Van Ness Park

A repeat post of 2013. . .
Van Ness Park, 1880, Washington, D.C.“Two people relaxing in Van Ness Park about 1880,” Washington, D.C.,  via D.C. Public Library Commons on flickr.

This park was not located in the present-day neighborhood known as Van Ness.  The photo was taken in an area southwest of the White House near the corner of C and 18th Sts., N.W. — which was then known informally as “Van Ness Park.”

According to the Library’s notation on the photo, the building that can be seen in the middle of the far right side (above the man’s legs) is a “dependency of Van Ness Mansion.”

Van Ness House (Mansion) and its grounds were located on the block bordered by 17th and 18th Sts. and  C St. and Constitution Ave.  Built about 1816, the Greek Revival house was one of the finest in the city until the Civil War.  But afterwards, it served as a “German beer garden, florist’s nursery, headquarters of the city streetcleaners, and in the end, for the Columbia Athletic Club,” according to the blog Lost Washington.

The college that became George Washington University bought the property in 1903 but later decided that its location was too unhealthy for campus facilities.  At that time, the Potomac River and its marshes came up to B St., now Constitution Ave.

The State Department bought it in 1907, tore down the house, and built the Pan American Union (today OAS) Building.

I think the dependency in the photo is the old stable of the estate, which still exists at C and 18th Sts.  If that’s so, the couple may be lounging in what is now Bolivar Park.

According to the blog DC Ghosts, the stables have a connection to a local ghost story in which six white horses “run wildly around the grounds” and then group together to walk to the P St. Bridge crossing to Georgetown and Oak Hill Cemetery.  The full story is here.

It is good to be alone in a garden at dawn or dark so that all its shy presences may haunt you and possess you in a reverie of suspended thought.

— James Douglas, Down Shoe Lane

The Sunday porch: Williamsboro, N.C.

 “Blooming Hope” (also called “Cedar Walk”), Williamsboro, North Carolina, 1938, by Frances Benjamin Johnston, via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

I like the way the vines are a little blurry from a sudden gust of wind.

The home may have been built as early as the 1750s by a Hutchins (or possibly Robert) Burton, who called it “Blooming Hope.” He may have operated a boarding school there. It also seems to have served as an academy for young ladies later in the early 1800s, run by the Rev. Henry Patillo. At some point in its first 100 years, there was a suicide in the house (either Burton or Patillo’s son), and it acquired a reputation as haunted. It was torn down in 1967.

A Saturday porch: The Firs

A Halloween porch. . .

5 The Firs, ca. 1900, Library of Congress

This was the front porch of “The Firs” in New Baltimore, Michigan, between 1901 and 1910.* At that time, it was a summer boarding house.


Although the ladies above look calm enough, throughout the 20th century — and up until the house was torn down in 2005 — many residents, visitors, and trespassers reported weird phenomena there.

Lights flickered, dishes flew off the table, strange voices were heard, and invisible fingers stroked girls’ hair. Ghostly figures were sometimes seen — particularly those of a young woman, an older man, and a child playing in the yard — or so ’twas said.

1 The Firs, ca. 1900, Library of Congress

The residence was first known as Hatheway House, for Gilbert Hatheway, a businessman who built it about 1860.

When he died in 1871, the house went to his son, James S. H. P. Hatheway. James had one daughter, Mabel, who died in March of 1881.

Mabel was only twenty at the time of her demise and had married a man from another town just three months earlier. Local legend has her being killed from a fall down the Hatheway House stairs.

One account of the alleged incident notes that her father, irritable from chronic pain, was also unhappy with her choice of husband; another brings up an older cousin with anger management issues. In at least one version of Mabel’s slight history, she is mentally ill.

6 The Firs, ca. 1900, Library of Congress
A slightly spooky allée in front of the porch.

In the late 1800s, the Hatheway family moved out of the house, and it became The Firs.

About the same time, or perhaps later during the WWI years, the west side of the building was turned into a small hospital, run by Dr. Virginia French.  It was never a home for the insane, although that was the creepier story often passed down.

3 The Firs, ca. 1900, Library of Congress

I haven’t been able to find out what happened to the property later in the 20th century, except that it seems to have been empty by the late 1990s, if not well before — perhaps because of its reputation as a haunted house.

Naturally, teenagers found it a fun place to explore at night and vandalize. In August 2005, much to the neighbors’ relief by one account, the house was demolished. However, there continue to be reports of strange lights and noises in the ruins of the basement.

2 The Firs, ca. 1900, Library of Congress
A fairly cheerful side garden.

You can scroll through more (and larger) images of The Firs by clicking on ‘Continue reading’ below and then on any thumbnail in the gallery.

*Photos by Detroit Publishing Co., via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Continue reading “A Saturday porch: The Firs”