Whereas: Stories from the People’s House

South from the Capitol

The same year America celebrated its 100th birthday, a photographer perched on the Capitol’s eastern pediment to photograph the view. The resulting stereoview, an early 3-D photograph sold as a souvenir, captures Washington in 1876, looking southeast across the House portico to the swiftly changing neighborhood. The newly enlarged grounds wiped away entire blocks of old wooden houses and their residents. Across B Street, old structures shared the block with new buildings. Horse-drawn streetcars and freshly sawn wooden sidewalks made the neighborhood more tidy. Looming over all was the Capitol itself, taking up more space and defining the city. A closer look at contemporaneous images in the House Collection shows just how fast the area changed.

Looking South from the Capitol Steroview/tiles/non-collection/7/7-21_sefromthecapitol_1_2016_056_000-003.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object

Zoom in on some of this stereoview’s landmarks and compare them with other close-up photographs, below.

Carriage Entrance

Detail View of the Carriage Entrance/tiles/non-collection/7/7-21_sefromthecapitol_2_2016_056_000-003_and_2019_107_000_carriageentrance.xml Left: Detail of stereoview, with the carriage entrance circled, from the Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives, About this object
Right: Another view of the carriage entrance from the Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
The House’s covered entrance is visible in the lower right part of the stereoview, a carriage just about to pull into it. Several more carriages wait for customers on the sunny plaza. The transient population of Members of Congress, diplomats, and lobbyists hired carriages to travel the long, rutted road uphill to the Capitol. When Frederick Law Olmsted’s landscaping plan widened the grounds in the 1870s, cab, or “hack,” drivers turned the plaza into a taxi stand. Washington’s horse-drawn hacks were notoriously antiquated. “You wonder,” one visitor riding in a particularly old carriage wrote, “why they do not take it out of service and put it in the museum.” It was not for lack of trying on the government’s part. By 1853, city regulations for hacks ran to six densely typed pages, covering everything from driving age (at least 16 years old) to how far from steamboat wharves they must park (10 feet).

Congressional Hotel on the Corner

Detail View of the Congressional Hotel/tiles/non-collection/7/7-21_sefromthecapitol_3_2016_056_000-003_and_lc_congressionalhotel.xml Left: Detail of stereoview, with the Congressional Hotel circled, from the Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives, About this object
Right: Another view of the Congressional Hotel, courtesy of the Library of Congress
Just across the street from the Capitol, William Sanderson’s Congressional Hotel sits on the corner of New Jersey Avenue and B Street, where the horse-drawn streetcars crested Capitol Hill. When this stereoview was made in 1876, no fewer than six Members of Congress lived there, attracted by its convenience. With the demolition of many old boarding houses and hostelries to make way for the expanded Capitol grounds, new hotels were more crowded than ever with politicians swapping stories and making deals. The proprietor sometimes made the Congressional notorious around town. In March 1877 Sanderson’s dispute with an unhappy guest led to the thrilling newspaper headline “One-Armed Ex-Senator’s Bout with Hotel Keeper” and a breathless account of Arkansas Senator Powell Clayton vaulting over the hotel bar to attack Sanderson with a whisky bottle.

William H. Coyle on B Street SE

Detail View of William Coyle's House/tiles/non-collection/7/7-21_sefromthecapitol_4_2016_056_000-003_and_lc_coylehouse.xml Left: Detail of stereoview, with William Coyle’s house circled, from the Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives, About this object
Right: Another view of William Coyle’s house, courtesy of the Library of Congress
A few doors down from the Congressional Hotel, old-timer William Coyle lived at 27 B Street, the same block he grew up on, watching the forces of change on Capitol Hill. Coyle was a lawyer and locally well-known scholar. To make way for a grand new landscaping plan, Congress razed the houses across his street in the early 1870s. After several noisy, dusty years of earth moving, Frederick Law Olmsted’s graceful oval drives were complete and trees were beginning to grow along the drives. After Coyle’s death in 1879, his family took in boarders, a custom in some homes since Congress first came to Washington in 1800.

Providence Hospital

Detail View of Providence Hospital/tiles/non-collection/7/7-21_sefromthecapitol_5_2016_056_000-003_and_lc_providencehospital.xml Left: Detail of stereoview, with Providence Hospital circled, from the Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives, About this object
Right: Another view of Providence Hospital, courtesy of the Library of Congress
In the distance, the new Providence Hospital building towers over the private homes and boarding houses of Capitol Hill. It was a giant leap forward from the tents that Providence used during the Civil War, when hundreds of wounded soldiers overwhelmed its modest building and gave the site its wartime nickname, “Bloody Hill.” Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania championed congressional appropriations for the grand new edifice, which opened in 1872 after six years of construction. It fronted a park where so many patients took the air that it became known as Providence Hospital Square. When this stereoview was made, Providence was just beginning decades at the forefront of surgical training and social work, thanks to its gifted superintendent Sister Beatrice Duffy.

Fourth Street Methodist Church

Detail View of Fourth Street Methodist Church/tiles/non-collection/7/7-21_sefromthecapitol_6_2016_056_000-003_and_lc_firstmethodistchurch.xml Left: Detail of stereoview, with Fourth Street Methodist Church circled, from the Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives, About this object
Right: Another view of Fourth Street Methodist Church, courtesy of the Library of Congress
Beyond Providence Hospital is one of many churches that dotted Washington after the Civil War. Fourth Street Methodist Church traced its beginnings to the dawn of the capital city. The congregation met in several locations before building this imposing Romanesque church just in time to see it temporarily commandeered as a hospital at the start of the Civil War. A member of the church recounted that one dying soldier announced before he expired that he was “answering the roll-call in heaven.”

Anacostia River

Detail View of the Anacostia River/tiles/non-collection/7/7-21_sefromthecapitol_7_2016_056_000-003_and_lc_anacostiariver.xml Left: Detail of stereoview, with the Anacostia River circled, from the Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives, About this object
Right: Another view of the Anacostia River, courtesy of the Library of Congress
Flowing from left to right across the floodplain, the thin ribbon of the Anacostia River wends its way to the Potomac. The Anacostia’s nearer bank housed the Navy Yard and Washington Arsenal during the Civil War, as well as ferry ports. Bridges connected Capitol Hill to the Anacostia hills on the far bank, but silt meant the slow, shallow waters would never become a major port. The river and its low-lying marshes were part of the southern view from the Capitol, and from high atop the portico, it looked more sparkling than sluggish. A century and a half later, change again placed new buildings in the Capitol’s viewshed, but this time they were high-rises along a revived Anacostia waterfront in the 21st century.

For other views of Washington, check out East from the Capitol and West from the Capitol.

Sources: Daily Graphic (New York, NY), 4 May 1876; Evening Star (Washington, DC), 18 June 1856, 23 December 1876, 28 March 1877; Susan H. Myers, “Capitol Hill, 1870-1900: The People and Their Homes,” Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Vol. 49 (Washington, D.C., 1973/1974); Philip A. Caulfield, “History of Providence Hospital, 1861-1961,” Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Vol. 60 (Washington, DC: 1960/1962); Michael Bednar, L’Enfant’s Legacy: Public Open Spaces in Washington, D.C. (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006); Samuel Cooper, Washington Directory (Washington, DC: William Duncan, 1822); John DeFerrari, Capital Streetcars: Early Mass Transit in Washington, D.C. (Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2015); Douglas E. Evelyn and Paul A. Dickson, On this Spot: Pinpointing the Past in Washington, D.C. (Washington: National Geographic Society, 1999); William Martain Ferguson, Methodism In Washington, District of Columbia: Being an Account of the Rise And Early Progress of Methodism In That City, And a Succinct History of the Fourth-street Methodist Episcopal Church (Baltimore: The Methodist Episcopal Book Depository, 1892); Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner, The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today (Hartford: American Publishing Company, 1884).

Categories: Capitol Campus, Artifacts