Two Plumbers and a Plasterer Go Looking for Trouble and Find It (1895)

Swampoodle sounds like an area filled with some tough blue-collar dudes. Here’s a little column I found in the Post from January 21st, 1895 about three locals, boozing until the wee hours of the morning.

Two plumbers and a plasterer went outside of “Swampoodle” Saturday night to find trouble. They found quite a large quantity of it about 3 o’clock Sunday morning, and incidentally learned that among the policemen of the First precinct are a number of expert sprinters. At the station the plumbers gave the names of George Ricketts and William McGregor, and the plasterer said that his name was Bernard Downing.

Swampoodle, by the way, was a rough Irish immigrant neighborhood, centered where Union Station is today. Much of the neighborhood was bulldozed to make way for the railroad station, which most law-abiding locals supported. It was a nasty shantytown, rife with crime, rampant prostitution and drunkenness. So, needless to say, these guys lived in a rough part of town.

Swampoodle Houses
Swampoodle houses on 1st St NE circa 1904

The photo above shows a pretty rough neighborhood … not exactly the kind of place where you’d like to hang out.

The three had quite a lively time in the pool rooms along E street until midnight, and then they hung around the “Division” for an hour or two. About 3 o’clock they dropped into Crowley’s oyster house on Pennsylvania avenue and ordered a small-sized spread. After eating, it is alleged, they declined to pay for what they had ordered. The cashier remonstrated and they have him “de bluff.” A resident of the “Poodle,” George Hurdle by name, was in the oyster house, and knowing the boys told them they had no right to eat without paying.

Dropping in to eat at an oyster house around 3 a.m.? It’s tough to grab a bite to eat at that hour these days. Maybe the Diner in Adams Morgan or the new Tryst/Diner coming to Columbia Heights, but sounds like night owls had it better in 1895.

Hurdle is a small man, and in just about a half-minute he was sorry that he spoke. The plasterer and the two plumbers made a rush for him, and one of them knocked him down. Policemen Williams and Boyce entered just then and the gang ran. Boyce captured Hurdle and Williams took after the three. They separated. Williams followed Ricketts and blew his police whistle long and loud. Bluecoats seemed to spring out of the ground. McGregor managed to get as far as Ninth and G streets where we was collared by Officer Sprinkle. Downing went several blocks down E street, and was overhauled by Officer Carlson. Williams went down the Avenue like a rocket, and captured Ricketts.

Hurdle, of course, was released, but the other three will be in court this morning with two charges against each of them.

He blew his whistle long and loud? I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t work today. Also, I wonder if these guys could beat Henry Elphinstone in a footrace.

Clearly, Adams Morgan late on a Friday or Saturday has nothing on the “Poodle.” Check out the photo above of houses in the neighborhood. Also, Swampoodle is the area where Washington Coliseum was built (the site of the Beatles first American concert).

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  • Good article!
    So I definately know some stuff about Swampoodle having lived in Brookland NE for a while since many of the locals there are the grandkids of the Irish that grew up and around Swampoodle.
    One, the Irish Times is one of the last hold-overs from those days. I believe Dubliner is as well.
    Two, the houses on the east side of N Capitol Street facing Gonzaga were bordellos where the prostitutes would hang out sunning on the porches in the mornings while the boys at Gonzaga would leer at them from their 10 am religion classes. I believe Buchanan was one of these kids.
    Three, there was a creek that acted more like an open sewer that ran through Swampoodle called Tiber Creek. It was filled in during the Union Station build.
    By the way, another area that was as notorious as Swampoodle was Foggy Bottom back when the Old Heurich brewery stood where the Kennedy Center is today. The entire area was a huge industrial area pockmarked with row house neighborhoods and shantytowns inhabited by Irish immigrants and black migrants from the South.

    • Awesome information Tom! Thanks. I’m glad you like the story.

  • ZekeDCFD

    Major League Baseball in the late 1800’s was also played in a stadium informally known as Swampoodle Grounds on the site of present day Union Station.

  • Vlad Cartwright

    As a Gonzaga alum, I can only imagine looking across N. Capitol Street during one of my classes in Cantwell Hall – could have used the diversion… Rare Essence was playing gigs at the Washington Coliseum by the mid 80s so the “tune” had certainly changed in the poodle. Interestingly, Gonzaga is built over where Tiber Creek used to flow. The entrance road between the Buchanan Field and the school is built over the dry bed – at least that’s the party line…

    Good stuff, Tom. My great Grandmother lived on Quincy Street – first block off North Capitol, so I am sure I had relatives take part in the late night dining the poodle had to offer…

    My Great Grandfather was a butcher and had a stall at DC Central Market, so I’ll be looking for a post on that soon! We still have the sign if you want to photograph it.

    • Wow, long time Washingtonian. Sounds like you have good lineage 😉 I’d love to take a look at that sign. Do you have it hanging up somewhere, or in a garage?

      • Vlad Cartwright

        It’s in a garage in Potomac – can get to it without much trouble and a short trek.

    • Also a couple hints about what’s coming tomorrow: “I am not a crook”, a First Lady’s home movies, and “Riders on the Storm”

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  • From what the article says, it sounds like the ruckus didn’t actually occur in the Poodle. The boys went outside Swampoodle to the Division, (meaning Hooker’s Division) also known as Murder Bay. The Pennsylvania Avenue address matches that location, as well as the reference to running down E Street, which was in the Rum Row area across Penn Ave from the Division.

    • Thanks John. I wasn’t clear on what the Division was. So many lost neighborhoods referenced in old newspapers.

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  • Was that image from the Post?

    • Crap…can’t remember. This was in the early days of the blog when I was quite bad at sourcing.

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  • Gigs

    I linked over from the article on Ann O’Connell, largely because I can’t seem to stop linking to new articles. 🙂 I love the writing style in the Post — it sounds like one of Jim Vance’s last stories of the night. And reading through the comments has been as entertaining and informational as the original story! Love it!

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  • Popeye D. Saylorman

    Swampoodle had nothing on Hell’s Bottom.