WSIC- Property Owner of Sq. 552- William R. Riley

When looking at the General Assessment for 1902/1903 one of the biggest property owner for the block bounded by 3rd, Q, 1st and P St NW, Sq. 552, Wm. R. Riley, not the Washington Sanitary Improvement Company (WSIC). WSIC’s time will come later.

William R. Riley owned lots 1-2, 4-6, and 29-32.


Who was William Robinson Smith Riley? He was born July 19, 1817 in Appomattox County, VA and died in DC on January 15, 1893.

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According to his obituary published in the Evening star. January 16, 1893, page 6:

William R. Riley Dead
A Well-Known Citizen Expires After a Short Illness

In the death of Mr. Wm. R. Riley this city loses one of its substantial citizens. His death occurred yesterday at his late residence, No. 7 Iowa Circle [Now Logan Circle]. Mr. Riley had reached the advanced age of seventy-five years. He was, however, a man of active habits, and while not exactly vigorous, yet he was seldom ill. His last sickness lasted only six days. On Monday just a week ago he was taken sick in his office in the Riley building, 9th and E streets. He was removed to his residence and by Thursday pneumonia developed which resulted in his death at 1 o’clock yesterday.
He had planned to leave for Florida today where his wife was staying. Mrs. Riley was at once informed of the illness of her husband and reached home Saturday morning. Mr. Riley had spent practically all his life in this city. He came here with his father from his birthplace in Accomac, Va., when only four years of age. When quite young he entered a dry-goods’ house as a clerk, and when still a young man he became the owner of the store in which he had started in life as a clerk.
The same business ability which marked his early career enabled him to amass a considerable fortune. He was identified with a number of the substantial business enterprises of the city.
He was the founder of the Arlington Fire Insurance Company, and a director in that company at the time of his death. For a number of years he was one of the directors of the Washington Gas Light Company. He established the West End Bank and until recently was the president.
He was a member of the old city council, was connected with Columbia Lodge of Odd Fellows, and was an active member of Ascension Church.
Six children survive him, two sons and four daughters.
The funeral services will be held at the Church of the Ascension Wednesday morning at 11 o’clock, and Rev. John H. Elliot will officiate. The interment will be in the family lot in Congressional cemetery. Continue reading WSIC- Property Owner of Sq. 552- William R. Riley

WSIC- Owners of Sq. 552 in 1902

In my last post about the Washington Sanitary Improvement Company I noticed that the WSIC owned Sq 615 but not 552, yet. By 1909, it looked like they took 552 over, with a few holdouts. In 1903, there were 32 lots.

In the 1880 census there were about 11 households on the whole block. Then in 1900 there were about 25 households, nine of those were home owners.



Lot                Owners
1                 William R. Riley
2                 William R. Riley
3                 Jos. E & Sallie B. Roach
4                 William R. Riley
5                 William R. Riley
6                 William R. Riley
7                  Mary E. Hess
8                  Baptist Home of D.C.
9                  Louise Eustis Hitchcock
10                Louise Eustis Hitchcock
11                Louise Eustis Hitchcock
12                Louise Eustis Hitchcock
13                Louise Eustis Hitchcock
14                Louise Eustis Hitchcock
15                Marie  Clarice Eustis
16                Marie  Clarice Eustis
17                Marie  Clarice Eustis
18                Marie Clarice Eustis
19                Marie Clarice Eustis
20                Marie Clarice Eustis
21                Marie Clarice Eustis
22                Marie Clarice Eustis
23                Marie Clarice Eustis
24                Louise Eustis Hitchcock
25                Revere R. Gurley/DeWitt C. Chadwick/ Mollie Phillips/ Alice L. Wyckoff Trust/ Phoebe Hamilton
26                 Lycurgus & Sally Adams/ George Adams/ Levi Adams/ Edmund G. Hines
27               Frederick B. Jones/ Jas. B. Nourse & C.M. Jones Trustees
28               Robert A. Golden
29                William R. Riley
30                William R. Riley
31                William R. Riley
32                William R. Riley

It appears the main owners were William R. Riley, Louise Eustis Hitchcock, Marie Clarice Eustis, and the Adams family. Other owners of interest are the owners of lots 3 and 28, the last lots to be divided and developed. We’ll look at these people and see if there is any connection with the Washington Sanitary Improvement Company, the organization that will eventually own their land.

WSIC Did Not Own Square 552 in 1902

So enough procrastinating, let’s get into the Washington Sanitary Improvement Company (WSIC) role in making the blocks that are bounded by Q, North Cap, P and 3rd Streets NW. Those would be Squares 552 and 615. Because of George Kober’s The History and Development of the Housing Movement in the City of Washington, DC ( 1907) we know they were building housing in the early aughts.

But the WSIC didn’t own all of the block, so in order to figure out which lots on those two blocks to look at I went to the General Land Assessment Files, 1902-1938, and looked at 1902/1903 Assessments. Because 552 comes before 615, I looked at that first. I did not see WSIC mentioned, at all. I was confused. If I had just looked at the Sq 552 map at, I would have seen why.

Hopkins Map, 1887 of Square 552, bounded by 3rd, Q, 1st and p Sts NW.

Bates Street did not exist in 1887 nor apparently 1902.

Source- Baist, Library of Congress. 1903 map of Sq. 552

I also compared the 1902/1903 assessments to the 1933/1934 assessments and there were a whole different set of lot numbers. For Square 552 in 1902/1903, there were lots 1-32, as you can see from the images above.

1909 Color-Source- Baist, Library of Congress.

By 1909, when the above image was mapped, the whole character of the block changed. There appears to have been a few hold outs, with lots 3 and 28. By 1933 they had been absorbed.

In the back of my head, I am wondering if any strong arming was involved to convince owners to sell. Well, that would be something to explore in my next post, where I look at the 1902/1903 property owners.

A Program for Bates Street 1968

Although this does not mention the Washington Sanitary Improvement Company, it is about the houses the WSIC built, plus another block. Below is a 2008 post where I misremembered the name of the 1968 report, which I have below the fold. The report, A Program for Bates Street, is just 12 pages with a few pictures of residents, has mentions of rehabilitation and new construction.  Fast forward, this was under Marion Barry’s tenure so it got halfway done.

I have the 1968-1974 (the dates I’m unsure of) brochure of “A Plan for Bates Street” in PDF form. It’s a big file and because it is so large, I’m not posting here. However, I will mail it to folks who ask (offer expires in 30 days). Basically, like the title says, it was the government’s plan for the two blocks of Bates, to improve the housing.

Continue reading A Program for Bates Street 1968

Crowding- and good intentions gone lost- Washington Sanitary Impr. Co.

I am looking at what I’ve written before on the InShaw blog about the Washington Sanitary Improvement Company (WSIC) before going deep on the topic and writing something new. Call it procrastination.

This piece was about the intentions of the WSIC. They saw it as a way to battle overcrowding and substandard housing by making that housing go away and replacing it with better housing. What it did was expel Black residents, who were not going to live in the new housing. History doesn’t repeat but it sure does rhyme. The same could be said of HOPE and other government (WSIC was private) housing programs. Anyway…..

I forget which census year it was but one year there were 11 people living in the house I currently occupy. As far as I know, the house has always been a two bedroom and I believe the cellar is a late 20th century addition. My house is about 1,000 sq ft.
I have read that overcrowding could be blamed on segregation. Segregation was probably one of several causes, if there are so many structures in the city and many of those structures are off limits due to covenants and other restrictions, then that limits housing choices. I get a sense that economics had something to do with it as well, but that is just a guess.
Anywho, a turn of the century description of crowded rental housing comes from a report from Clare de Graffenried:

I have no doubt that lodgers are harbored in these alleys whose presence, for many reasons not creditable to the occupants, is always concealed. The confessed facts are startling enough. We have here accounts of 7 persons living in two rooms– the mother and her sons, 21, 17 and 7 years of age, occupying one bedchamber. Again, 9 individuals live in two romse[sic]; 11 people in four rooms. Five, almost all adults, sleep in one room– the mother 43, a son 21, and daughters 19, 17, and 14; and 4 persons use another room– a mother 45, and aunt 70, and a son 22, and a baby 9 months old.
–Page 18 of Kober, George “The History and Development of the Housing Movement in the City of Washington, DC” Washington, DC 1907.

Doing a Google search for Miss de Graffenried, brought up Between Justice and Beauty by Howard Gillette, Jr., which on page 113 where he notes that she goes for the dramatic story over statistics. Later Gillette writes on page regarding the predecessor of the Washington Sanitary Improvement Company, which built the houses on Bates Street:

By 1904 the company housed 140 families, 30 of whom were black. Since the overwhelming majority of alley dwellers were black, the company clearly did not direct its attention to those in greatest need.– page 115

In Kober in 1909 writes about their housing efforts:

It should be stated, that while the original intention was to provide homes for alley residents and thereby remove the slums, it was considered best to begin this movement by providing improved dwellings for the better class of wage earners, in the belief that houses vacated by them would be rented by the next grade, and so on until the bottom of the ladder was reached. –page 31

Not a charity but capitalist enterprise- Washington Sanitary Improvement Co

Below is an old post that was originally posted on January 30, 2009. For this deep dive into the Washington Sanitary Improvement Company, I will look at the few posts where we looked at the WSIC but then I will look at the land and other records about the squares 552 and 615.

When last I left I was writing about the Washington Sanitary Improvement Company (WSIC) which built the houses along Bates Street NW, and some other streets in the TC that are somewhat Bates adjacent, around the turn of the century. You know they are built by the same company because their 2nd story bay window thing.
Anyway, the WSIC’s goal was to replace the slum dwellings in the various alleys, but as a profitable company and not a charity. From The History and Development of the Housing Movement in the City of Washington, D.C. page 61, Article III, section 4:

The company, although organized from philanthropic motives, is not a charity organization, and the executive committee shall take all legal measures to collect rents and to evict tenants who fail to pay their rent, or who neglect to keep the tenements occupied by them in a cleanly and sanitary condition, or who lead a dissolute or criminal life.

Another thing, as part of the pitch to draw interest in the company the author and secretary of the company George M. Kobr writes:

The attention of capitalists should be drawn to the fact that no class of realty pays as well as alley property in this city, and that there is a splendid field for investment in the erection of sanitary and comfortable alley houses on a business and humanitarian basis.
–page 23

Don’t blame me for a fuzzy photo

I’m looking at older posts on the topic of the Washington Sanitary Improvement Company because I’ll be taking a deeper dive looking at the two squares owned by the Washington Sanitary Improvement Company (WSIC) Sq. 552 and 615. These squares are  bounded by 1st Street, P St, 3rd St, and Q St. NW.
So here is the 2009 post below:

This was taken with an iphone in a lowly lit room at the Library of Congress from a book, while I held the pages down with one hand and took the pictures with the other. Now why are you looking at a fuzzy photo of a bunch of houses? This is the unit block of Bates Street, when the houses were somewhat new in 1907.
The photo, as well as some others I took are from The History and Development of the Housing Movement in the City of Washington, D.C. published by the Washington Sanitary Improvement Company, which built the houses. The book starts off talking about unsanitary crappy housing in DC and how the Washington Sanitary Improvement Company (WSIC) was building alternatives to slummy housing, specifically crappy alley housing. Towards the middle of the book they start talking a bit more about the company as an investment. The directors consisted of the following:
David J. Brewer
Charles C. Cole
John W. Foster
Charles J. Bell
George Truesdell
Gardiner G. Hubbard
Anthony Pollok
Walter Wyman
Henry F. Blount
Mrs. George Westinghouse
Crosby S. Noyes
George H. Harries
William J. Boardman
William C. Woodward
Augustus S. Worthington
Henry Y. Satterlee
George L. Andrews
Bernard T. Janney
Mrs. Clara G. Addison
Willliam C. Whittemore
G. Lloyd Magruder
Joseph C. Breckinridge
Marcus Baker
Katherine Hosmer
Charles E. Foster
Simon Wolf
George M. Sternberg
S. Walter Woodward
George M. Kober
John Joy Edson
Maybe more later. Or not.