26 Nov 2012

Lost Capitol Hill: The Bank of Washington

The 1822 city directory of Washington DC, the city’s first, lists a number of people as either living near, or working at, the “Bank of Washington.” Today, no such establishment exists any more. In its day it was one of the more important banks on Capitol Hill, and, in fact, the oldest in all the city.

In 1809, Washington DC was a small city, and still missing many of the amenities that most people expect from a city, including a bank. Fortunately, a number of citizens, led by Daniel Carroll of Duddington, banded together to rectify this problem.

In September 1809, thus, the Bank of Washington was founded with a capital stock of $100,000. Given the likely customers of the bank, it opted to build its headquarters near the Capitol, and thus opened on the east side of New Jersey Avenue, between B and C Streets southeast.

Two years after its start, it received a charter from Congress, and in the process, revealed that it had “$50,000 in Spanish gold, $45,000 in British and Portuguese gold, and $5,600 in American gold” on hand.

Three years later, with the British threatening Washington, William A. Bradley, then discount clerk of the bank, moved everything from the bank 30 miles north of the city to Brookeville, Maryland – where President James Madison himself had fled. The bank thus survived the conflagration that consumed the capital, and was thus ready and able to lend the government the money needed to rebuild the city after the retreat of the British. Bradley, later achieved fame as the mayor of Washington, as well as the owner of Analostan Island (today Roosevelt Island)

Over the years, a large number of famous people, including Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, used the bank to hold their money.

The Bank of Washington at the corner of 7th and C NW can be seen in this 1969 picture from the Historic American Buildings Survey picture. (LOC)

In 1832, the bank moved to Louisana Avenue, and about 50 years later built the building that can still be seen at the corner of 7th and C Streets NW. (Louisiana Avenue is today Indiana Avenue) Around the same time, the bank became the National Bank of Washington, a name it kept for the next 100 years. In 1990, it was bought by Riggs National Bank, ending a long and illustrious chapter in the banks of Washington DC. Riggs, itself one of the oldest banks in DC, was bought out later by PNC bank.

Although the original building is long gone, replaced by the Cannon House Office building, the 7th and C Street NW building is still around, and is currently known as the Argentine Naval Attaché Building.


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