Black Home Owners of 1940: College Educated Women part 2

Please see Part 1 to read about 2 of the 5 women listed as college educated homeowners in Truxton Circle.

So in this post I’m going to try to find the story behind the remaining women; Miss. Eliza Matthews (60) of 1239 New Jersey Ave NW; Mrs. Blanch Lewis (60) of 1225 New Jersey Ave NW; and Mrs. Lucille Powell (46) of 69 Hanover Place NW.

Ms. Matthews bought 1239 NJ Ave NW in 1922 for what appears to be $9,000. I’ll have to admit, I’m not 100% sure about the various documents I’m looking at, but it looks as if this single black woman was able to get a loan to buy this house at 7% APR. And I can’t tell if she refinanced or got a second mortgage in 1932 from the Washington Loan and Trust Company (Riggs Bank?) for $4,000. In the Census record her name appears to be Elira Matthews, who at the time was living with her ‘sister’, also aged 60, Josephine Butts. Sometime around 1948 Ms. Matthews died and in a will Josephine E. Saunders (nee Thomas) became the owner of the property. Is this Josephine a different Josephine? Curious.

 

Blanch Lewis, or Blanche I. Lewis was listed as the owner in the 1940 Census, but when looking at other records it doesn’t look as if she really owned the place. In 1937 Edward Wellington Lewis buys 1225 NJ Ave NW from Czech or Serbian couple Ivan and Dorothy Mikalaski. Looking back at other earlier census records for a Blanche Lewis, I found her living in 1910 with her father Edward W. Lewis Sr. and sister Harriet. In 1940 she is still with her 55 year old sister Harriet who was working as a teacher. I’m guessing the Edward W. Lewis who really owned 1225 was a brother, as her father would have been extraordinarily old by 1937. To purchase the property, the loan Edward takes out with the Washington Loan and Trust Company is for $2,500. By 1954 EW Lewis is dead. His siblings William and Harriet E. Lewis are his only surviving relatives mentioned in the land records. It is possible Blanche was a widow and either married another Lewis or changed her surname back, but I think the Lewis sisters were probably spinsters.

Lastly, Mrs. Lucille Powell. I couldn’t find 69 Hanover on a map. I looked at the census page again. The last name isn’t clear, and page seems to be a mix of streets. The last two pages of this enumeration district appears to be a hodgepodge of different addresses. I decided to search for her by name, not location and found a record of a Lucille B. Powell, widow of James C. Powell on Square 617, lot 141 (71 N St NW) from 1944. Looking in a city directory for 1939, a Lucille Powell lived at 69 N Street NW.  Samuel M Powell lived at 71 N Street. Close enough. Regarding the property records, let’s just say it becomes confusing because it appears someone wanted to leave their property to 4+ family members and it just looks like a nightmare to figure out. Those family members include Mary B. Rhambeau (nee Powell), Gladys Powell Reid, Samuel M. Powell, Clara Willis (nee Reid), Miriam Reid Felder, and Lillian B. Branch. I quit. If I wanted to look up the history of a complicated family, I’d do my own.

Black Home Owners of 1940: College Educated Women, part 1

Here’s all 5 of them from the 1940 Census: Mrs. Bertha M. Clark (53) of 35 Q St NW; Mrs. Clementine Plummer (50) of 1500 1st St NW; DC Native Miss. Eliza Matthews (60) of 1239 New Jersey Ave NW; another DC native, Mrs. Blanch Lewis (60) of 1225 New Jersey Ave NW; and Mrs. Lucille Powell (46) of 69 Hanover Place NW. According to the census, these women had 4 or 5 years of college education. Lewis and Plummer were listed as married, and considering my experience with Annie Newsome, I’d have to investigate that to believe it true. Clark and Powell were widows and the only two of the 5, who were listed as employed. Mrs. Clark was a teacher and Mrs. Powell a government clerk.

All of these women were born after the Civil War, so it is fair to assume they were either educated at a Black college or a Northern college that allowed African American students. There is a chance that the two DC natives, Mrs. Lewis and Miss. Matthews attended Howard, or another local college, but not knowing their occupations, I have no idea where to start or look, and with Lewis there is that name change problem with married women.

Starting with Mrs. Bertha Clark, who was married to Ray A. Clark, bought the house together in 1922 for $2,800. The Clarks may have owned other properties in DC, as Mr. Clark was a real Estate businessman, but I’m just going to focus on their life in Truxton Circle, or as known at the time Census tract 46. Ray A. Clark died October 28, 1933, so he shows up in the 1930 census, but is gone by 1940. Like the McKinney’s the Clarks are a dual income (no kids as far as I can tell) household, as Mrs. Clark worked as a teacher. It appears she sells the house in 1947. So like Mrs. McKinney, I should add Mrs. Clark to the list of inquiries for the Charles Sumner School Archive.

Clementine Kay Plummer bought  1500 1st St NW (Sq.554, lot 175) in March 1940 for $2,500. Her marital status is not mentioned, but she is clearly acting as a single entity in the purchase. Her estate sold her house in 1964. Apparently she was declared incompetent by the US District Court for the District of Columbia. Mental Health No. 361-64 if anyone wants to look that up. I’d guess she was suffering from dementia, if you consider her age. These things happen.

Ms. Plummer has a doppleganger, maybe, an African American woman also named Clementine Kay Plummer, also from North Carolina. I cannot tell if these are the same or different women. The Truxton Plummer (age unknown) lived at 130 Thomas Street NW , in Bloomingdale, in 1930 with Marie (20), Owen (14) and John (8) Plummer, as renters from a school nurse named Martella York, who owned that home. When Truxton Plumber is on 1st St, she is just living with her son, John, aged 17, which is just about right. Also in 1930 there is record of a Clementine K. Plummer a 39 year old woman living with her husband Dr. John L. Plummer (49), and children Marie K. (21) an office clerk, Owen Y. (15), and John L.  (7) in Raleigh, NC. That’s….. way too much of a coincidence. The widow of John Owen Plummer Sr., Clementine Kay Plummer of Raleigh, NC died September 3, 1969 in Enfield County, NC of what looks like senility? The cause of death is handwritten on her death certificate, so I can’t really tell. That and the DC court finding Mrs. Plummer incompetent in 1964, makes me think, same person. Her date of birth was 2/21/1885, about five years off the reported age of 1940 Truxton Clementine Kay Plummer.

I mentioned this to my spouse, the Help (aka Weedwackerman) who is also in the history field. It brings into question the accuracy of the US Census and the necessity there is to use more than one source. There is probably more to the story of Clementine Kay Plummer, and should I ever decide to dive into the court records, maybe I’ll look that up.

I’ll explore the lives of the other ladies in a later post.

 

Black Home Owners of 1940: Annie Newsome

In my last post I started with Annie Newsome and could not find much on her so I moved on to Dr. Arthur McKinney.  There was another resource I could have tapped, but didn’t think it would have anything for me, the Recorder of Deeds. Because the Northwest Cooperative sits on the square where Ms. Newsome’s house sat, I was unsure the city would have those records. Well lo and behold, once I figured out the lot number, it was easy to find the Newsome house records.

In the 1940 census Ms. Newsome claimed to be a widowed woman of 53. Prior to that, in the 1930 census she claimed to be a married woman, who had been married for 24 years. Well according to the image below, she may have lied about that.

First page of deed transferring property to Annie Newsome, a Black woman

She bought the house as an unmarried woman in April 1925, from widow Francesca Garaci. So 5 years later for the 1930 census she’s been “married” for 25 years. I believed that she lied to the census taker, as she had two married families living in her home as lodgers, and probably did not want to lose respect in their eyes.

She also probably lied about her age. In the 1940 census she was 53 years old. In 1930, she reported being 47 years old. I’m not particularly good at math, but if she was correct in 1930, she should have been 57 years old, not 53. If she was telling the truth in 1940, then she should have been 43 in 1930.

Big deal you might say. Well, when trying to find someone in the records, the misinformation of birthyear and marital status can send a person barking up the wrong tree. Women, and I write this as a woman, can be difficult, especially when we move around, change our name because of marriage or divorce or remarriage, and lie about our ages. I’ve changed my name, moved around and got married. I’m vague about my age now. Enough about me, back to Ms. Newsome.

Annie Newsome, owned the house at 1616 First Street NW from 1925 to about 1943 when she sold it to the Embassy Dairy. Embassy Dairy was her “neighbor” of sorts on 1st St NW and it appeared they were expanding. From 1943 to 1950 Embassy Dairy Inc bought out her neighbors. That same year, Ms. Newsome’s next door neighbor Ophelia Hurd at 1618 1st St NW, sold her home to the dairy. She was listed as a widowed woman in both the 1930 and 1940 census. She probably bought her home prior to 1921, which is how far back the Recorder of Deeds resource goes.

Black Home Owners of 1940: Dr. Arthur B. McKinney

So I started looking for a woman. But the problem with women is that we sometimes change our last name and lie about our ages. Mrs. Annie Newsome (or Annie Newsone in the 1940 census) was listed as the head of household and married. She appears in the 1930 census with a different possible birthyear. So I gave up on her and decided to look at a professional man who might have more information about him.

Dr. Arthur B. McKinney abducted from Freedmen's HospitalDr. Arthur B. McKinney abducted from Freedmen’s Hospital Sat, May 15, 1926 – Page 2 · The Pittsburgh Courier (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.comSo I chose Dr. Arthur B. McKinney of 1519 1st St NW from the 1940 census. From the little clip above, Dr. McKinney was involved in some odd little caper in 1926 where his brothers abducted him from Freedmen’s Hospital and took him to his mother’s house at 1515 1st St NW. A Della A. McKinney, widow, is listed as a home owner in the 1930 census at that address.

Doing a quick search for Dr. McKinney, he sort of disappears towards the mid 20th Century. I found a 1942 draft card, when he was 52 years old, listing his wife Ethel T. McKinney, who in the census as a secretary. Dual income family! The last record is from a 1948 city directory listing he and his wife at 1519 First Street NW. By the 1954 city directory, Dr. McKinney is gone and only Mrs. Ethel T. McKinney remains, and her job description changed from secretary to Administrative Assistant for the District Board of Education. This is where I would call up the Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives, for more information, but I don’t feel like it.

The newspaper article from the Pittsburgh Courier is, int-ter-rest-ing. Not really sure what the heck that’s all about. I have told many to put me in an Uber if we can avoid sending me to Howard University Hospital, the former Freedmen’s Hospital from which Dr. McKinney was spirited away from by his brothers. So I understand hiring a private eye and concocting some cockamamie scheme to unofficially discharge from the hospital.

Redlining, African American Home ownership and the TC

Distribution of Negro Population by Census, 1930If anyone can find or recreate the Washington DC redline map, that would be helpful, because no one seems to have it. There is a project to map restrictive racial covenants, but those seem to be a small amount of DC housing, rather than the majority. The image here is the distribution of African Americans or Negroes, in DC in 1930, so probably close enough to a redline map.

Considering the map, Truxton Circle or as it was known then, Census tract 46, was more than half AfAm. If it wasn’t a redlined area, it may have been yellow, “Definitely Declining.” The area that became Shaw, ranged from 35% to over 75% black, which may have been too many black people for the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) map makers.

Using data from my TruxtonCircle.org project, I just took a look at the 1930 and 1940 census data*. In 1930, of the heads of households, there were 1109 renters in the TC and 310 home owners. Of those who owned 237 were black. In 1940, there were 1442 renters, 269 home owners, and of those owners, 218 were black. So most people in the TC were renters and African American home owners were a majority of a minority of people.

So who were these Negro home owners? A lot were a variety of government workers (federal and DC schools), service workers (chauffeurs, Pullman workers, waiters) and professionals (doctors, ministers, lawyers) . I’d say the black middle class and prudent working class folks. The same people who’d engage in black flight in the 1970s and 1980s.

 

*I’m still cleaning up the data.

RIP – Milk Bottle Change Jar

This morning I heard the distinct sound of glass breaking. Not wanting to wake the Babyman, I waited till coming downstairs to ask the Help (my spouse) what was it. Apparently he had grabbed a book that shared space with the change jar and the other books shifted, sending the antique milk bottle to its shattered end on the floor.

Milk bottleThis milk was special, Truxton Circle special. Once upon a time in the early and mid 20th century, there was a the Fairfax Farms Dairy at 1620 First Street NW, where the Northwest Co-Op currently sits. That was a light industrial block with warehouses and of course the “dairy”. There were no cows to my knowledge ever on the property. Eventually fresh milk delivered to your door in these lovely glass bottles was no longer a thing, and so businesses like the dairy went away.

It was a nice reminder of the changes the neighborhood went through, that once there was an industrial section in the neighborhood. Dismiss those fantasies that residential areas were always residential areas.

We probably won’t get another antique 1620 1st St NW bottle. The Babyman would probably destroy it as he gets more mobile. We’ll just replace it with a cheap mason jar.

No need for developer hate- who built your house?

So I was reading, okay skimming, through a lot of web posts and articles about housing and there was a fair amount of hate on developers, real estate developers. Apparently all developers care about is money. Okay, but didn’t a developer build your house? Your apartment?

So the newly historic landmarked Wardman Flats were built by a real estate developer Harry Wardman, which is why it is landmarked… Okay it was landmarked because a present day developer threatened the turret at 319 R Street and landmarking is a hammer people can use. Wardman did not build the houses on Square 519 (btwn 3rd, 4th, Florida, and R Streets NW) for charity. He was a builder, that’s how he made money. He built a lot in DC, mainly, for the money.

Bates St Turn of the century A few years  before Wardman built in Truxton Circle and a few blocks over the Washington Sanitary Improvement Company (WSIC) built flats between North Cap, Q, P, and 3rd Streets NW.  Paul Williams has a wonderful blog post about WSIC, so there is no need for me to rehash that history. WSIC wasn’t completely all about the money, more about ‘business philanthropy’. I’m not completely sure, but my reading is that this type of project was to provide dividends to stockholders. So doing good and making money?

My own house is over 140 years old and as far as I can tell, was built by a guy who rented to poor black labors. Can’t find anything that shows he built my house for anything other than the money.

There is no public housing in Truxton Circle. There is HUD subsidized housing, but no public housing. But even city supported or federally subsidized housing involve developers as well. I don’t have any good history about that so, this is where I’ll end this post.

Character of a neighborhood: People not buildings

Recently a co-worker of mine retired. At his retirement party a few other retirees I knew showed up and I remembered what the place was like when they still worked there, and how the place will change when my co-worker becomes another retiree. The building where we work has, for the most part, despite several renovations since it was built in the early 20th Century, remained unchanged. But the workplace keeps changing, with each new person, with each retirement, departure, and in some cases, death.

The neighborhood is the same way. The spirit of my block changed with the crowd who showed up in the 00s and eventually departed in the early teens. The buildings has relatively remained unchanged. There has been some infill here, a pop up or pop back there, but for the most part the buildings have not changed much over the years. But the block has changed, and will continue to do so long after I’ve moved on*.

If there was to be another possible historic landmarking or whatever in Truxton Circle I would predict it would happen with the Bates Street houses. I’d hope not, but there is a history there, and with a few exceptions the overall style on the unit to the 200 blocks of Bates have been unchanged.Bates circa 1907

However the character of Bates Street has changed, and continues to change. It’s not the same street when the developer, the Washington Sanitary Improvement Company built them in the 1900s. It was purposefully segregated and all rentals. By the 1940s it there were a few Black households on Bates, and one of the few places with Whites in Truxton Circle. By the 1960s the blocks were oBates Street 1968-1972n the government’s radar for urban renewal because it was run down. Most of the families (according to a report about Bates of the time) could only afford public housing, if they were to be relocated. However the urban renewal and the large scale demolition of neighborhoods was challenged. Instead the some of the Bates St buildings were rehabilitated, but the neighborhood was still struggling. When I showed up in the early 21st Century there were many Section 8 houses, or houses that neighbors strongly suspected were Section 8, because the families’ crises kept playing out on the streets. A lot of those people are gone, but the buildings, for the most part, remain the same, all without the Historic Preservation Review Board.

Being a person who participates in communal worship, I have heard on more than one occasion, a church is the congregation/ people, not the building. Likewise, the character of the neighborhood is the people, not the buildings. Bates Street has been a White enclave, a poor Black street and now a mixed income, mixed race neighborhood.  In twenty years, it might be something else, and no building preservation will prevent it.

 

 

*There is no way I’m retiring here. The stairs in my house are murder on my knees.

Langston: A failure of DC government

I’m cross posting this with DC Vacant Properties.
100_0400.JPG
There is no point to using an updated photograph of the Langston School. It was rotting away 10 years ago when the picture was taken in 2007, it is still rotting away now and the way things are going, it may be another 10 years before the city actually brings this property back to the land of the living and legit.

This property is a vacant school in the DC government inventory. It was a school from 1902 til the mid-1990s. In 1997 it was a homeless shelter. By the time I moved here in the 00s, it was a vacant husk and only a homeless shelter when the homeless and others broke in. In 2013 it got on the National Register for Historic Places, so there is that. Around 2012 Langston was offered to charters, who have 1st dibs, and nobody wanted it. No charter wants it because it is an unmaintained structure with a rotted roof that is in need of a serious rehab work. Even Mundo Verde Charter School, across the street, which took over the still functioning Cook School building and built an addition, hasn’t seriously pursued it. Langston is too far gone as a building to be of any use to a school.

Another complication is in the Slater School, another building that shares a playground with Langston. It is A.R.E. ARE is a social service organization and a daycare and it looks like they are also getting in on the Pre-K thing too. Slater is a poorly maintained building, but the tenant ARE holds on tight to its location. I strongly suspect ARE has powerful friends that are protecting ARE to the detriment of the Langston building. I suspect this because for at least a decade now, when residents bring up the nuisance property that is Langston to city councilmen or the council staff or city staff who show up to the local meetings, they seem to have no idea it exists and fail to get back to residents with a satisfactory answer.

The civic association for the area BACA, has recently formed a committee to try to figure out what could be done with Langston.

This is DC Government property. It is the Government of the District of Columbia’s responsibility. Any demolition by neglect would be purely the fault of the local government. The DC government has failed the residents of the unit blocks of P and Bates.  But then again, the DC government is a crappy property manager.

Previous blog post about Langston- http://dcvacantproperties.blogspot.com/2014/07/langston-school-vacant-forever.html

Langston School Registration form- https://www.nps.gov/nr/feature/places/pdfs/13000143.pdf

Ward 5 Councilman Kenyon McDuffie- http://dccouncil.us/council/kenyan-mcduffie and http://www.kenyanmcduffie.com/

319 R Street NW- a sign

319 R St NW, 20001So what’s new? A sign.

I attended the Bates Area Civic Association (BACA) meeting on Monday and a neighbor from that block said she spoke with the owner/developer. That person informed her that they would be keeping the place a single family home. Even though they purchased the property back in June 2015 for $750K, they could break even, or profit, by giving it a super interior renovation and exterior restoration.

For those of you just joining us in this story, here’s the quick summary. Back in the 00s a Korean church bought the property to do inner city mission work. Then they sold it to a developer, who then proposed to knock off the turret and build a 3rd story in order to make a 2 unit condo. They hinted that if they were not allowed to do so they would demolish the whole building, as a matter of right. They played chicken, and lost. A hundred years prior, developer Harry Wardman built almost all the buildings on the block 319 R sat on, and this was the reasoning that was used to make the whole square a National Historic Landmark. The landmark status prevented the developers from making any exterior changes. This probably could have been prevented if the turret was respected or if the architects who drew the second proposed drawing incorporated the turret, instead of plopping on a dunce hat on the proposed 3rd floor. It had been done before around the corner on 4th St where a 3rd floor was added and the problem didn’t go past BZA.

Considering Harry Wardman built all those townhouses as 2 story flats, I don’t see why it cannot become a 2 unit building. The building has a tad over 2,000 square feet, so dividing it into half wouldn’t create two too tiny units. But there are costs to dividing up a single unit structure (character preservation vs affordable housing, ‘nother topic for another day) and it appears a nicely (not impressive but nice) renovated corner house like 319 R St NW would sell for 1.something million dollars. One point four if I were a betting woman. The house across the street for $1.25 mil is under contract, and 319 conceivably has 1 parking pad and those are worth gold!

So we’ll see what happens and keep an eye on it.