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.

 

Between 1820 and 1880, the area now known as Glover Park––the northernmost section of Georgetown, and the areas of Washington County to the west of that––were dominated by the activities of a syndicate of master butchers, who prospered by supplying the markets of Georgetown and Washington City with meat.

The Civil War is certain to have affected the local meat industry, as local butchers temporarily lost their connections with farmers in Virginia, but there is no indication that the master butchers of Upper Georgetown had any trouble finding alternative sources of supply during the war.

An incident of the early postwar years illustrates the self-confidence of the master butchers. When the new Georgetown Market House opened for business in 1865, the butchers refused to participate, and set up an independent market. When Georgetown denied them a license to do business there, and was upheld by the court, the butchers set up their alternative market just east of Rock Creek on Pennsylvania Avenue, beyond the jurisdiction of Georgetown. The butchers only returned when Georgetown surrendered its city charter in 1871.

These events took place in the aftermath of the Georgetown city council elections, February 25, 1867, which had been the first election in the District of Columbia to include black voters, and had resulted in victory for the Republican ticket; the refusal of the butchers to do business at the Georgetown Market House appears also to have been a refusal to accept the new Republican administration of Georgetown, and the black voters who had helped put that administration in office. (For details, see The Georgetown Market War)

But this was only a momentary triumph against local authority; the changes coming to their industry were national. As the volume of Western livestock arriving in the District of Columbia by rail increased in relation to the volume delivered by Virginia drovers at the annual market (which was at Drover’s Rest, on Conduit Road), the master butchers of Upper Georgetown were compelled to reconsider the location of their operations. And after ice-cooled railroad cars were developed in 1878––and dressed carcasses began to be shipped instead of livestock––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 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.