates Architects 1999:10/16-10/18). Although the building was constructed of stone, much of the interior supporting members (roof trusses, purlins, etc.), ceilings, and floors were made of wood, and there were wood grates over the rain gutters. The fire is thought to have started beneath the roof of the West Wing in a room used to store rejected patent models. The roof and top floors of the North and West Wings were destroyed (Figures 13 and 14) (U.S. Patent Office 1877). The reconstruction of the upper floors and roof of the buildings took several years to complete; renovation included additional fireproofing of the other wings (Hartman-Cox Architects and Oehrlein Associates Architects 1999:2/1) (Figure 15).

Between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries there was a period of transition in urban centers, and Washington was no exception. Washington’s street railway system was in operation by the 1850s, enabling entire classes of people (specifically the middle and upper classes) to live in suburbs beyond the increasingly polluted and populous city center with which so many were disenchanted. In their place, a great exodus from rural America which resulted from the steady rise in an industrial and commercial economy in the Reconstruction era brought an influx of young, single workers, both men and women, and families who came to the city seeking work. Higher occupancy boarding and rooming houses were carved out of former single-family dwellings to accommodate the “great army of clerks, salesmen, barbers, restaurant-keepers, policemen, nurses . . . journeymen carpenters, painters and machinists” on whom the success of the city depended (Wolfe 1906:1, 5-6 , writing about Boston, as quoted in Groth 1986:183).

By the turn of the century, the neighborhood around the Patent Office was a bustling and thriving commercial district, with a major trolley intersection at F and Eighth Streets. Seventh Street was the central commercial corridor of downtown Washington, and the Centre Market at Eighth and Pennsylvania drew people from across the city (HABS 1969:7; Faehtz and Pratt 1874b).

In 1920, the intersection of Ninth and F Streets, NW, was the busiest transfer point for the city’s trolley system (HABS 1969:7). Commercial growth brought commercial development to the neighborhood, resulting in the replacement of early nineteenth century domestic architecture with larger, multi-story stone and brick commercial buildings. Eighth Street, interrupted by the Mall and Patent Office, was bypassed in favor of development along the Seventh-, Ninth-, and F-Street corridors. Mills’ Post Office was converted to house the Tariff Commission, among other governmental functions, before its abandonment. The Patent Office, which had housed the U.S. Civil Service Commission after 1932, was nearly demolished in the 1950s in favor of surface parking (Hartman-Cox Architects and Oehrlein-Associates Architects 1999:10/26-10/27). It was instead transferred to the Smithsonian, and it now houses the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.


A history of the construction of and alterations to the Patent Office Building has already been included in the Historic Structures Report (Hartman Cox Architects and Oehrlein Associates Architects 1999). A more useful tabulation for the purposes of this project is a list of the events that may have had some impact on the courtyard and may have left archeological deposits. Table 1 lists events in the history of the Patent Office Building (primarily drawn from the historic structure report) and the likely archeological deposits that may have resulted.