North View

Notes on former estate of the Barber family. The house was called North View, but the land preserved the name Pretty Prospect, the twelve hundred acre tract from which the Barber’s seventy acres were descended. The tract, reconfigured into a circle, is now the United States Naval Observatory, and the residence of the Vice President of the United States.



Pretty Prospect, as surveyed in preparation for the construction of the U.S. Naval Observatory in 1881. (U.S.N.O. Archives)





Uriah Forrest to James M. Lingan, a mortgage, including part of Pretty Prospects, 116 acres, bounded on the east by land of Nicholas February. (DC Liber G2, 1801)

James M. Lingan to Thomas Hyde, agreement of June, 1803: Lingan conveys to Hyde all that part of Pretty Prospects mortgaged to Lingan by Uriah Forrest, except 10 acres sold to Richard Parrot, leaving 76 1/2 acres. (DC Liber V (1809) f.208)

Thomas Hyde to John Kelty Smith, $2636, 32 acres. (Liber X (1810) f.295)

John K. Smith to Brooke Williams, two pieces of Pretty Prospects that Smith bought from Thomas Hyde: 32 acres, in 1811; and from Ninian Magruder: 46 acres in 1813. (DC Liber AG (1814) f.177)

Deed of Trust from John Adlum to Cornelius Barber, August, 1834: 143 acres from Adlum to Barber. (DC Liber WB51 (1834-5) f. 453/338)

Richard Smith, Trustee of William Cox, to Brooke Mackall, for $2000 in 1832: two pieces of land called Pretty Prospect, 32 acres and 46 acres = 78 acres. (DC Liber WB55 (1835) f.176)

Request by Brooke Mackall for a right of way for part of the original land tract, owned by him, called Pretty Prospects. (Georgetown Ordinance, June 4, 1836)

“Northview, heights of Georgetown”. The citation does not show whose it was or to which property it corresponds. (Intelligencer, October 11, 1837)

Brooke Mackall to Margaret C. Barber, June 1839, for $3000, 75 acres, part of Pretty Prospects, abutting Balch, Reintzel, Craik, Nourse properties, property with existing brick house and other buildings, and right of way of a stream or brook. (DC Liber WB75 (June, 1839) ff. 285/161)

(The existing brick house would have been the residence for the first dozen years. Why was the sale to Margaret rather than Cornelius?)

Cornelius Barber to Conrad Schwarz, 4 acres four $5 (DC Liber WB96 (1842) f. 209/142)

Circa 1852, Cornelius Barber built new house. He also secured a right of way, south of the Poor House, south side of Barber’s lot 258, north of Michael Weaver and through Weaver property, into Beatty and Hawkins’ Addition to Georgetown: the future Observatory Lane.  (Carbery’s Book of Surveys, p.18; Priscilla W. McNeil, “Pretty Prospects: The History of a Land Grant”, Washington History, Fall/Winter 2002)


“Strayed Away, on Wednesday morning, a white buffalo cow, with a leather halter. Five dollars will be given to the finder, if returned to Mrs. M.C. Barber, Georgetown Heights.” (Evening Star, September 13, 1860, p.3)


The relationship of the 1852 house (and of an earlier brick house), the arrangement of outbuildings, including slave quarters. (Annual Report of the U.S. Naval Observatory, 1882, U.S.N.O. Archives)


In August, 1868, when Joseph and Robert Weaver deed land to Michael Weaver, the future Observatory Lane is shown as “Barnard’s Road”; apparently the lane to North View also served as access to the Barnard family’s Normanstone. (County Surveys Levy Court I, DC Surveyor’s Office)


Died on July 9 at North View near Georgetown, Luke White, infant, aged 5 weeks on July 10, Mary Virginia in her 5th year, children of Cornelius and Margaret Barber.

(National Intelligencer & Washington Advertiser Newspaper Abstracts, 1849)


Death. At North View, Georgetown Heights on the 2nd instant, Cornelius Barber in the 51st year of his age. By his decease the community has lost a valuable citizen and the church a consistent communicant. A communicant in the church of St. John’s Georgetown.

(Intelligencer, September 14, 1853)



Margaret Barber to United States, April 25, 1881, 70 1/2 acres, for $63,000, for “part of Pretty Prospects”––final s crossed out––“and otherwise called Pretty Prospect”. (DC Liber 966 (1881) f. 372-4)

It was reported that John Barber had regretted the sale after only ten days because the price was too low. Conflict was foreseen between path of Massachusetts Avenue and the new Observatory. The Superintendant’s House was built on a site that would prevent Massachusetts Avenue from encroaching on the planned circle. (Evening Star, January 18, 1890, p. 9)

North View was torn down circa 1893.



The contours of land purchased for the new Naval Observatory, and the proposed Massachusetts Avenue bridge over Rock Creek, in 1891. (Maps accompanying the report of the operations of the Engineer Department of the District of Columbia for the fiscal year ended June 30, 1891: compiled by Capt. W.T. Rossell, U.S. Eng’rs; compiled by Capt. J.L. Lusk, U.S. Eng’rs, [detail].)

The contours of land purchased for the new Naval Observatory, in 1891. (Maps accompanying the report of the operations of the Engineer Department of the District of Columbia for the fiscal year ended June 30, 1891: compiled by Capt. W.T. Rossell, U.S. Eng’rs; compiled by Capt. J.L. Lusk, U.S. Eng’rs, [detail].)


The relationship of the irregular Barber property to the planned circular shape of the Naval Observatory. (Annual Report of the U.S. Naval Observatory, 1882, U.S.N.O. Archives)


An essential requirement of the new Naval Observatory was a “circle of exclusion”, of 1000-foot radius, “to prevent the delicate instruments used in observing from being disturbed by currents of heated air and also from vibrations caused by traffic in the neighborhood and for other important reasons”.

To complete the circle the government needed to acquire small pieces of Normanstone and Dumbarton, and of the properties of Robert Weaver, Theodore Barnes, Phillip Young, and John A. Barber. Fifteen excess acres of North View, lying outside the circle, were offered for sale.  (“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)



Construction of the Observatory Clock House, circa 1890; in the background, “North View”.  (USNO Archives)






Samuel C. Busey has a confusing account that Thomas McKenney lived at North View, and says his wife was a Lingan––actually, McKenney lived at Weston, and his wife was Editha Gleaves. Busey also says that North View was named because its occupant could see the beautiful Mrs. Chandler at Weston; this would better fit Thomas Plater, who was at Greenwood, due south of Chandler, and whose wife was Martha Lingan. (Pictures of the City of Washington in the Past, Samuel C. Busey, 1898)


Another house in the District of Columbia, near Fort Bunker Hill (14th and Perry Streets NE), also had the name North View:

Died on September 22, at North View, the residence of her son-in-law George McCeney, near Washington City, Mrs. Margaret Patterson, relict of the late Edgar Patterson, of Georgetown, in the 82nd year of her age, funeral at her late residence on West street, Georgetown, Monday. (Intelligencer, September 23, 1861)

George McCeney worked for Patent Office, the Census Office, the Committee of the Levy Court, and for the 1862 Emancipation Commission (for which he was qualified because he owned fourteen slaves himself).





Links and Sources


Richard P. Jackson, The Chronicles of Georgetown D.C., 1751-1878, 1878

Samuel C. Busey, Pictures of the City of Washington in the Past, 1898

Mary A. Mitchell, Divided Town: A Study of Georgetown, D.C. During the Civil War, 1968

Gail S. Cleere, The House on Observatory Hill; Home of the Vice President of the United States, 1990

Priscilla W. McNeil, “Pretty Prospects: The History of a Land Grant”, Washington History, Fall/Winter 2002



Petition of Margaret Barber under the District of Columbia Emancipation Act, submitting a claim for compensation for 33 of her slaves, May 22, 1862: by Gene Kerr Sharp, family historian:

Adlum family documents:

Portrait of Cornelius Barber:

The Abbot-Adlum-Green Families, Willis W. Eisenhart, 1957




Carlton Fletcher

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