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The Fascinating History of Brown’s Indian Queen Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue

Explore the fascinating history of Brown's Indian Queen Hotel, a once-stately hotel on Pennsylvania Ave. in D.C. Learn about the hotel's notable guests, historic events and the "Star-Spangled Banner" first sung there in 1814.
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Below is a painting of Brown’s Indian Queen Hotel situated on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Brown's Indian Queen Hotel
Brown’s Indian Queen Hotel

Source: Library of Congress

The hotel was located on the northwest corner of 6th and Pennsylvania and was originally run by manager Jesse Brown, starting in 1810. Ten years later, he added a bright sign featuring Pocohontas and gave the hotel its name.

Unfortunately, like so much of historical Washington, the building no longer exists, and hasn’t for a long time. It was razed in 1935 after serving for a long time as the Metropolitan Hotel. Below is a 1921 map of the area around where the hotel was located.

1921 map of Pennsylvania Ave.
1921 map of Pennsylvania Ave.

Evidently, the hotel was the site of quite a number of historic events as saw countless notable guests. It’s supposed to be the location where the “Star-Spangled Banner” was first sung in 1814. For a time in 1847, it was the residence of a young congressman from Illinois by the name of Abraham Lincoln. It was also the site where, in 1841, John Tyler took the oath of office, succeeding the shortest tenured president, William Henry Harrison.

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Washington was a dirty, muddy, small southern city when the hotel was one of the finest. In the early days, around the time of Andrew Jackson’s presidency, there were but half a dozen or so hotels in the city and the Indian Queen was the only one that was considered upper class. Even with a reputation as a good hotel, it still fronted Pennsylvania Ave., which at the time was a nasty, muddy street where you would see sheep, cows, pigs, and horses.

Jesse Brown was originally from Maryland, hailing from Havre de Grace (also where Cal Ripken, Jr. is from). Before arriving in D.C., he had done work learning the hotel business in both Hagerstown and Alexandria. Brown was very hospitable, making a habit of personally welcoming guests when they arrived by stagecoach. He would also often dine with the guests and decanters of wine and whiskey were placed on the table, free of charge to guests.

Dinner in the hotel was almost a family-style affair with Jesse greeting guests at the doors to the dining room while wearing his large white apron. He’d escort them to a seat and, placing himself at the head of the table, would carve whatever the main dish was and call for all guests to pass up their plates to be served.

The rates for a stay at the Indian Queen were $1.75 for a day, $10 per week, and $35 for a month. Those just passing through were charged 50 cents for breakfast and lunch or 75 cents for dinner.

Brown’s hotel is also where, in 1830, Sam Houston checked in to serve as an  ambassador for the Cherokee Nation — before he was Texas’ senator.

One of the most famous incidents to take place at the Indian Queen happened on April 13th, 1830, in celebration of recently deceased founding father Thomas Jefferson’s birthday. This was a traditional banquet held by Democrats and all went smoothly, until the ceremonial toasts. At the time, President Andrew Jackson was feuding with Vice President, and southerner, John C. Calhoun, over the rights of states to nullify federal laws. The President stood tall, raised his glass and locked eyes with his Vice President, loudly proclaiming, “Our Union — it must be preserved!” Calhoun, not one to appreciate be addressed in that manner, raised his glass and stood to offer his own toast. “Our Union — next to our liberty, most dear! May we always remember that it can only be preserved by distributing equally the benefits and the burdens of the Union.”

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The question of state’s rights and the sanctity of the Union was to be put to the test over the next three decades, leading up to the bloodiest time in American history, The Civil War (or War of Northern Aggression if you’re from the south).

The next toast was not so powerful, and didn’t resonate as much as the first two. Given my Secretary of State Martin Van Buren (and future president), he said “Mutual forbearance and reciprocal concessions. Through their agency our Union was founded. The patriotic spirit from which they emanated will forever sustain it.”

By the 1930s, it had fallen on hard times, and the building, then known as the Metropolitan Hotel was to be torn down with all its furnishings sold at auction, including the bar (I wonder where that ended up).

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Ghosts of DC stories.