Notes & speculations on the known addresses of Mark Twain in Washington, DC during winter of 1867 – 1868

Library of Congress, A. Boschke, 1857

Library of Congress, A. Boschke, 1857

On February 21st, 1868 Mark Twain sent a letter to his family. Addressed from 224 F Street [NW], Twain advised in the heading to “(Keep your eye on the address).”

He opened the letter writing,

Dear Folks—

I was at 224 first— Stewart is there yet—I have moved five times since—shall move again, shortly. Shabby furniture & shabby food—that is Washn—I mean to keep moving.

In one of Twain’s first letters from Washington City he was apparently at “224 F, cor. 14th.” So, what’s the deal?

As an explanatory note for Twain’s 9 Feb 1868 letter to Mary Mason Fairbanks, which was addressed from 76 Indiana Avenue, the editors of the Mark Twain Project offer,

“Clemens had presumably just moved to this address, possibly from 356 C Street North, which he had given as the return address of his 15 January letter to Webb. It is also possible that he left the C Street address when he went to New York and Hartford in January, and then stayed again briefly with Senator Stewart at 224 F Street North upon his return to Washington. On 21 February he would tell his family that he had moved five times since leaving Stewart’s rooms, but only the C Street address and 76 Indiana Avenue—his current address—are known. Because he was moving frequently throughout this period, Clemens sometimes used 224 F Street for his return address, on the assumption that he could always collect his mail from Stewart, who still lived there.”

We know when Twain first arrived in Washington he stayed with William M. Stewart, United States Senator from Nevada, in a boarding house at the corner of 14th & F Streets NW.

It’s also possible that Twain crashed an evening or two in the office of the New York Tribune. In an 1883 article, Hiram J. Ramsdell recalled, “[Twain] made his headquarters at the Tribune Bureau, and was not always welcome, for he was never goodnatured [sic], and was sometimes absolutely offensive, so much so that the correspondents did not always like to see him about …”

1887 Hopkins Map _ Plate 19 _ 346 C Street _ between 4 1/2 and 6 Street

1887 Hopkins Map _ Plate 19 _ 346 C Street _ between 4 1/2 and 6 Street

With Twain’s city reporting as our evidence, not only did he haunt the Senate and House press galleries, but Twain also frequented the city courts. If he rested at “356 C bet. 4½ & 6th” [ED: Twain used this address at least once.] and “76 Indiana avenue” [ED: Twain used this address at least twice.] this explains his proximity to the city’s judicial system as the Police Court Building was just around the corner at 6th & D.

It appears that once Twain left from out the roof of Senator Stewart he spent his time in Washington City in and around this general area of City Hall. By his own admission, Twain stayed with a gang of journalists, “I roomed in a house which also sheltered George Alfred Townsend, Ramsdell, George Adams, and Riley, of the San Francisco Alta.” According to the 1869 City Directory, with the information having been gathered in 1868, Townsend stayed at “319 B St. north.”

Could this have been another of the pentamerous addresses that Twain mentions?

Writing in the Washington Post in 1979 Chalmers M. Roberts wrote about the legacy of the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 4 1/2 Street:

“When the government moved to Washington in 1800, Congress met only a few months each year and the bulk of the members, and a good many government clerks as well, lived in boardinghouses along the avenue. In pre-Civil War decades, Elizabeth Peyton ran a “select boardinghouse” on what will be the [Canadian Embassy]. Among its boarders were Chief Justice John Marshal Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun. The building was remodeled, apparently around 1855, and beginning in 1869 became the Fritz Reuter’s restaurant and rathskeller. A 1901 Rueter ad boasted of “80 elegantly furnished rooms – 40 with bath – telephone in every room. Electric elevator.” And “table d’hote” cost 59 cents, “equal to any dollar table d’hote in America.”

George Rothwell Brown described Reuter’s as a “memorial to the small hot bird and the large cold bottle to terrapin, and to the broiled live lobster.” Reuter’s rival Harvey’s, on the south side of the avenue at 10th Street. Next door to Reuter’s stood the city telegraph office until 1869; in an upper room was the first office of the original Associated Press.

Across the street, between 4th and 7th Streets, where the National Gallery stands today, was an elegant gambling establishment called the Palace of Fortune. And in a third-floor room of another building lived Walt Whitman for a time in 1864. About when the Mellon Fountain is now, there once stood the St. James Hotel, earlier known as Bunker’s Hotel.”

It is clear that while Twain was in Washington City he did “keep moving.”

*This post is in response to a recent conversation with Donald T. Bliss, author of Mark Twain’s Tale of Today: Halley’s Comet Returns–The Celebrated Author Critiques American Politics.*

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