The financier John W. Thompson was the developer of Tunlaw Heights and of Massachusetts Avenue Heights; the former was later renamed Cathedral Highlands, and parts of the latter are now known as Observatory Circle and Woodland Normanstone.
John W. Thompson (1822-1901) was born in Canada––one source says Montreal––and came to Washington in 1849 with his brother William. In Washington the Thompson brothers founded the city’s leading plumbing and gasfitting firm, a highly profitable industry in the early days of gaslight. In 1865 the Thompsons sold their share of the business to their junior partner, Alexander R. Shepherd, and invested their profits in bank stocks. In short order, John W. Thompson was elected director, and then president, of the National Metropolitan Bank.
(National Bank Note Project, National Currency Foundation; 1870 census; “An Old Bank In New Hands––The National Metropolitan Passes Out of Mr. Thompson’s Control”, Washington Post, May 20, 1897, p.4; “J.W. Thompson Dead”, Washington Post, July 11, 1901, p.2; John Richardson, “Alexander R. Shepherd and the Race Issue in Washington, Washington History, 2010; William Tindall, Standard History of the City of Washington, 1914, p.262; “Brief Illness Fatal To Banker’s Widow”, Washington Post, July 24, 1931, p.5)
Thompson was treasurer, and then president, of the Metropolitan Street Railroad, which started operations in 1864; and president of the Connecticut Avenue and Park Railway Company, chartered in 1868; and an incorporator of the Georgetown and Tenallytown Rail Road, chartered in 1888. (Star, September 27, 1872; “The District In Congress––The Georgetown and Tennallytown Railroad Bill Awaits the President’s Signature”, Washington Post, August 9, 1888, p.6)
John W. Thompson was also president of the New York, Alexandria, Washington and Georgetown Steamship Company (organized 1867), which became the Inland and Seaboard Coasting Company, and then the People’s Washington and Norfolk Steamboat Company. The steamer “John W. Thompson”, launched in about 1875, made excursions to the lower river landings of the Potomac. (William Bensing Webb, John Wooldridge, Harvey W. Crew, Centennial History of the City of Washington, D. C., 1892, p.350; William Tindall, Standard History of the City of Washington, 1914, p. 419; “The Rambler Visits Glymont, an Old Pleasure Resort”, Star, August 13, 1916)
“John W. Thompson, one of the leading bankers, business men, and financiers of Washington, came to this city from New York City in 1849. Upon his arrival here he at once entered into an active business life. During the War of the Rebellion, he was identified with the Government of the United States. He was afterward connected with the Board of Aldermen, and was appointed by President Grant to the upper house of the Legislature of the District of Columbia. He was president of the New York, Alexandria, Washington, and Georgetown Steamship Company, established for the purpose of trading between New York City and the District of Columbia. He was one of the principal movers in the building of the Metropolitan Street Railroad, and was for several years president of the company. He has been connected with numerous businesses, and has been and is to-day one of the most successful business men in Washington. This success has led to his selection to fill important positions both in business and civic circles. He was chairman of the Garfield inauguration committee, and under his management the committee was able to return all the money subscribed as a guaranty fund, for the first time in the history of the country. He has been president of the National Metropolitan Bank since 1871, and his high standing in business and social circles and in the church is the best evidence of the estimation in which he is held by his fellow-men.” (William Bensing Webb, John Wooldridge, Harvey W. Crew, Centennial History of the City of Washington, D. C., 1892, p.356)
“J.W. Thompson Dead––Noted Financier Succumbs After Weeks of Illness––Identified With Local History––His Name Associated With Many Notable Financial Projects for the Development of the Capital––Started in Life as a Plumber and Acquired a Fortune of Several Millions––Incidents of His Busy Career––Traveled Much in Last Ten Years.––John W. Thompson, financier, banker, and one of the Capital’s best-known citizens, died last night at his residence, 1419 I street northwest, after a serious illness of several weeks.” (Washington Post, July 11, 1901, p.2)
Although John W. Thompson’s will contained a provision that any person who contested it in anyway was thereby disqualified as a beneficiary, it was in fact contested by his son Ross and daughter Mary Ida. (“His Millions Tied Up––John W. Thompson’s Son and Daughter Seek Division.––Instrument Provides That Property Shall Remain Intact Until Youngest Child of Testator’s Son Shall Have Reached Majority, the Son and a Daughter in the Meantime Have Moderate Incomes––Millionaire Alleged to Have Been Insane”, Washington Post, November 20, 1901, p.2)
William Thompson, who had retired to his farm in Silver Spring, died in 1896. (“William Thompson Dead.––Retired Merchant and Brother of Banker John W. Thompson”, Washington Post, July 24, 1896, p.10)
Thompson’s first wife was Janet McGill, who was born in Scotland in 1825, and died in 1884. In 1896, John W. Thompson married Flora Beatrice Markward. (1870 census; “Funeral of the Late Mrs. J. W. Thompson”, Washington Post, April 24, 1884, p.1; “Brief Illness Fatal To Banker’s Widow”, Washington Post, July 24, 1931, p.5)
John W. Thompson’s son, Ross Thompson, married Wena de Bruler in 1889. (“Mrs. Thompson Is Dead at 68; Society Leader”, Washington Post, December 2, 1936, p.X4)
John W. Thompson’s grandsons were John W. Thompson and Ross Debruler Thompson. (“John W. Thompson Dies; Realty Man, U.S. Official”, Washington Post, December 5, 1959, p.B2; “R.D. Thompson Dies; Native of Washington”, Washington Post, January 17, 1950, p.B2)
John W. Thompson’s great-grandson, John W. Thompson, Jr., was also a grandson of Theodore Noyes, editor of the Washington Evening Star. From 1954 to 1977 Thompson was president of the station WMAL, the radio and television branch of the Evening Star. (“John Thompson Dies; Executive at the Star”, Washington Post, March 31, 1993, p.C6)
The citation and acknowledgement of my research is greatly appreciated.
All rights reserved.
Questions and corrections may be directed to
The support of the Advisory Neighborhood Council (3B) is gratefully acknowledged.