Lincoln Discussion Symposium
541 H Street - Printable Version

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541 H Street - J Hewitt - 03-19-2014 09:06 AM

If I'm not mistaken, after Mary Surratt's arrest, her daughter Anna did not stay at the house. Yet when I watched "The Conspirator", Fred Aiken appears there at least twice with Anna living there. Am I correct in saying she did not live there after her mother's arrest?

Also why and when did they re-number the street addresses in DC?

RE: 541 H Street - BettyO - 03-19-2014 09:37 AM

According to the Providence (RI) Evening News, dated October 12, 1865,
there was to be an impending auction at the boarding house. Anna Surratt was still resident there.


I have another article which details the boarding house auction. I'm looking for that now. Joan Chaconas (Laurie's resident DC Expert) would know when the house number of 541 was changed to 604.

RE: 541 H Street - J Hewitt - 03-19-2014 09:49 AM


Thanks Betty, very interesting article!

RE: 541 H Street - BettyO - 03-19-2014 10:09 AM

Here is the article from the Washington Evening Star dated October 27, 1865 (apparently Anna wasn't living there long after the article on the 12th of October was written) regarding the sale of artifacts from the old boarding house:


Also found this article regarding the alleged "haunting" of the boarding house from the Macon Weekly Telegraph dated December 24, 1866.


RE: 541 H Street - J Hewitt - 03-19-2014 10:14 AM

Very cool. Thanks Betty! Sounds like it was a dump even by 1865 standards.

RE: 541 H Street - Gene C - 03-19-2014 10:18 AM

I would imagine that Anna would try to keep the nicer items, even if she had to store it somewhere.
She did have a few friends that felt sorry for her and helped her out. I can't remember who they were.

RE: 541 H Street - Jill Mitchell - 03-19-2014 10:42 AM

Joan Chaconas answered the question of when the street number of the Surratt Boardinghouse was changed in an interesting article in The Surratt Courier, Volume XXXVI, Number 6 (June 2012), pp. 7-9.

541 OR 604 H STREET???

Joan L. Chaconas

We have been asked on occasion why Mrs. Surratt’s H Street home is now numbered 604 H when it was 541 H when she lived there in 1865. Was the house moved at some point? We try to answer all questions put to us, so here is the proper response.

The Civil War and mismanagement left the city of Washington in a deteriorating condition. In fact, there was some talk of relocating the seat of the federal government elsewhere—a move which would have been disastrous for Washington City.

At this point, Alexander Robey Shepherd entered the picture. A powerful Republican and a member of the Washington City Council, “Boss” Shepherd lobbied to do away with the office of mayor and replace it with a unified territorial government that would be the administrative entity.

In 1871, a bill was passed that established the said territorial government, and Shepherd was appointed vice chair of the Board of Public Works. In 1873, President Grant appointed Shepherd “”Governor!” Shepherd used his position and influence to authorize large-scale changes to the city.

The Tiber Creek that ran through the city was filled in; about 157 miles of new roads and sidewalks were placed; 123 miles of new sewers and 39 miles of gas mains and over 30 miles of water mains were added to the city. Buildings were torn down (sometimes without alerting the owner), streets were raised and lowered (which caused some owners to find their homes at a different level with the street than they had been earlier). And during this time, the addresses of buildings were adjusted. Some buildings had not even had a numbered address. The plan was to make the numbering more uniform.

Using the Capitol building at the geographic center of the city, Washington is divided into four squares. If one draws lines north to south and east to west through the Capitol, you have assigned four quadrants to the city—NE, NW, SE and SW. The lines are defined at North Capitol Street, South Capitol Street, and East Capitol Street. There is no West Capitol Street because the U.S. Mall forms the imaginary westward line.

In each quadrant, the names of the streets are duplicated. Ones running north and south are numbers, while those running east and west are letters of the alphabet—excluding J, X, Y and Z. By adding NE, NW, SE or SW to the number, it becomes easier to locate an address. Buildings on streets and avenues are numbered one hundred to a block. The numbers on east-west (lettered) streets begin with North Capitol or South Capitol Streets as their base line. The numbers on north-south (numbered) streets begin with East Capitol Street and the imaginary line running through the Mall. Thus, when restructured in the last-half of the nineteenth century, the first block of H Street, NW, started/starts with 100/101, which changed Mrs. Surratt’s address from 541 H Street, NW, to 604 H Street NW.

Using North-South-East Capitol Streets as the center point, the improved numbering system made it easier to find the exact location of a building and in what direction it was—as long as one used the NE, NW, SE, SW designation.

This makes 604 H Street, NW six blocks north of the imaginary Mall line and eight blocks west of North Capitol Street. Ford’s Theatre is at 511 10th Street, so it is five blocks north of the Mall line and ten blocks west of North Capitol Street. Odd numbers are on the north and east sides of the streets, and even numbers are on the south and west sides.

The changes and improvements made by Shepherd are still in effect today.

RE: 541 H Street - J Hewitt - 03-19-2014 10:55 AM

Thank-you Jill ! That was quite informative, yet mind boggling.

RE: 541 H Street - Susan Higginbotham - 03-19-2014 11:34 AM

When I was at the Hall research center a couple of weeks ago, Sandra kindly found me a Washington grocer's bill relating to the H Street house showing that Anna bought ham and cheese on October 20, 1865.

At a congressional hearing in June 1867 relating to Johnson's impeachment, Anna said that the Holohans had stayed at the house with her after her mother's execution and had helped her clean it up. She said that she stayed there until the fall (see page 778; the link goes to the wrong page):

RE: 541 H Street - J Hewitt - 03-19-2014 11:46 AM

Very interesting Boswell. In the 1890's picture of the house does anyone know who that is sitting by the dormer with a window open? He appears to be smoking a pipe.

RE: 541 H Street - L Verge - 03-19-2014 12:58 PM

There are several versions of where Anna resided immediately after her mother's execution. There is a report that she returned to the boardinghouse that night only to be greeted by curiosity seekers who were trying to get into the home to get souvenirs. Realizing that she would be constantly pestered if she remained in the city, she went into seclusion with her uncle and grandmother near Surrattsville and also with school friends in Baltimore. This was verified to me years ago by her grand niece.

There is also a story that the Brophy family took her in for awhile. I am not quite sure of the accuracy of this. However, the Holohans did return to the residence later to help Anna get things in order.

Actually, there were so many financial problems and bills that could not be paid that equity proceedings were first filed by one creditor within four months of the execution. The sale of the house to John C. McKelden occurred at auction on June 26, 1866, and was ratified by the D.C. Supreme Court on November 13, 1867. It took that long for all the creditors to be satisfied (and some never received their payments because they were owed more than the sale of the house brought. Mr. Surratt had paid $4000 for it in 1853; it brought $4700 at auction).

It was not until March of 1869, that they lost the Surrattsville property. Anna married Dr. William Tonry the following June. And yes, she did save pieces of furniture that had belonged in the house.

I should add that the boardinghouse was in good shape and part of a very respectable neighborhood during the mid- to late-1800s when the Surratts owned it. They acquired it in 1853 and used it as a rental property until 1864. Its residents during that time were mainly employees of the nearby Patent Office. A music teacher also lived there for awhile. The area did not decline until the early-1900s when the poorer Chinese community was forced backwards away from Capitol Hill where they had first been. Today, the area is seeing a revival thanks to the Verizon Center.

RE: 541 H Street - BettyO - 03-19-2014 01:59 PM

Thanks for the verification, Laurie. The article on the sale makes it almost seem as if the address was a flop house!