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Exploring the Streets of Swampoodle in 1895: A Column From the Washington Post

Take a step back in time to 1895 and explore the rough Irish immigrant neighborhood of Swampoodle. Read a column from the Washington Post that tells the story of three locals who boozed until the wee hours of the morning.
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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.

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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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