08 Aug 2022

History:

Lost Capitol Hill: More on Pontius Stelle

Pontius Stelle

Last week, we looked at Pontius Stelle’s first hotels on Capitol Hill, ending with his buying the old Tunnicliff’s hotel. As it turned out, Stelle’s tenure in this building was quite short. About a year and a half later, he moved one block to the south, to a new set of buildings that had been erected by Daniel Carroll. Consisting of five connected houses, the set was known as “Carroll’s Row.”

Stelle announced his plans in an ad placed in the Daily National Intelligencer of September 3, 1806. Entitled “Stelle’s Hotel & City Tavern” the text went

The Subscriber takes this method of thanking his friends and the public for their favors whilst on the Capitol Square and begs leave to acquaint them that he has taken the Spacious Hotel lately erected by Mr. Carroll, near the Capitol. The hotel being above one hundred feet in front, and containing fifty rooms enables the subscriber to offer every accommodation to members of Congress and travellers which can be expected in a public house. [All spelling, italics, and capitalization sic]

Maud Burr Morris, whose 1904 article on Stelle forms the basis of this article, had an unimpeachable source in her own grandmother, Elizabeth Hooton Stelle. Born on September 27, 1800 ––one of the very first people to be born in the new capital city–– Elizabeth had vague memories of Tunniclff’s, but much better recollections of the Carroll Row location: “One of the four houses of which it was composed was used as a private residence of the family, and they had their own slaves and horses and carriages.”

Carroll’s Row, as it looked just before it was torn down to make way for the new Library of Congress Building (LOC)

The hotel was used by a wide variety of people, including a man who spent months trying to make a claim in front of Congress and, despite Stelle’s best attempts to alleviate the man’s fears, committed suicide the day before Congress finally acted–– in his favor.

On the other end of the spectrum were visits such a Turkish special embassy which used Stelle’s as their headquarters, presenting Mrs. Stelle with gifts of a bottle of attar of roses and a chest full of tea. Of the latter, Morris wrote:

The chest is still in existence, but the tea was used long ago in the delightful afternoon gatherings for which Mrs. Stelle and her husband’s half-sister, Mrs. De Cow, were famous in those picturesque days of stiff brocades and powered coiffures when the ladies dispensed this favorite beverage with toasted muffins, while for the gentlemen, who would promenade up and down the immense rooms with polished floors reflecting the light of dozens of wax candles in silver or brass candelabra, there was hot apple toddy, a silver tankard of which stood steaming on the hob in the open fireplace.

Stelle’s tenure here did not last long, either. He had been unable to sell the old Tunnicliff’s hotel, and so in 1809, he found himself in such dire straits as to be forced to sell his household goods. In 1809, he sold off his hotel to Robert Long. Two years later, he was finally able to unload Tunnicliff’s, which in turn was made part of the temporary Brick Capitol a few years later.

Stelle would take a job in the Treasury Department in the office of the Comptroller of Currency, a post he would hold until his death in 1826. He is buried in Congressional Cemetery.


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