04 Aug 2014

Lost Capitol Hill: The New Jersey Avenue Market.

tnI have previously written about various different markets on the Hill. As I was re-reading S J Ackerman’s book on Eastern Market, I realized that there was one that I had not yet discussed.

The first market on the Hill was, in fact, right next to the Capitol. It was, unsurprisingly, run for the many workers who were building the new structure. Since they tended to live near their worksite, and worked long hours, it made sense for them to have a location where they could buy food close by.

As the site became more complete, and more people moved into the area, it made sense to find a new home for the market. The new location was found further south along New Jersey Avenue, and it was now just a matter of making the new location official.

Thus, on March 23, 1803, the council passed an act that would create a new market “whenever a majority of the house-holders residing in that part of the city … request the establishment of such [a] market.” The act also required that “the market-house already erected on New Jersey Avenue” be “put into convenient order by the petitioners.” Which all sounded fine and good, though in reality, the market was run out of what Steve Ackerman calls in his book Making Eastern Market a ‘paltry shed.’

Workmen on the grounds of the Capitol in 1800 [LOC]

Workmen on the grounds of the Capitol in 1800 [LOC]

The new market was known variously as the New Jersey Avenue Market and East Market. It is under the latter name that it appears during these years in the budget of the City of Washington, who paid for a market manager.

While perfectly acceptable for those working at the Capitol, it was less useful for those whose workplace was the other major employer on Capitol Hill: The Navy Yard. For them, this location was distinctly problematical. As Ackerman points out:

The less-skilled Navy Yard workmen or ‘mechanics’ necessarily dwelt close to their jobs, because they labored from before dawn until after sundown, summoned to work y the ringing of a large bell. Living ‘within the sound of the bell’ was a necessity. Toting groceries from New Jersey Avenue over streets that were just muddy footpaths – where they existed at all – was a burden for their wives. Wealthier residents also wanted a convenient market to enhance their neighborhood.

The result was, therefore, that in 1806, Eastern Branch Market opened on K Street SE, and while still not as grand as what Peter L’Enfant had originally foreseen, was much better than the old market. It certainly improved the lot of those working at the Navy Yard. However, for those who continued to toil away at the building of the Capital, this was not an improvement, and thus, seven years later, a second market  was built on Capitol Hill, one that was indeed much better situated for those at the Capitol.

The New Jersey Avenue Market disappeared entirely, the location was – much later – used to built the capital power plant, who still graces that site.


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