02 Nov 2015


Lost Capitol Hill: T. Edward Clark and his Lumber Yard

teclark tnThomas Edward Clark was all of 18 years old when his father, William Clark, died– leaving his son in sole charge of the wood yard that he had opened in the Navy Yard neighborhood. It fell to the young man to continue the business and he jumped at the chance, publishing an elaborate ad in the Daily American Organ of November 6, 1855, in which he wrote that he had “succeeded his father” and he had “a supply of different kinds of Wood” but also had “made arrangements to supply [his customers] with white and red ash coal.”

In fact, looking at his ads over the next couple of years, it seems to have been the coal business that did the best. And as the business prospered, so did T. Edw. Clark, as he took to signing his name: He was elected Alderman of the city twice, in 1861 and 1862.

The only problem he seemed to have was keeping his possessions about him, as he had to advertise for lost property several times in these years, including once when his horse was “lost” from in front of City Hall, presumably while the owner was tending to the people’s business in this august place. Even more amusingly, he managed to lose his dog Dash not once, but twice: Once in 1866, and then again six years later.

Far less amusingly, Clark also advertised for a lost slave in 1859. A young man by the name of Charles Snowden had absconded. The advertisement stated that Snowden was “about 21 years of age, 5 feet 11 inches high, quite dark, rather spare and very straight, has a small head and face, a long underlip and answers short when spoken to.” Snowden had been rented out to work at the Washington Navy Yard, and was apparently quite valuable to Clark, who offered “$75 reward if taken in the District or $100 if taken in any of the adjacent counties.”

What happened to Snowden is unclear. He is not listed as on any of the petitions filed after the D.C. Emancipation act of April 16, 1862. Nor is Clark listed as a slave-owner in any of these. One can only hope that Snowden escaped to freedom – possibly under a new name.

Ad for T. Edward Clark's coal and lumber business from the 1860 Washington City Directory (Archive.org)

Ad for T. Edward Clark’s coal and lumber business from the 1860 Washington City Directory (Archive.org)

In the post-war years, Clark shifted from coal sales back to wood. On January 1, 1866, he partnered with one Thomas B. Cross, and together they ran the lumber yard on Virginia Avenue, between 9th and 10th Streets SE. This partnership lasted for some 12 years, during which time they were regular advertisers for their wares in local newspapers. Clark thereafter continued to run the business alone, claiming that by conducting his business “almost exclusively by [his] own family” he could “compete successfully with any similar establishment in this city.”

In the early 20th Century, Clark added a new dimension to his persona: letter-to-the-editor writer. Whether a screed against dog taxes, “powellism” or the crackdown on small-time gambling, Clark took pen to hand with such inventive peevishness that you almost expect him to add “P.S. I am not a crank” to the end of each missive.

At the same time, his business seemed to have morphed from the sale of new building material to that of reused. His ads became a mixture of “I will knock down and remove your house” and “20,000 bricks for sale”

Thomas Edward Clark died on January 6, 1921. He was laid to rest next to his wife, who had predeceased him by some 30 years, in Congressional Cemetery, where he had been a leading light in the “Lot Owners’ Association of Congressional Cemetery” for many years.

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