If Walls Could Talk: Georgetown’s Breiding House at 1523 31st St. NW

I was taking a nice Sunday walk through Georgetown with Mrs. Ghost when we passed a very unique-looking home at 1523 31st St. NW. It caught my eye and I wanted to do a little digging to share what I could find with the GoDC community.

The home is known as the Breiding House, built in August of 1885 on what was then known as Congress St. (now 31st St.) before the Georgetown streets by an act of Congress. That year, the lot was deeded to Harrie Webster by Mary S. Williams and he received a permit to build a two-story brick building, with basement, topped by a double pitch slate roof and galvanized tin cornice. The home was built at the northern end of parcel 237, backing up to parcel 238. In the map below, 31st St. is shown with north to the right.

Georgetown parcel 237

Georgetown parcel 237

Harrie Webster and his wife Mary were the original occupants of the home from when it was built until deeded it to a George W. Slatford in 1903 (the year the above map was made). Webster was a lieutenant and engineer in the U.S. Navy.

According to an article in The New York Times from October 2nd, 1893, Webster was a chief engineer in the Naval Bureau of Steam Engineering. The piece mentioned that Webster was pushing for greater use of photography in creating blue prints of ship machinery. These blue prints would be created and bound in an album which would be the responsibility of each ship’s chief engineer while at sea, while a copy of the album would be stored at the Bureau of Steam Engineering.

1888 Washington city directory

1888 Washington city directory

In The Washington Post from September 5th, 1894, Mrs. Henrietta Hein’s obituary said she died in the home at an advanced age. Henrietta was the mother-in-law of Harrie, and was married to Samuel Hein, a former coast surveyor.

By 1903, the year he and Mary apparently sold the home, Webster was a Rear Admiral. On December 12th of that year, he went down to give a lecture at the Woman’s Club in Richmond, Virginia, on the wreck of the Vandalia.

The USS Vandalia was a U.S. Navy ship commissioned in 1876 and wrecked in a large cyclone in Apia, Samoa in March of 1889, killing 43 Americans.

Below is the mention of the deed transfer (for $10!) between Harrie Webster and George Slatford of partial lots 237, 238, 239, 281 and 282. Although, at the incredibly low price, it’s hard to believe that was a full transfer of the property. I did some digging, but was unable to find anything else of substance on this transaction, and the only George W. Slatford I found lived at 223 11th St. NW.

I also see another $10 transaction on June 23rd, 1904 from Anna Woodward to George at 16th and D St. SE for two lots (4 and 8) in square 1089. Another one on March 18th, 1902 was from Marie C. Eustis for $10. This time all lots from 100 to 108 in square 509, Corcoran’s subdivision were transferred. Yet another one in square 1247, parts of lots 109 and 100 (1412 35th St. NW) were sold to George for $10. There are plenty of these $10 transaction to George W. Slatford, including on March 8th, 1920, square 1220, part of lot 75 — this was the Farmers and Mechanics’ National Bank of Georgetown (the building is still there and is now a PNC).

This seems bizarre doesn’t it? Any GoDCers have an explanation or theory why George keeps showing up in real estate transactions for $10 each time?

1903 deed transfer

1903 deed transfer

Looking through the archives for more mentions of the address, we found a health office record from July 22nd, 1906 noting that Anna L. Waters died, sadly at the age of 17. She died on July 19th and 4 pm and her funeral was held on Saturday, July 21st at 4 pm. Such a sad story.

In the July 16th, 1936 obituaries of The Washington Post, included Thomas D. Waters, 80 years old, presumably Anna’s father. Going back through old Census records, in 1910, the Waters family was living at 1523 31st St., with Thomas and his wife Frances and their daughter Martha and mulatto servant Matilda.

Waters family in 1910 U.S. Census

Waters family in 1910 U.S. Census

By the 1920 Census, the family was all still there, minus Matilda. And, again in 1930. Thomas Dyson Waters died in 1936, but his daughter Martha was still living there in 1947 when a permit with her name was listed to install a bathroom partition. She appears to have been unmarried since she was still listed as Martha B. Waters.

In 1945, The Washington Post printed the obituary of Frances Prevost Breckenridge Waters, who died on December 10th, 1945 at her home. Her service was held on December 12th at 3 pm in the home.

The home’s current owners, David and Bernice Blair, purchased the home in 1999 from Bruce and Hope Breiding, the home’s namesake. Bruce appears to have been an avid sailor as he is listed countless times between the 1960s and 1990s participating in races all over the country.

If you ever get the chance to walk by the home, you should stop and take a look at it. It’s a wonderful piece of historical architecture contributing to Georgetown. And, if anyone happens to know the Blair’s living in the home now, make sure they see this. Maybe they’ll have a theory on George W. Slatford.

west elevation of 1523 31st St. NW

west elevation of 1523 31st St. NW

Source: Library of Congress

first floor plan

first floor plan

Source: Library of Congress

site plan

site plan

Source: Library of Congress

There are quite a few beautiful photos of the home’s exterior and interior available at the Library of Congress online. Check them out. There’s even a great report on the property available online.

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  • david

    Great post. Did you ever read the book “If These Walls Could Talk” about a middle class home’s 120 year history in Little Rock?