The Passing of the Butcher Trade

The prosperity and initiative of the local syndicate of master butchers––as shown by the construction of new houses, and the promotion of a streetcar line––paved the way for the transition of Upper Georgetown from agricultural to residential use.

 

Starting around 1820 the area now known as Glover Park––the northernmost section of Georgetown, and the areas of Washington County to the west of that––was dominated by the activities of a syndicate of master butchers, whose family slaughterhouses furnished the markets of Georgetown and Washington City with every kind of meat. The syndicate bought livestock on the hoof at the annual market at Drover’s Rest, on what is now MacArthur Boulevard, and their suppliers were generally north and west of the city, and primarily in Virginia.

The outbreak of the Civil War is likely to have created some disruptions to the normal course of their business, but it would also have meant wartime contracts. Their post-war confidence was on display in 1865, when a new Georgetown Market House was inaugurated: the syndicate of butchers refused to participate, and instead attempted to set up an independent butcher’s market. When Georgetown’s city fathers refused to grant them a license, the butchers set up an insurgent market just beyond their jurisdiction, at the eastern end of the Pennsylvania Avenue Bridge over Rock Creek, in Washington City. As this all took place in the aftermath of the Georgetown city council elections, February 25, 1867––the first election in the District of Columbia to include black voters––the refusal of the butchers to do business at the Georgetown Market House may be taken as a rejection of the new Republican administration of Georgetown, and therefore of the black voters who had helped put that administration in office. In fact, the butchers did not return to Georgetown until 1871, when the city surrendered its charter.  (For details, see The Georgetown Market War)

Larger changes were coming. After the Civil War, as the volume of Western livestock arriving in the District of Columbia by rail increased in relation to the volume delivered by Virginia drovers, the master butchers of Upper Georgetown were compelled to reconsider the location of their operations. And after ice-cooled railroad cars were introduced in 1880, and dressed carcasses began to be shipped from packing houses in Chicago, local stock pens and feedlots no longer made sense.

At the same time that local and regional meat production was giving way to the growing national system of railroads and stockyards and packing plants, open land on the periphery of Washington, formerly devoted to agricultural use, was becoming desirable for suburban development. The potential value of the considerable tracts of land now freed for residential use, was obvious; the editor of the Georgetown Courier pretended to tell the butchers what they needed to do next. “The butchers of Georgetown are urged to build a trolley up High Street to improve their property value and make it eligible for residences.”  No surprise then, that the incorporators of the Georgetown and Tenallytown Rail Road Company included Joseph Weaver, Jacob H. Kengla, and B.F. Hunt, who were all in the meat business. “It is mainly the butchers on the Heights who have the matter in charge.” The stage was set for residential development in 1889, when the first streetcar came up what is now Wisconsin Avenue, but it would take another two decades for residential development to take off. (Georgetown Courier, July 11, 1868; December 19, 1874; January 23, 1875)

Key to freeing real estate for residential use is the removal of unpleasant industries to other areas. This was what Joseph Weaver seems to have had in mind in 1871, when he bought the Washington Brewery, at 27th and K Streets, stating an intention to turn it into a slaughterhouse. A few years later the editor of the Georgetown Courier again pretended to advise the master butchers: if they would establish a “general abbatoir” near the river, and cease conducting their operations where they lived, their neighborhood could not fail to increase in population and value. On public health grounds, the District of Columbia urged a similar course of action. “The Board of Health have renewed the project for establishing a general slaughterhouse which all the butchers of the District will be compelled to use.” But in making these pronouncements, the press and the authorities were only urging the butchers to do what they were already contemplating. (Georgetown Courier, March 25, 1871; January 23, 1875; October 23, 1875)

In 1875 butcher Joseph Weaver gave a fair indication of his prosperity by buying Mount Hope (3308 R Street, later the home of Evalyn Walsh McLean, of the Hope Diamond). At the same time, the construction of four new houses along Wisconsin Avenue, to be occupied by his children, demonstrated Weaver’s continued confidence in the neighborhood where he had grown to manhood. 2029 Wisconsin Avenue was built for Henry Weaver, 2117 for William Weaver, and 2019 for Joseph R. Freeman, Joseph Weaver’s son-in-law.  (At 2133 Wisconsin, Joseph Weaver’s half-brother had already built his house in 1871. “Theo. Barnes is building a fine frame dwelling opposite the residence of Henry Weaver, on Pole Hill.” Georgetown Courier, May 6, 1871)

2101 Wisconsin Avenue was built for Robert D. Weaver, who was the president of the Farmers and Mechanics Bank––its building still graces the northeast corner of Wisconsin and M Street––and of the Metropolitan Railroad Company, the forerunner of Metro. (Robert was not entirely out of the former family business: the Butchers, Hide, and Tallow Association, which had its offices on the waterfront near the foot of Wisconsin Avenue, founded by his father and George Kengla, was where Robert manufactured soap. Georgetown Courier, July 10, 1875; Star, November 16, 1956)

The construction of the houses that constituted Weaver Hill ushered in the period of subdivision. In 1890, Theodore Barnes, William H. Barnes, and Angeline Barnes Drinkhouse, only heirs of Horatio Barnes, and Henry and Mary Ann Weaver, sold Drover’s Rest (4759 Reservoir Road), scene of the annual livestock market, to the developers of “Palisades of the Potomac”; henceforth those members of the Georgetown Heights syndicate still in the business would transact their business at the Union Stock Yard, on Benning Road. (At the same time, the Barnes family graveyard at Drover’s Rest was removed, and the remains of Horatio Barnes were moved to Oak Hill Cemetery.)

In 1892 the heirs of Joseph and Charles Weaver sold the Weaver land on Conduit Road through the mortgage banking and real estate firm of Barnes & Weaver, founded in 1888 by John L. Weaver (1865-1949) and William H. Barnes. (Aside from the development of Palisades, the firm was also involved in the development Barnes and Weaver’s Addition to Brookland (which the 1903 Baist map shows as Barnes and Weaver’s Cuckold’s Delight).

In 1894, Henry Weaver’s widow, with her son-in-law acting as attorney, created Mary Ann Weaver’s Subdivision on Wisconsin Avenue and W Place. With the deaths of Charles Homiller (1888), and Henry Kengla (1903), most of the land that is now Glover Park became available for development.

By 1894, when Robert D. Weaver and Theodore Barnes argued that the operations of their slaughterhouses east of Wisconsin Avenue would be impaired by the loss of the land the government needed to complete the “circle of exclusion” for the Naval Observatory, it is safe to assume they were merely seeking the best price for the ten acres in question; they would have known, better than anyone, that the days of the butcher trade on Georgetown Heights were numbered.  (“Circle and Boulevard––Secretary Herbert Approves Naval Observatory Plans”, Washington Post, October 20, 1894, p.3; “Naval Observatory Land to Be Sold”, Washington Post, February 6, 1895, p.3)

During the interval of time when local meat production was coming to an end, and residential development was still in the future, the fields on the heights north of Georgetown were for a time the scene of the genteel pursuit of the inedible, as foxhunters pursued their quarry “over Tenallytown road, thence through the Kengla farm, Wesley Heights, and the [American] university property.” (“Following The Hounds.––Chevy Chase Club Holds Biggest Meet of Season”, Washington Post, December 18, 1899)

“Hounds In Nine-Mile Run.––Small Field of Chevy Chase Hunters Enjoy Spring Meet.––The Chevy Chase Hounds met yesterday at the Tennallytown power-house [Wisconsin and Calvert]. The first cast was made just west of the Tunlaw road, on the property of the late Henry Kengla.” (Washington Post, April 8, 1905)

In the 1907 auction sale of land accumulated by Henry Kengla, a 91-year-old butcher who had lived alone on Tunlaw Road, most of the land that is now Glover Park came on the market. The greater part of the 104-acre tract, extending from Tunlaw Road to Foxhall Road, was purchased by banker Charles Carroll Glover. “Mr. Glover, it is understood, made the purchase on speculation.” (Washington Times, May 26, 1907)

 

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Carlton Fletcher

 The citation and acknowledgement of my research is greatly appreciated.

All rights reserved.

 

 Questions and corrections may be directed to

carlton@gloverparkhistory.com

 

The support of the Advisory Neighborhood Council (3B) is gratefully acknowledged.