The Georgetown Powder Magazine

The Georgetown Powder Magazine may have resembled this one, also built circa 1820, in Hallowell, Maine. (Hubbard Free Library, Hallowell)



March 1, 1820, letter from Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, re: loan of gunpowder from the Ordnance Office, February 28, 1820, to the firm of Stull and Williams, merchants of Georgetown: $21,600 in powder, at 36 cents a pound.  (Pamphlet on the Foundry, Peabody Room, Georgetown Branch Library; Star, January 12, 1936)

Where to keep thirty tons of explosives? It had already been a concern in 1816, when the City Council of Georgetown instructed the mayor to find a temporary place for safekeeping powder until a magazine could be built. Regulations recommended: no one may keep more than 2 quarter casks of powder in any one place, and only in tin canisters with small mouths. The penalty for infractions was to be $5 for every day, half paid to the informer, half to the Corporation. It was further recommended: that a charge be paid by those who deposit powder in the magazine, and book be kept, and that the keeper shall turn upside down each container at least once a month. (Georgetown Ordinances, June 1, 1816)

What was needed was a secure masonry building, remote from water and habitation, where civil engineers, canal builders, road builders, the militia, or private persons could safely deposit supplies of gunpowder.

In 1821, John Threlkeld and Dr. Magruder were appointed to purchase ground for a fireproof Powder Magazine. “The ground was bought from Elizabeth Nevitt in October, 1821, at the west end of a lane about 100 perches due west from Saint Alban’s Church on the Rockville and Georgetown turnpike, and the house was built of brick, with a slate roof.” (Handwritten note, Georgetown Ordinances, September 29, 1821)

The road from High street extended, to the powder magazine, ran through the property of Mr. Wise, and through “Mr. Cammack’s vegetable garden”. This road––which appears to have been the precursor to Cathedral Avenue––ran west from what is now Wisconsin Avenue, then turned south into what is now the campus of the Westchester Apartments. (“The Road to the Powder House”, Carbery’s Book p.44, Office of the Surveyor; Georgetown Ordinances, March 3, 1829, September 23, 1835)

An official keeper of the Corporation Powder Magazine was appointed. (One of these was Joseph Nevitt, son of the Revolutionary soldier buried in Holy Rood Cemetery.) (Georgetown Ordinances, November 1, 1834; April 1837 – March 1838)

Circuit Court of the District of Columbia, January 17, 1844, case petitioned by Elizabeth Burrows and others, concerning part of Scott’s Ordinary at NW boundary of the Beatty and Hawkins Addition to Georgetown, abutting John Threlkeld’s line: Clement Cox and O.M. Linthicum were decreed trustees to sell the 5 acres, site of a powder magazine purchased earlier. (DC Liber WB138 (1847) f.13/11)

1855 assessments, Washington County: Georgetown corporation owns a brick powder house and lot, worth $400.

W. Albert King, keeper of the Powder Magazine for 5 years, compensated by the right to store his gunpowder there himself. (Georgetown Ordinances, Dec 29, 1855)

1871, Georgetown charter revoked, its property becomes United States property.

Powder Magazine, brick, 1 story high, on Georgetown heights: recommended to be sold.“ (List of Public Buildings, 1875-76, November 30, 1876, District of Columbia records, National Archives)

“A bill… authorizing the District Commissioners to sell at auction… a lot forty feet square, formerly the Georgetown powder-house property, west of St. Alban’s Church” (“A Bill to authorize the Sale of District Property for School Purposes”, The Evening Critic [Washington, D.C.], May 8, 1884)


Adjacent Land

1866, Agnes Levis to Edward Brooke, 5 acres of land Levis acquired in 1842. (DC Liber RMH25 (1866) f.345.)

1872: Case of Susan Kengla vs. Henry Green, concerning land in Lucky Discovery up to the Powder House, making reference to the 1844 case, above. (Georgetown Courier, June 8, 1872; DC Liber WB138 (1847) f.13/11)

In 1878 Edward Brooke––wholesale meat merchant, son of Phillip Brooke and Elizabeth Levis––had a house, in the circle of the parking lot of the Westchester Apartments. (Hopkins, 1878)

1894, land marked G.M. and C. Kengla

1903, Baist: land marked Lewis Kengla

1928, La Colline School, Mrs. Albert J. Myer, neé Baroness Irene Ungern-Sternberg

1930, 28 acres, William M. Kennedy property, purchased by Westchester Development Corporation. (1925 Baist, vol. III, plate 24; “Landmark Replaced“, Washington Times, January 5, 1935)



Carlton Fletcher

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