The Early Days
In 1795, Tunnicliff purchased two lots just off Pennsylvania Avenue and began leasing a small brick house already situated there. This house, likely built sometime in the preceding years, would become the Eastern Branch Hotel.
Tunnicliff quickly catered to travelers passing through the fledgling capital. In addition to lodging, he sold sundries like shirts and stockings onsite for the convenience of guests.
The hotel’s location near the Eastern Branch, one of the Potomac River’s tributaries, gave it its name. The Eastern Branch Hotel soon established itself as the most prominent accommodation in town. When the Washington Dancing Assembly held its inaugural ball in December 1796, they chose Tunnicliff’s hotel.
A Time of Transition
By 1799, Tunnicliff recognized that his hotel’s location was becoming less ideal. As government operations moved to Washington, new roads placed the hotel south of the main traffic flow into the city.
Encouraged by George Washington, Tunnicliff opened a second hotel, the Washington City Hotel, northeast of the nearly-finished Capitol building. This hotel, known simply as “Tunnicliff’s,” was better positioned to serve the government community.
The Eastern Branch Hotel passed through various hands over the next decades. As larger hotels sprang up across the city, it likely transitioned away from serving as a hotel. By the mid-19th century, it was a private residence owned by Captain William Easby.
After Easby’s death, the property changed hands several more times. By the late 19th century, it housed a saloon and boardinghouse. It then became an auto garage in the early 20th century before transitioning to a storage warehouse.
Despite additions and renovations over the years, the core brick structure remained. The former Eastern Branch Hotel survived well into the 20th century as a visible reminder of Washington’s early history.
An Ignominious End
The hotel’s long life came to an abrupt end in 1931 when it was demolished to make way for a gasoline station. The Eastern Branch Hotel met an inglorious fate that belied its significance as Washington’s first hotel and the site of early important social gatherings.
A Forgotten Legacy
The legacy of Tunnicliff’s Eastern Branch Hotel has faded with time, usurped by later famous establishments like the Willard Hotel. But it holds an intriguing place in Washington lore as the hotel that launched the city’s hospitality industry.
The Eastern Branch Hotel may be forgotten today, but its place in Washington history is secure.