15 Apr 2013

Lost Capitol Hill: Rum Row on 11th Street SE

tnWhen you think of areas with bars on the Hill today, it’s usually in terms of Pennsylvania Avenue, 8th and 7th Streets, and H Street. Back in the day, there were of course also the late, lamented corner bars, but there was also another strip of bars in what – today – seems a surprising place.

 In the late 19th and early 20th Century, there was a lively trade outside the Navy Yard. One particularly busy stretch was 11th Street between M Street and the 11th Street Bridge, which crossed the Anacostia there. While in pre-Civil War times, this area was mainly residential and small-scale industrial, with ships carpenters, carters, brick makers living and working there, as the city expanded, new businesses began popping up there: Grocery stores, restaurants, and bars.

I know, I know: Bars showing up next to a Navy facility? Shocking! Unheard of! In fact, there were about a dozen such establishments over the years, but I want to look at just two of them.

John Appich and John H. Gates, aside from sharing a first name, also shared a trade: That of saloon-keeper. Both plied their trade along 11th, just up from the river, but they came at it from different directions.

In the 1880 census, both Appich and Gates appear. Appich is listed as a restaurant-keeper, while Gates is a “retail grocer” Both are married, both born before the Civil War, but Appich is an immigrant from Germany, while Gates is a native Washingonian. Appich plies his trade at 1303 11th Street, while Gates’s grocery store is at 1225.

Over the next ten years, both men get their liquor licenses and expand into that business. Gates moved his store into 1227, while Appich opens his liquor store in 1309. Both are, thus, clearly benefiting from the boom that DC – and Capitol Hill – is undergoing in order to expand their small empires.

In contrast to other bars I have referred to in the past, neither man seems to have had much trouble with the law. No fights or other bad behavior is recorded, though Gates did once find himself a witness in a murder trial, though it was just to attest to the character – or lack thereof – of the accused. As it turned out, the defendant had previously accused Gates of selling liquor without a license, a lie he most certainly rued when the accusee suddenly showed up during his trial as a witness for the prosecution. Almost 20 years later, Gates was the victim of a robbery, though he managed to chase down the thief.

1897 ad for Gates's establishment (LOC)

1897 ad for Gates’s establishment (LOC)

Otherwise, it was quiet in his saloon, and the Washington Bee reported of his “John H. Gates who keeps at No. 1225 11th Street southeast is where the boys like to get good beer, wines and whiskies. Mr. Gates is a man much liked by all classes.” This high praise may have had something to do with the fact that Gates was an assiduous advertiser in this particular newspaper at the time.

Appich’s life seems to have been even quieter. A John Appich appears to have been the victim of a forged check at one point, but otherwise, things were quiet in his place of business. His troubles began in 1914, when he attempted to move his liquor license to a bar in Anacostia – and was refused. Shortly thereafter, he lost his license entirely, three years before all licenses in DC fell victim to prohibition.

Nonetheless, Appich made out fairly well. In 1918, when the Navy Yard expanded east, taking in the land on which both Appich and Gates’s saloons stood, he managed to sell out his holdings for a respectable $4,800.

Gates was, by then, past any such mundane concerns, having died in 1913, before the anti-alcohol hysteria had fully gripped the nation. If you want to go visit this purveyor of “good beer, wines and whiskies” you can do so at Congressional Cemetery, where he was interred March 1, 1913.

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