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 the master butchers, whose family slaughterhouses furnished the markets of Georgetown and Washington City with every kind of meat. They bought livestock on the hoof at the market at Drover’s Rest, on what is now MacArthur Boulevard.


“230 beef cattle were offered at Drovers’ Rest yesterday, of which all but 25 were sold from 3 1/4 to 4 1/2 cents per pound, gross. There was but a small supply of sheep and lambs, selling at 12 1/2 cents advance on our last quotations.” (“Georgetown,” Evening Star, June 16, 1860, p.2)

“Cattle Market.––At Drover’s Rest, during the week ending Tuesday, 225 cattle were offered, of which number 170 were sold to butchers at the following prices: Best in market at 7 1/2 to 8 1/2: common, 5 to 6 1/2; inferior, 4 to 5. Three hundred sheep were sold at 6 to 8 cts. gross. ” (“Local News,” Evening Star, February 13, 1867, p.3)



There is an absence of market reports between 1861 and 1866, presumably because the Civil War had disrupted the normal course of business. At the same time, there would have been lucrative opportunities: public advertisements to furnish beef on the hoof for the subsistence of the military ran at a rate of one a week all through the war.

 “PROPOSALS FOR FRESH BEEF. WASHINGTON ARSENAL, 10th Dec , 1861. Sealed Proposals to be endorsed “Proposals for Fresh Beef” will be received at this arsenal until 10 a m. of the 20th instant, for the supply of Fresh Beef for 12 months from 1st January, 1862.”  (Evening Star, December 11, 1861, p.2)


William Homiller was a co-partner in the Washington City Drove Yard on North Capitol Street during the Civil War. (Evening Star, January 13, 1863, p.3, February 12, 1866, p.2)


“The Beef Depot Monument.” During the Civil War a cattle yard and a slaughterhouse operated on the grounds of the unfinished Washington Monument.  (Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, February 1, 1862, p.173. Library of Congress)



The butchers’ post-war confidence was on display in 1865, when a new Georgetown Market House was inaugurated: the syndicate of 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 livestock arriving in the District of Columbia by rail increased in relation to the volume delivered by drovers, the master butchers of Upper Georgetown were compelled to relocate some of their operations: first, to the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad’s livestock depot along First Street NE, between E and F Streets; later, to the Washington Cattle Market at on the Metropolitan Branch of the B&O at Queenstown (now Brookland Metro Station), which opened circa 1878; and finally, to the Union Stock Yards, adjacent to the B&O and the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks, on Benning Road, which opened in about 1888, and was Washington’s main livestock depot and slaughterhouse for four decades.

(Cadastral map, Palisades of the Potomac Land and Improvement Co.’s subdivision no. 1, being part of “White Haven”, June 23rd 1890, Library of Congress; Real estate map of the Metropolitan Branch of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company between Washington, D.C., and Rockville, Md., and adjacent land holdings, Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company, 1890, Library of Congress; David S. Rotenstein, “Daniel H. Burnham and Washington’s Union Stockyards”)

At the same time that local meat production was giving way to the growing national system of railroads and stockyards, 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 Railway 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)

A bill for the construction of a single municipal slaughterhouse for the District of Columbia, which would pave the way for the elimination of private slaughterhouses, took time to wind its way through Congress. As early as 1876 a delegation of butchers protested being asked to cease operations at their own slaughterhouses; it was not until 1891 that the Washington Abattoir Company slaughterhouse at Benning finally opened. (“The National Abattoir Bill”, Star, May 20, 1876, p.4; May 4, 1882, p.1; June 14, 1894, p.7)


In 1874 the DC Board of Public Health recommend that all private slaughterhouses be replaced by a single municipal abattoir.

“The killing of animals in populated locations, besides being a source of great annoyance to residents in the vicinity, is unquestionably a serious injury to health. No system of inspection, however faithfully executed, can preserve slaughterhouses in large cities or in their thickly populated suburbs, in a condition of entire purity and innocuousness. Such nuisances, including the results of slaughtering, as bone-boiling, fat-rendering, etc., should be removed to a safe distance beyond the limits of population, and if possible concentrated in one establishment, where all these occupations could be conducted in the most approved manner, with greater profit, and with far more regard to the health of communities.”

In 1879, the Board of Commissioners restricted the construction of new slaughterhouses within the District as well as the expansion of existing slaughterhouses within the vicinity of residential areas. In 1882 Congress passed the bill creating the facility operated by the Union Stock Yards and the Washington Abattoir Company, south of Benning Road NE.

(Report of the Board of Commissioners of the District of Columbia, 1874, pp. 290-2; Report of the Board of Commissioners of the District of Columbia, 1879, p. 41; United States Congress, H.R. 5634, “Bill to Incorporate the District of Columbia Stockyard, Abattoir, and Rendering Company,” Forty-Seventh Congress, First Session, 3 April 1882; Research by EHT Traceries).


With the slaughterhouses that had supplied hides to the Columbia Tannery––where the Georgetown Safeway is now––on their way out, the tannery was converted into a stove and kindling wood business, and was out of business by 1887. (Historical and Commercial Sketches of Washington and Environs, 1884)

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 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)

It had always been the case that the Distributing Reservoir, which began operating as early as 1858, lay in disquieting proximity to the stockyard at Drover’s Rest (4759 Reservoir Road), scene of the annual livestock market. This state of affairs persisted until 1890, when the officer in charge of Washington Aqueduct, Col. George H. Elliott, recommended that the United States buy Drover’s Rest, and thereby remove any potential threat to the city’s water supply (“A Menace to the City, Slaughter Yards Contaminate the Water in the Reservoir”, Washington Post, January 8, 1890).

Once again, the press and the authorities appear to have been urging the butchers to do what they were already contemplating: that very year, 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 to the developers of “Palisades of the Potomac”. (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.) Henceforth those members of the Georgetown Heights syndicate still in the meat trade would transact all their business at the Union Stock Yard, on Benning Road.

The construction of the houses that constituted Weaver Hill, and the sale of Drover’s Restushered in the period of subdivision. 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 brief 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 the scene of “the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable”, as fox-hunters chased ed a fox “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)

(He may also have made the purchase in furtherance of fox hunting in upper northwest Washington. Glover was a devoted equestrian and member of the Dunblane Hunt Club, the predecessor to the Chevy Chase Chase Country Club.)




Carlton Fletcher

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