People Make a Neighborhood

According to the 1880 census, five of the houses on Caroline were inhabited:

Apparently, the only other occupied houses in Square 190 were:

No 1880 census entries have been found for the 16th or U street sides of the square.

Thus we see that Groff was conforming with the District norm of an unwritten restrictive covenant: no Blacks unless as servants. And he was attracting white collar whites in government service, particularly those who had moved to the area from elsewhere and those working at the Treasury Department.

In the same year Paul Clendenin, 20, born Illinois and a clerk in the Treasury Department, is recorded as living in Georgetown with his wife Susie, a daughter, and three other people not related. The daughter Bessie was six months old and had been born in Illinois - i.e., the family had just arrived in the DC area.

In 1881, the Clendenin family moved. Paul, his wife Susie, daughter Bessie and another daughter became the first occupants of 1522 Caroline Street. According to his great-granddaughter, Deedra Cook, who visited the street in 1989 to see where her great-grandparents had lived, Clendenin was 21 years old at the time. He was employed by the US Bureau of Statistics, a part of the Treasury Department, and was going to night school studying to become a doctor. Mrs. Clendenin died in 1884, and Mr. Clendenin, by then a physician, joined the army as a surgeon. His two daughters, one of whom was Ms. Cook's grandmother, were raised by other family members. Dr. Clendenin died of yellow fever in 1899 during the Spanish-American War while serving in Santiago, Cuba.[1]

The two 1881 Clendenin letters (see Appendix C) provide a glimpse of what the interiors of houses on Caroline Street were like originally. In his October 19, 1881 letter to his mother, Clendenin notes that the house has six rooms and a bath, a Latrobe range, hot and cold water, and a cellar under the entire house. Thus, we know that Caroline Street houses had indoor plumbing from the beginning. The Clendenins were inconvenienced somewhat "by varnishing and other finishing touches being put on." It isn't clear whether this work delayed their moving in a few days or whether the inconvenience occurred during their first few days of occupancy. (Individuals who have stripped woodwork in their houses in recent years confirm that the interior trim was originally varnished before many coats of paint were added over the years.) Clendenin's earlier letter home dated September 29, 1881, indicated that the house was to be "fitted up" with gas fixtures. Again, recent renovations have frequently uncovered pipes in house walls and ceilings that carried gas to lighting fixtures on both floors.[2] From information in his letters, it can be deduced that Clendenin was probably earning about $1,200 annually in his government position. He paid $20 monthly to rent 1522 Caroline, and was also able to hire help for his wife in caring for the house.[3]

Other excerpts from the September 29, 1881 letter attest to the vibrant DC real estate market at the time: "Every agent says that there never was such a demand for houses as now." "So if you have any surplus capital that you want to be earning 10 percent or thereabouts and value increasing all the time, you had better build a block of small houses here."

Further enhancing the neighborhood was its convenience to the 14th Street streetcar line with its direct access to Clendenin's job downtown. It's probably safe to assume, too, that Clendenin's neighbors shared his views. After all, the Clendenins already knew someone who lived across the alley shared with houses on the north side of T Street - the Thomsons, mentioned in both letters.

Clendenin noted that: "Our neighborhood is splendid and quiet and the 14th St. cars within 1-1/2 blocks of us." [Our house] "is about 1-1/4 miles from the office and a mile from the lecture hall" [where Clendenin was studying medicine].[4]

The Clendenin letters provide an intimate look at Caroline Street in the very beginning. Early Department of Public Works records and census data from 1900 (1890 forms were destroyed in a fire) through 1930 give other snapshots of street residents at 10-year intervals for its first 50 years.

These summary census data show that: