26 Sep 2022


Lost Capitol Hill: Germans on the Hill

“Buck” Becker

I have to make a slight detour from my plans to finish the full story of the old Tunnicliff’s building, because while I was finishing up the research on the next installment, I noticed that there was a huge new source of data about Washington in general and —to a much more limited extent— Capitol Hill: The Library of Congress’s Chronicling America added a huge number of German-language newspapers covering the years from before the Civil War up to 1953.

I had been surprised to find only a limited number of advertisements for the Hill’s beer gardens in the papers I had previously searched. There was no such reticence in the German news of the day. Bertram Leins advertised almost every week starting in 1865. It’s worth noting that most of the German newspapers published only once a week, though in the late 19th century, there was a time when there was a daily paper.

Most of the advertisements for businesses showed them to be between the Capitol and the White House, with a large number directly on Pennsylvania Avenue. Looking through them, it seems clear that you could carry on about your daily business almost exclusively in German at the time. Almost every type of restaurant and store advertised in the German papers.

Advertisement for John Lewis Crouse’s services as a “doctor, dentist and birth assistant” from the April 1st, 1873 edition of the Washingtoner Journal. (LOC)

On the Hill, it appears to have been a bit more difficult. While it might just be that the local German speakers chose not to advertise, there are very few to be found. So, for instance, in 1873, East Capitol Street boasted not just one but two businesses dedicated to your health. At 228 East Capitol, you could visit John Lewis Crouse, who styled himself J. L. Krause in his advertisements. Since he and both his parents were born in Maryland, it may be that he was hoping to convince Germans that he was one of them. He seems to have had a turbulent history, and was later in life alleged to be insane.

Just a few doors down, at 300 East Capitol, was the drugstore of Emil Hagmann. While Hagmann does not seem to have been as suspicious a character as his neighbor, and at least was born in Germany, he did not stay long in Washington, but moved to Texas later in the 1870s.

But the real businesses run by Germans on the Hill were all beer-related, whether it be Jacob Roth’s brewery on First Street between C and D northeast (right where the Carroll Arms hotel would later be built), Bertram Leins’s “Navy Garden” or Martin Becker’s bar/summer garden at 4th and F NE. This was the successor of Humphreys and Juenemann’s pleasure garden.

Martin Becker’s name may also ring bells to long-time readers: he was the father of John M. Becker, who ran a bar at the end of 8th Street and is thereby the grandfather of (short-lived) baseball phenom Buck Becker. (See rest of story here and here. That’s his picture, above)

One other name that appears frequently is John T. Hofmann. But you can read all about him next week, when I return to the Tunnicliff’s story. And I will continue to mine this new source of information in future columns.

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