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541 H Street
03-19-2014, 10:42 AM
Post: #7
RE: 541 H Street
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.

Jill Mitchell
Harpers Ferry, WV
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Messages In This Thread
541 H Street - J Hewitt - 03-19-2014, 09:06 AM
RE: 541 H Street - BettyO - 03-19-2014, 09:37 AM
RE: 541 H Street - J Hewitt - 03-19-2014, 09:49 AM
RE: 541 H Street - BettyO - 03-19-2014, 10:09 AM
RE: 541 H Street - J Hewitt - 03-19-2014, 10:14 AM
RE: 541 H Street - Gene C - 03-19-2014, 10:18 AM
RE: 541 H Street - Jill Mitchell - 03-19-2014 10:42 AM
RE: 541 H Street - J Hewitt - 03-19-2014, 10:55 AM
RE: 541 H Street - Susan Higginbotham - 03-19-2014, 11:34 AM
RE: 541 H Street - J Hewitt - 03-19-2014, 11:46 AM
RE: 541 H Street - L Verge - 03-19-2014, 12:58 PM
RE: 541 H Street - BettyO - 03-19-2014, 01:59 PM

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