In researching the history of Eastern Market, it became clear that the greatest threat to its existence was the proliferation of grocery stores, which led me to wonder when these had begun on the Hill.
Turns out, grocery stores are as old as Washington D.C. The earliest issues of the Washington Intelligencer are full of ads for these establishments.
When the first of these appeared on Capitol Hill is yet another question. However, I did find mention of a grocery store just south of the Capitol that dates back to the Civil War era–– that of James H. and George F. Gulick.
The brothers were both born in the 1830s, with George, the elder, born 1833 in Virginia, while the younger was born two years later in Ohio. George moved to D.C. in the 1850s, establishing his store on New Jersey Avenue just south of the Capitol. James would join him later, and – after avoiding service in the Civil War by dint of a ‘paid commutation’ (which meant coughing up $300) by 1864 he would live at the store and list his occupation as a ‘clerk.’ Only later would he become a full-fledged partner, and the store would be known as “Gulick and Bro.”
Both brothers married, James marrying Mary K. McPherson around the time he was made partner, while George had married Mary Adelaide Drury in 1856.
It is here that their stories diverge. James never seems to have made much of himself, and by the late 1870s, he was suffering from chronic illness. In the 1880 census, he is listed as having been sick for the last 12 months with ‘dispepsia’ – basically a chronic stomachache that kept him from working. He would succumb to this on July 25, 1880 and be interred in Congressional Cemetery.
George was far more successful. After the Civil War George worked hard to get the very first statue to Abraham Lincoln, sculpted by Lot Flannery, erected in Washington, and was called for (but avoided service on) the John Surratt jury. He was elected as the 5th ward alderman from 1862 to 1871, then was appointed to what would become the infamous Feather Duster legislature.
After that, the only time George appears in the news was when he was robbed of $200 worth of clothing out of his apartment. The police soon found their man, and when he was arrested, still had some of George’s clothes on him. Otherwise, he seems to have been mainly involved in church business, being a member of the Second Baptist Church for over 40 years, and even running the Sunday School for many years.
George Gulick would die on January 18, 1910 at Providence Hospital. The cause of death was listed as ‘general dibility.’ He would be laid to rest in Oak Hill cemetery, next to his wife, who had predeceased him by over 20 years. Of the eight children he and his wife had, only one of them survived him. All are buried near him in Oak Hill.