Black Home Owners of Truxton Circle: Alexander H. Matthews – 1621 4th St NW

So this doesn’t have a lot of information and sort of like my last BHOoTC post, the land records confuse more than illuminate.

So in the 1920 census the African American home owner is listed as Alexander Mathews, a 60 year old messenger living with his wife and two female boarders. But the land records say his name was “Alexander H. Matthews.” That was helpful as the wrong name sent me barking up the wrong tree.

photo of property

Mr. Matthews was an old man. He was already a widower. An old widower, at the age of 57, when he married then 35 year old Maggie L. Simms in 1912. His late wife, Josephine, was alive for the 1910 census on 4th St. In 1900 the Matthews (Matheus) family lived at 125 L St NW when A.H. was a government laborer. There he lived with their son Charles, daughter in law Isabelle and grandson Joseph E. Matthews.

Since 1910 Alexander has had roomers. In 1910 he and Josephine were living with 25 year old Eliza P Fagins a US Treasury laborer and Nancy Barrs, a 49 year old cook. In 1920, Alexander and his new wife Maggie rented to children, 13 year old Frances Williams and 4 year old Lillian Loew. In 1930, they continued to house girls with Vinita Gray (11), Dorothy Dorsey (9), and Marion Wicks (4). In 1940 Maggie was listed as a widow and she housed many more girls. It appears Frances Williams from 1920 returned in 1940 as a 26 year old domestic. The girls living with Maggie were Vernelle Golson (15), Lovenia Chisolm (14), Lillian Devon (14), Rosella Chambers (14), and Nannie Lou Key (10).

Most of the time, I have no idea of what I’m looking at. My regular readers know, I’ll report what I see, even if I can’t really interpret what I see. My best guess is that the Matthews were foster parents. However, I’m not too sure if the foster system was really a thing then.
The online land records start around 1921. The first record for 1621 4th St NW is a 1922 release for a 1911 debt with the Washington Loan and Trust Company. Then the next document is a deed from July 1943 where Joseph E. and Charles W. and their wives Ella J. and Prossie Blue Matthews sell the property to Annie Newsome. That name is familiar. Oh. Her.

Black Home Owners of Truxton Circle: Lewis Griffin- 403 R St NW

Currently 403 R Street NW is occupied and not as it is pictured below. I add photos from DCRA (or whatever DC government agency has these) from 2004 so one has an idea of what the houses look like. Most of the time, the house has not changed much from 1920, the year of the census from which I pull the names of the Black home owner for this series. For a current view of the place look here.

In 1920 Lewis Griffin, a Black American dyer and cleaner, lived at 403 R St NW with his wife Maude, nephew Edward Brooks, and a married couple rooming with them.

Lewis Griffin was born July 9, 1884 in Orange county Virginia to John Griffin and Susan Rose. In 1910 he was living with relatives at 63 Pierce Street (NW?) working as a hotel worker. Also that year he married Maude Lightfoot May 25, 1910. The Griffins were living at 403 R St NW around WWI. Maude died June 6, 1926. Lewis Griffin died June 5, 1958.

Looking at the land records, not a lot happens between 1933 and 1954. But there is a whole lot a paper drama in the 21st century, which I won’t touch, but let’s just say family let it sit (and decay) for a long, long, long, long time.

Lewis Griffin had two daughters named in the land records. Frances G. Jones (1922-2004) and Dorothy Farr (?1926-2018?). According to an Ancestry family tree he had a son (John Griffin 1915-1973), but no proof he actually existed. I have come across various family trees that do not have siblings listed. The Social Security Death Index has Mrs. Jones dying in 2004, but her signature appears on a 2014 document selling the property to RDC Designs LLC. I’m not going to investigate if there was an error.

Black Home Owners of Truxton Circle: Ralph L Mckinney – 63 P St NW- A cul-de-sac not a dead end

In this post about a Black homeowner in Truxton Circle I encountered something I’ll call a family issue. I could not find Ralph L. McKinney’s name on 63 P St NW as lot 308 on Square 615. It appears that lot number is a modern one. I checked the Library of Congress map, showing 63 P St NW as lot 167, I found a McKinney, but not Ralph.

There is one record for 0615/0167 with a McKinney name and that is a deed from July 20, 1926 where Della A. and Samuel A. McKinney transfer the property to son in law Albert and daughter Estelle A. Fendall. Samuel A. and Della McKinney were the parents to Black Home Owner: Arthur B. McKinney as well as to Ralph L. McKinney…. Family issue.

photo of property

Samuel and Della had a lot of kids. In the 1900 census when Samuel was 48 and Della 49, they had seven children (adult and minor) living with them at 63 P St NW. They were: Lewis Bradner (b. 6/10/1879- d. October 1937); Stella (later Estella A. Fendall); James Emmett; Bessie (later Bessie T. Austin) ; Dr. Arthur Bancroft; Dr. Walter Victor; and Ralph Leon…..and then Frederick (only appearing once in 1910) making 8 children. In the 1880 census it appears they had a son Samuel Guildford who moved out before 1900.

I’ll explore Samuel and Della more in another post about another house they owned and lived in, next month.

While we’re looking at Ralph let me do a quick bio. Ralph Leon McKinney was born June 11, 1899 to Sam and Della in Washington, DC. He attended Howard University, but it doesn’t seem it helped him career-wise . He later worked as a messenger for the War Department in the 1920s. In 1930 he moved over to 1st St NW to live with his mother and siblings. In 1940 he was living near/in Columbia Heights as a lodger, with his sister Estella and brother in law, also lodgers. He died September 29, 1953 and is buried at Arlington Cemetery. It appears he never married.

I wonder why Estella and Albert Fendall were lodgers in the forties when they still owned 63 P St NW? The house would stay in the hands of a Fendell until the end of the 20th century. The Fendalls used the house as collateral, borrowing money, and paying it back. Estella died April 27, 1949, and Albert remarried. His new wife was Mildred Anne Hill. Albert died December 1956. Mildred died August 18, 1982 and her estate was handled by Mary B. Johnson. The property was condemned in February 1985. Mildred’s estate sold the property to the District of Columbia June 6, 1985. The condemnation was cancelled February 25, 1986. Huh. The DC Department of Housing and Community Development transferred this and other P St properties to North Capital Neighborhood Development, Inc.

So this wasn’t exactly a dead end. I was able to turn it around, so it is a cul-de-sac.

1957 Church Survey: Mt. Vernon Place Methodist- Rando Church Near Shaw

In 1957 there was as survey of churches in the Northwest Urban Renewal Area, which included Shaw, Downtown, and the area we’ll call Swampoodle.  To learn more about the 1957 Church Survey read my previous posts, The Uniqueness of the 1957 Church Survey and Church Survey Northwest Urban Renewal Area October 1957.

photo of property

The church we have here is Mt. Vernon Square Methodist located at 900 Massachusetts Ave NW. Like it’s building it was a big white church. It boasted of having 4,000 members in 1957 and they were white. Looking at their website, it looks like they are still majority white.

Looking at the 1957 demographics this was a middle to upper middle class church. Most of the people were white collar workers (71%), and most lived outside of the urban renewal area in other parts of Washington, DC (58%). There was also a chunk of membership who lived in the ‘burbs of MD and VA (32%). Financially, they looked pretty good with $6,000 in expenses and a $233,000 budget ($2.7 million in 2021 dollars).

CS-26-Mt Vernon Place Metho… by Mm Inshaw


Mulatto vs Black in the 1920 Census

As you may know I am working with the 1920 census looking at and for Black home owners in Truxton Circle. I have noticed in the 1920 census African Americans are not called African Americans, that is a more ‘recent’ term. In 1920, we were described as either Black or Mulatto.

I have seen in the census where some members of the family are described as Black and others as mulatto. This confused me, but I tended to dismiss it because those descriptions went away in the 1930 census and I clumped Black and mulatto into one group for my research.

So one day I asked an expert if there were any studies about what made someone mulatto vs Black. As an undergrad I studied the country that is modern day Haiti and the term mulatto has a definition as well as other like terms (quadroon) recognized in law and culture. Outside of Louisiana, it is meaningless in the US if not offensive to those who take offense.

The expert pointed me to the Instructions to Enumerators.My mind was blown because I was under the impression that people were self identifying as mulatto or Black for the census. I was wrong, it was the enumerator who determined if someone was Black or mulatto. It was the enumerator’s subjective opinion that Morgan H. Dawkins was Black but his wife was mulatto.

Above I have an image of a snippet from the enumerator’s instruction book. It reads:

121. For census purposes the term “black” (B) includes all Negroes  of full blood, while the term mulatto (Mu) includes all Negroes having some proportion of white blood.

I believe the African American is a unique person who is of America. Made in America with a percentage of non-African heritage reflecting the diversity of America. With a little bit of Native American here, a little bit of European there, and a whole lot of West African everywhere. So most everyone would be mulatto. I know what they meant….

This makes me wonder if I should take a closer look at census enumerators. Then I remember I have the rest of 1920 to do and then 1930.

Truxton Circle Doctor in Action- In 1922

When looking up information about Black Home Owners of Truxton Circle or any other historical thing, I sometimes come across something interesting.

In this case I was looking for more information about Dr. Arthur McKinney, because he had family members listed as home owners. And sometimes it is easier to find someone by looking at their relatives. While doing so I came across an Evening Star article, “Injured Boy is Refused Aid at Two Hospitals,” May 15, 1922 page 12.

The refusal of Sibley and Homeopathic hospitals to administer first aid treatment yesterday to a young colored boy who had been struck down by an automobile today is being Investigated by George S. Wilson, secretary of the Board of Charities.
Wilson said that while these hospitals were not under his supervision, either directly or indirectly, he felt It his duty to find out why they would not accept this emergency case.
“These hospitals are supported by private charities and the board has nothing to do with them.” said Wilson. “But I intend to call this case to the attention of the heads of the institutions. This boy should have been treated. Even if there was no room In the hospital for him lie should have been given first aid and then sent somewhere else.”
Condition Not Serious.
The boy, Leroy Randolph, colored, seven years old, is now at his home at 106 O street northwest. He Is being attended by Dr. Arthur B. McKinney, of 1515 First street north west.
“The boy’s condition does not appear to be serious, but he must be watched for several days,” said Dr. McKinney. “He is suffering from bruises on the head. In all cases of head injuries we must watch the patient closely to see that concussion of the brain does not set in.”
No Doctors at Either
The boy was struck down about 11:15 o’clock yesterday morning. He was In the street near First and O streets northwest when an automobile driven by Lorenzo Wilson, colored, of 1118 Eighteenth street north west, hit him.
F. Burnett Bloom, who was driving In the rear of Wilson, picked the boy up and took him to a nearby drugstore. The druggist said the boy’s head injuries might be serious and advised rushing him to the hospital.
Bloom took the boy to Sibley Hospital. He was told there, It is alleged, that there were no doctors available and the boy could not be treated. Bloom then rushed the boy to Homeopathic Hospital. Here he was told, he claims, no doctors were in the institution. It was suggested at Homeopathic that he take the boy to the home of a physician near by.
The boy was removed to the physician s house. The physician was not at home and Bloom came back to Homeopathic. Again the hospital, it is claimed, refused to give the boy treatment.
Failing to get aid from these institutions. Bloom took the boy to his home at 106 O street northwest. Dr. McKinney was called and treated the boy.

The hero of the story is F. Bloom.

I also appreciate the detailed information the Evening Star put in the paper. There are addresses and locations. We know where the victim lives, where the guy who hit the boy lives, and where Dr. McKinney lives. We know the boy was hit at 1st and O St NW.

I looked the boy up. In 1920 Leroy Burke Randolph (1914-1997) lived at 105 O St NW, with his mom and dad, sisters and brother and a boarder. His father Charles A. Randolph worked as a fireman for an office building. It appears the 106 O St NW address is a typo, as the only thing in that space in the 1920s was the side of Dunbar High School.

His rescuer F. Burnett Bloom appears to be Frank Bernett Bloom. He’s the only FB Bloom in the 1922 city directory, so he is more than likely our guy. According to the 1920 census Bloom was an auditor for the Treasury Dept (IRS) and lived at 915 26th Ave NW in Foggy Bottom. This may explain why he picked Sibley over nearby Freedmens/Howard University hospital. Frank Bloom was also white, another possible reason for the Sibley pick. In the 1930s and onward the Bloom family lived at 436 Randolph St NW in Petworth.

Lorenzo Wilson, the fellow who hit young Leroy Randolph, is difficult to find. I looked in the 1922 city directory and found a Louis D. Wilson, chauffeur  at 1118 18th St NW. He lived there with another chauffeur, Jas D. Wilson. There might have been more.

That’s it. That’s the story of a little boy, hit by a car and managed to live into his 80s.

Black Home Owners of Truxton Circle: William H Despert- 139 P St NW

Currently, this property (the red house on the right) has been carved into two condos. But in 1920 it was home to African American couple William and Emma Despert, and Emma’s son Herbert.

photo of property

I’m going to admit to being a judgy person. I like people to be simple and stay in stable traditional families so I can best track them. At one point it looks stable but then…. and I’m not happy.

In 1900 it appears William Henry Despert was living with his wife Bertha and 4 year old daughter Beatrice at 456 N St NW as renters. Mr. Despert was working as a huckster.  According to the census the Desperts were married for 5 years. That confirms the 1985 marriage between Bertie Irvin (Irving?) and William H. Despert (Desperate).

By the next census William is divorced from Bertha. He was in the beginning of his long career as a Pullman porter. He was shacking up at 307 Oakdale Place NW with Emma Green. I can’t find a record of their marriage, but by the 1920 census they are living as man and wife.

Being a Pullman porter was a pretty good job, but even food service workers could buy a Truxton home. It makes sense that by 1917/1918, William was a home owner of 139 P St NW. In 1920 Emma was Emma G. Despert. Emma Green had a son, Herbert who lived with them as William’s step-son.

In 1930, the Desperts were living with Emma’s mother, 69 year old widow Annie Green and 32 year old son. In 1910 Annie Green was a laundress living at 1721 5th St NW with her grandson Herbert Gray.  Could he be the same Herbert who changed from Gray to Green? Anyway, Herbert was working as a chauffeur in 1930.

The 1940 census is the last available census and when it is harder to trace the family. Amazingly, Annie Green was still alive, at the age of 84*, and still living on P St. William was still a porter. Herbert was unemployed.

The land records pick up and tell the rest of the story. Emma Green Despert died March 31, 1948. William was dead by 1959.

Before William passed away and after his Emma died, he added a woman named Beatrice E. Johnson to the property. Who the heck is Beatrice? At first I thought she could be William’s daughter from his first marriage. But the Beatrice Johnsons in DC around that time were a good 10-14 years younger than Beatrice Despert. And the records don’t state a relationship. Yeah.

In 1974 Ms. Johnson lost the property to George Basiliko (he’s like everywhere) in a trustees deed. In 1959 Johnson borrowed $6000 from trustees with the Perpetual Building Association. In April of 1974 there was a substitution of trustees from the Perpetual Building Association to the National Bank of Washington. Then in June of 1974, two months after the substitution, National Bank of Washington advertises the auctioning of 139 P St NW in the Washington Star newspaper. George Basiliko was awarded the property in a trustees deed for August 1974 and immediately sold it to Robin Enterprises Inc.

*Yes, I realize that she gained 3 extra years in age from one census to the next.

Black Home Owners of Truxton Circle: Nathaniel H Gibson- 131 P St NW

Okay. What is George Basiliko doing in this history? It doesn’t look like he bought this property but it got included in the the results for a search. I looked at the document and could not pin down how this lot got included in the batch of lots owned by Basiliko. There was a big handoff of property from Basiliko to the District of Columbia in the 1970s, but beyond this document, there is no evidence that Basiliko owned 131 P St NW.

photo of property

So who did own 131 P St NW in 1920? According to the census for that year, African American Nathaniel and Minnie Gibson.

Nathaniel Henry Gibson was born in April 1873/1875/1876 to Lottie Gibson in North Carolina. He had grey eyes. In 1892 he married Minnie R. Webster in Rockingham, NC. Like Nathaniel, she did not know her father.

According to the 1900 census, the Gibsons, Nathaniel, Minnie and 2 year old daughter Mabel lived in Elkhorn, WV. Nathaniel had a very West Virginia job, he was a coal miner.

By 1910 the Gibsons moved to Washington, DC. They lived at 1824 10th St NW. Nathaniel worked as a laborer for the US Senate. Minnie was a laundress.

Around 1918 they lived at 214 T St NW. Nathaniel was a Pullman porter.

Which then brings us to 1920, where the Gibsons lived with lodgers at 131 P St NW. However the lodgers had Minnie’s maiden surname. Unfortunately, I cannot find a link between the lodgers and Minnie. Nathaniel was still working as a porter, and Minnie was a maid. In the next census, Nathaniel was a janitor for the YMCA. Mabel had changed her surname to Sparks and was a public school teacher. The family had adopted a young woman from West Virginia, Minnie G. Ford, who was a 19 year old waitress in 1930. There was also a lodger living with the family, 40 year old waitress Agnes Boyd of New York.

In 1940 it was just the 3 main Gibsons living at 131 P St NW. Nathaniel was a taxi driver. Mabel was still a teacher and married. I don’t know when Minnie died, but it was in the 1940s. Nathaniel died in 1967. Mabel Sparks died February 1970.

So that’s the genealogical story. Let’s see what the Recorder of Deeds’ land records say… ignoring the Basiliko part. There wasn’t a lot of activity. The first document is a trust from July 1929, for $450.00 at 6% from trustees, Nathan and R. Levins. A release, proved they paid the 1929 loan in 1931. In a March 3, 1945 deed it mentioned Minnie was dead.

In 1945 there was one of those deals where the owners transfer the property to someone who in the next document on the books transfers it back to one of the owners. The purpose appears to change the name of or add owners. So they transferred it to Helen M. Kuykendall, who immediately transferred it back to Nathanial Gibson and daughter Mabel G. Sparks.

The property leaves family control when Lloyd G. Webb, the devisee under Mabel’s will, (and Llyod’s wife Hilda J.)  when he sells to the Potomac Building Corporation January 1973. Potomac Building Corporation flipped it to J. Gerald Lustine (1345 14th St NW– his Reality Office).

photo of property


Black Home Owners of Truxton Circle: Sarah Holmes- 1615 New Jersey Ave NW- Dead End

So the goal of this exercise is to look up Truxton Circle African American home owners in the 1920 census and find out as much as I can, and share it with you. In this post I hit a dead end, but I was sent on a chase and I’m going to share that with you too.

The Black American I was going to look up was Sarah Holmes of 1615 New Jersey Ave NW. She was a 49 year old widowed charwoman living with her 3 daughters, son-in-law and son. It was unclear if she owned or not in the census.


I looked up her surname for Sq. E0509. I came up with a couple of Holmes. Of the female names that popped up were Nancy G. and Gertrude E. I eliminated Nancy because those records were from 1959-1960. This left me with Gertrude E. Holmes who had early 1920s records.

At times I have discovered women will change up their first names. Like myself, they may drop their first name for their middle name. They may go from Katerine to Catherine and so forth. I was hoping this was the cases, nope.

Gertrude E. Holmes was a white woman from Michigan married to Patrick Holmes and they lived at 1016 Douglas St. in DC. She and her husband owned several lots, on R St NW. So that’s a dead end.


Black Home Owners of Truxton Circle: George G. Harris- 1511 1st St NW

Currently, what is left of lot 230 on Square 615 is part of 85-89 P St NW’s backyard. So this is one of those addresses that no longer exist.

George G. Harris and his wife Roberta both of Virginia. He was born in Fairfax, she Prince William county. He was born in 1872 the son of a farmer Anthony Harris and Sarah Harris. She in 1874, the daughter of Manassas laborer, Charles, and housekeeper, Roberta Coleman.

In 1900 George was a school teacher, living with his parents and siblings in Centerville, VA. They were married in 1904 in Prince William, VA. At the time Roberta was a 30 year old widow with a son named Benjamin Chavers. By 1910 the family was at 32A O St NW as George worked for the Post Office. By the 1920 census, when they lived at 1511 1st St NW,  George’s stepson had taken on his surname as Benjamin Harris, a 27 year old young man working as a chauffeur. George was still working at the Post Office for both the 1920 and 1930 census. Roberta passed away December 27, 1933.

The online DC Recorder of Deeds records go back to 1921, and the earliest record for 1511 1st St NW is a 1924 release for a March 1919 debt to trustees with Washington Loan and Trust Co. This is followed by a 1924 trust (loan) with trustees, with names I’ve seen several times, Henry H. Bergmann and Chapin Brown, with the Oriental Building Association. It looks like the Harris borrowed $2400. There are several more trusts and releases between 1924 and 1935.

In 1937 there are two deeds. It looks like the purpose of the two deeds were to acknowledge the death of Roberta Harris and to add George’s new wife Beulah E. Harris (formerly the widow Beulah E. Jetter) to the deed. They married December 31, 1936. But  by 1940 she was living a few blocks away at 1719 2nd St NW with the Adams family (in-laws).

Not sure what was going on with this 2nd marriage. There is no mention of Beulah in the releases George paid off in 1947. But these were trusts that were signed before the marriage.

The Harris name last appears in 1970. Supposedly they sell the property to the District of Columbia Redevelopment Land Agency. I say supposedly because the document isn’t there. The correct one is not the one shown, but the metadata says they sold it to RLA. Beulah could have signed the document as she didn’t die until 1984.