They Were Neighbors: Five Families on Corcoran Street in 1890 … and a Feud

If you’re not a genealogy buff, you may not know this, but much of the 1890 U.S. Census was destroyed in a massive fire in January 1921. It was a tragic loss for genealogists and historians alike.

1300 block of Corcoran St. NW
1300 block of Corcoran St. NW

I was walking down 14th St. and turned onto Corcoran St. NW with Mrs. Ghost and Ghost Dog this past weekend, admiring the late 19th-century architecture and thought it would be a great idea to revisit our “They Were Neighbors” story idea. (It’s been a long time since we met Annie O’Connell and her Irish neighbors).

I had very little to go on, other than randomly typing in addresses from the block into the newspaper archives to see what came up. And, by sheer luck, Jeremiah Z. Dare popped up. Captain J. Z. Date had passed away on Thursday, January 21st, 1904 and his funeral was to be held at his home, where his wife still resided, 1340 Corcoran St. NW (it says it’s build in 1890, but these records are often incorrect).

A quick search on Ancestry.com and J.Z. (the 1890s Jay-Z) popped up with his wife Maria, much to my shock, in the 1890 U.S. Census. Amazing luck.

So for our next – and I can’t believe it has taken so long to revisit this – post in “They Were Neighbors,” we are going to look at the 1300 block of Corcoran St. around 1890. We will highlight a few of the interesting regular Washingtonians who called that block home, near the intersection with 14th St.

Also, use the map below as a reference to see the area in the 1888 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map.

1300 block of Corcoran St. NW in 1888
1300 block of Corcoran St. NW in 1888

1339 Corcoran St. – Pitman Pulsifer and his family

Pitman Pulsifer
Pitman Pulsifer

The former residents of 1339 Corcoran have a pretty interesting background. The gentleman vying for the coolest name on the block, Pitman Pulsifer (38), lived there with his wife Mary (39), their daughter Edith (13), Pitman’s cousin James (24) and their servant Millie Keyes (21). It’s also apropos to note that James worked for the U.S. Census as a clerk.

The entire family was originally from Maine, and the interesting part is that Pitman was the personal secretary to Maine Senator Eugene Hale. If you read a lot of Wikipedia, you know that Hale is noted for having turned down two Cabinet positions, one under Rutherford B. Hayes and the second under Ulysses S. Grant.

The one interesting thing (which smells a little of nepotism and favoritism) is that Senator Hale was, at one point, chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on the Census. I wonder how James scored his gig as a clerk? Just sayin’ … too coincidental.

And, because the Internet is an amazing thing, I was able to dig up an old photograph of Pitman on Ancestry.com. There are a couple more you can check out there.

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The Pulisfer family in the 1890 U.S. Census (Ancestry.com)
The Pulisfer family in the 1890 U.S. Census (Ancestry.com)

1340 Corcoran St. – Captain Jeremiah Z. and Maria J. Dare

Captain Jeremiah Z. Dare and his wife had purchased the home at 1340 Corcoran from J.G. Payne in 1885. The Washington Post reported on June 26th that the sale price was $7,000, a sum considerably less than what Payne had originally invested in the property.

What was most amusing in the short mention was that Payne’s sale was “on account of an objectionable neighbor.” That makes you wonder who that was, doesn’t it? And, who would be so objectionable as to drive you to sell your home? Must have been a serious feud.

At any rate, Payne had built the home far earlier than the records currently state (1890). In May 1879, the Washington Post reported a building permit being issues to him for the purpose of constructing a $25 wood shed in the back of his home. The home most likely was built several years prior.

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The Dare family in the 1890 U.S. Census (Ancestry.com)
The Dare family in the 1890 U.S. Census (Ancestry.com)

1341 Corcoran St. – The Pennebakers

The Pennebaker family was a big one, with Anna, the mother and widow, heading the household. She was 55 years old and had given birth to 10 children. Shockingly, only four were still alive and three of them lived with her: Charles D. (35), married and a lawyer (this will be relevant as you read further), Samuel (30), a government clerk, and Elliott (14). Young Elliott was the only one born in D.C., with the others having been born in Kentucky.

Elliot ended up at Columbian College several years later, and I found his old yearbook picture from 1897.

Elliot K. Pennebaker in the 1897 Columbian University yearbook
Elliot K. Pennebaker in the 1897 Columbian University yearbook

As you read further down, you’ll get a better picture of what life was like on the block, including the dynamics of family and neighborhood conflicts.

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The Pennebaker family in the 189 U.S. Census (Ancestry.com)
The Pennebaker family in the 189 U.S. Census (Ancestry.com)
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The Pennebaker family in the 1890 U.S. Census (Ancestry.com)
The Pennebaker family in the 1890 U.S. Census (Ancestry.com)

1342 Corcoran St. – Charlotte Haden and her son

Charlotte M. Haden, a 47-year-old widower, originally from Boston, lived in the home at 1342 Corcoran, sharing a wall with the Dare family. The only other resident in the home was her 13-year-old son, Albert. Charlotte, was originally a New Englander, but a first-generation American, as her parents had immigrated from England earlier in the 19th century.

Young Albert was a student at the Franklin School, about a half-mile down 14th St.

His mother was likely extremely proud of an article published in the Washington Post on December 28th, 1885, for young Albert, then only 8, had been admitted as a member of the Children’s Christmas Club. The club was dedicated to providing meals and candy to the poor and less privileged children of Washington.

I wonder if the Hadens were the objectionable neighbors that drove Payne to sell his fine home to the Dare family at a loss. Maybe Mr. Haden was a loud drunk?

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The Haden family in the 1890 U.S. Census (Ancestry.com)
The Haden family in the 1890 U.S. Census (Ancestry.com)

1343 Corcoran St. – The Frey family

The Frey family was a big one. Abram (42) and his wife Mary (33) had four children living in the home with them, Daisy (9), Abram Jr. (8), Ethelbert (7) and Loula (6). (Some of them may be misspelled … it’s tough to read the handwriting).

With this full house, they added two servants, John Bliley (16) and Rose Heitmüller (19).

The most interesting dynamic, or I should say, friction, was between the Frey family and their next door neighbors, the Pennebakers. The Washington Post reported on June 22nd, 1889, that a lawsuit had been filed by the Pennebakers, alleging slader (oh, this is where Charles, the attorney comes up).

A boy named Elliott Kays Pennebaker, by his next friend, Charles D. Pennebaker, yesterday brought suit against Abram Frey for $20,000 damages, caused by alleged slanderous utterances of the latter to the detriment of the boy’s character. These utterances were to the effect that the plaintiff was a rascal and the worst boy in the neighborhood; that he was the leader of all the bad boys and instigated the other boys to mischief; that he was the leader of a secret gang, organized to worry and annoy neighbors and destroy their property that he had broken down and destroyed Frey’s plants; that he was a scapegallows and a rogue and would come to a bad end, and that he was encourage by his mother in his rascality. Defendant also threatened to have plaintiff put in the reform school. The plaintiff asks $5,000 on account of the disgrace and loss of friendship of his associates, $10,000 for the prejudice to his fortune and pecuniary circumstances and means to acquire an education, and $5,000 for other injuries sustained.

Do you think you have a bad neighbor? Wow … $20,000 back in 1889 was a ton of money!

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The Frey family in the 1890 U.S. Census (Ancestry.com)
The Frey family in the 1890 U.S. Census (Ancestry.com)
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The Frey family in the 1890 U.S. Census (Ancestry.com)
The Frey family in the 1890 U.S. Census (Ancestry.com)

Take a tour down the block using Google Street View.

About Tom

Tom founded Ghosts of DC on January 4th, 2012 as a blog to uncover the lost and untold history of Washington, D.C. He has lived in the city for over a decade and loves exploring every corner of the District.

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  • Billy

    Wait corcoran st was not destroyed in the fire with all the other 1890 census manuscripts…pretty awesome!