Matildaville: George Washington’s Ghost Town

Known as Dickey’s Tavern, Inn, and Farmhouse, this 18th century barn was said to be Matildaville’s first and last standing building.

If you’ve ever hiked Great Falls Park, you might have stumbled across the ruins of a long lost town. Matildaville was to be a bustling hub on an expansive trans-national trade route. But today, a spattering of stone ruins and a handful of crumbling locks are all that remain of a town conceived by none other than George Washington.

Whatever Floats Your...Orchestra

Washingtonians in canoes listen to the NSO. Photo Source: Washington Evening Star. Used with Permission by the DC Public Library

On the evening of July 14, 1935, just behind the Lincoln Memorial, on the steps of the Watergate Amphitheatre, 10,000 Washingtonians, dressed in flannel and gingham, sat on blankets and newspapers. Out on the water, hundreds of others dressed in bathing suits floated in canoes, eager to experience Washington’s newest summertime tradition: floating concerts by the National Symphony Orchestra. The NSO was taking to the water, inaugurating a new “Sunset Symphony” series, wherein the orchestra would offer summertime performances on a 75 foot concert barge bobbing in the Potomac River.

Poe's Washington Excursion

“Daguerreotype of Edgar Allan Poe, known as the "Annie" Daguerreotype,” 1849, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edgar_Allan_Poe#/media/File:Edgar_Allan_Poe_daguerreotype_crop.png

The celebrated, yet ever tormented, writer Edgar Allan Poe, famously spent much of his life living in Baltimore and Richmond, but he surprisingly spent very little time in D.C. despite residing in such close proximity. He did however have one…interesting encounter in Washington. Frequent transitions through different literary critic jobs left him in a constant state of mental and financial instability; this led Poe to determine that he needed to find a job that could provide him with more financial security. His friend Frederick William Thomas was friends with the President's son, Robert, and offered to help get him a government job. Eventually in 1843, Poe traveled down to Washington from his home in Philadelphia to meet with President Tyler. The true account of how Poe conducted himself upon arriving is still contested today. 

Companies like Heinz and Campbell’s shipped cans of pre-prepared turtle soup and mock turtle soup across the country and globe. (Photo Source: Flickr)

Washington's Lost Food Craze: Terrapin Soup

Before the days of Half Smokes and Jumbo Slices, D.C.’s collective stomach rumbled for a different delicacy: diamondback terrapin. The native turtle had long fed residents of the Chesapeake but by the 1830s the turtle had become one of the region’s most coveted foodstuffs and by the end of the 19th century, swanky eateries from New York to California featured turtle soup on their menus. While turtles from all over the U.S. were used to prepare this famous dish, the Chesapeake Diamondback was undoubtedly the turtle of choice.

Two Steinways and Three Roosevelts

Gold Steinway in the East Room of the White House (Photo Source: Library of Congress)

In 1903 and 1938, Steinway & Sons gifted their 100,000th and 300,000th custom, art-case grand pianos to the White House. The pianos, crafted with the White House East Room in-mind,  were unlike any other Steinway pianos ever produced--they had extravagantly painted cases, gold leaf designs, and intricately carved wood. The pianos quickly became beacons for art and culture in the East Room and Entrance Hall of the White House where the second one still resides today. Theodore, Edith, and Franklin Roosevelt utilized and dedicated these two Steinway pianos to help establish the White House as a hub for music in Washington moving forward into the 20th Century.

Jimmy Lafontaine: "The Gentleman Gambler"

Washington’s Godfather: “Gentleman Gambler” Jimmy Lafontaine

When one thinks of the gambling scene in the 1920’s, 30’s, and 40’s, the likes of Al Capone, Frank Costello, and Bugsy Siegel immediately spring to mind. However, the District had its own gambling godfather and Jimmy Lafontaine couldn’t have been further from the American gangster archetype. Though his extralegal line of work inevitably brought him unwelcome brushes with mobsters and the law, his story is not one of bootlegged booze or mysterious murders. Rather, he’s most often remembered for his charity and reputation as Washington’s “gentleman gambler.”

When he became Alexandria County Attorney General, Crandal Mackey was determined to cleanup Jackson City. (Source: Washington Times)

Jackson City: Arlington's Monte Carlo

On Memorial Day 1904, a group of civilians led by Alexandria County Attorney General Crandal Mackey boarded a southbound train from their meeting point in Washington to Arlington. As they rode over the old Long Bridge, Mackey distributed axes, guns, and hammers to the men who, only moments earlier, had been sworn in as official deputies of Arlington County. For decades, seedy settlements rife with betting houses, bars, and boudoirs prospered in the shadow of the nation’s capital. Gamblers had long sought protection by backing the powers that be in the dominant Democratic Party but Mackey and his supporters were a part of a new movement that claimed to oppose corruption. Mackey’s posse disembarked at the unimaginatively named “South End of Long Bridge Station” and began what would be the first of many raids. Haphazard in their approach, the gang swarmed well-known gambling houses and left smashed-up, burned-out shells in their wake.

The March King Steps Down

Sousa and the Marine Band in 1891, the year before Sousa left (Photo Source: Library of Congress)

In the summer of 1892 Washingtonians had their hearts broken. After 12 years of conducting the United States Marine Band, John Philip Sousa, D.C. native and beloved conductor, submitted his resignation to the U.S. Marine Corps. He was leaving for Chicago, where he had accepted an offer to serve as musical director of a new military-style civilian band. The public of DC would not let their beloved Sousa go easy, and arranged a farewell testimonial concert where he could exhibit his grand conducting skills for an eager audience one more time. This concert served as the first of two farewell concerts for Sousa with the second taking place the very next day on the White House Lawn. 

The Humble Beginnings of the National Symphony Orchestra

The National Symphony at their inaugural concert on January 31, 1930 (Photo Source: Used with Permission from the NSDAR Archives)

At 4:45pm on January 31st, 1930 the “new and shaky ensemble known tentatively as the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington D.C.” took the stage of the recently finished DAR Constitution Hall at eighteenth and C streets northwest. Conductor Rudolf Schueller and the musicians were welcomed into the hall by vigorous applause from an audience of 2,000 music-loving Washingtonians who eagerly awaited the newly established orchestra’s first notes. Arriving at this moment of glory did not happen easily, or quickly for that matter. While Washington is typically considered a capital of arts and culture today, this was definitely not the case in the early 1900’s.

Woodward & Lothrop Shelve Haggling For Good

Street scene, Woodward & Lothrop, 11th and F Streets, NW, Washington, D.C. (Source: Library of Congress)

In the 19th century, before chains like Macy’s and Sears-Roebuck, Washington, D.C. had Woodward & Lothrop. Known affectionately as “Woodies,” it was among the first department stores in the District, and remained the leading retailer in the city for nearly a century. It pioneered modern retailing from returns policies down to the department store choir, revolutionizing the way goods were sold and the culture of department stores.

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