ON THIS SPOT: Monroe Street Market

The Monroe Street Market is having their grand opening celebration this week, so I thought it would be a good time to take a look at what once existed on that site. Here’s their map of the layout. 


And here’s a map from 1913, showing what was there then. Not a whole lot:

On the 1913 map you can see a few buildings in square number 3657, where Brookland Works and the Bennett Career Institute are now, on the Michigan Avenue side (then still called Bunker Hill Road). Before the Monroe Street Bridge was built, this was part of Brookland’s business district, with a number of small shops and a coal yard near the tracks. But after streetcar service began to run up Monroe, the commercial area shifted to 12th Street. The building of the Michigan Avenue bridge in 1937 finished off those remaining businesses. The two houses along Monroe Street where the Bennett building now stands were used as a house of studies by the Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. They were replaced with the brick structure in 1956. The Bennett Babies child care building was a much more recent Pizza Hut. The land that the Brookland Works buildings stand on was not used until the 1960s when a Holiday Inn was built there.

Jehiel Brooks vs. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company

When I wrote about the history of the Metropolitan Branch and Colonel Brooks’s suit again the B&O railroad, I did not know the outcome of the case. The Washington papers didn’t report it. I bet you’ve all been losing sleep wondering what happened. Thanks to diligent reader Christopher Pohlhaus, we now know the answer. He pointed me to an article in the Baltimore Sun from April, 1871. Here is the transcription: 


Letter From Washington

April 13, 1871

The jury today decided the case of Jehiel Brooks vs. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company for $2,000 damages, alleged to have accrued to Mr. Brooks in consequence of the refusal of the railroad company to construct proper wagon ways over the track of the Metropolitan road across the plaintiff's farm, near Rock Creek. The evidence showed that the company had constructed wagon ways on Mr. Brooks' farm, but had refused to build a bridge over a cutting as demanded by Mr. Brooks as essential for the convenience of his farm work. Chief Justice Cartter instructed the jury that in determining whether the railroad company had constructed a proper wagon way they must take into consideration the condition of the farm and improvements with reference to the road constructed through it, and the necessities and conveniences involved in the cultivation of the farm; and if they should find that the crossings constructed by the defendant do not serve the convenience of the farm, but that a crossing should be constructed, within the bounds of reasonable expenditure, by bridge or otherwise, that would answer the convenience of the farm, they must hold the company responsible under the law for their neglect to provide such crossing. Mr. Cox, for the railroad company, excepted to the instructions. The case was then submitted without argument, and the jury returned a verdict in favor of Mr. Brooks of $577.

The award may not have been all he wanted, but I’m sure the Colonel was pleased. As a side note, Chief Justice David Cartter, who oversaw the Brooks case, was appointed by Abraham Lincoln in 1863 and two years later was there at his deathbed in the Petersen House the night of the assassination. He helped Secretary of War Edwin Stanton interrogate witnesses.

Thanks again to Christopher Pohlhaus. I updated the original post.

HISTORIC PLACES: A Home for the Blues

The first time I drove out Bunker Hill Road toward Maryland, I passed a fairly nondescript row of shops on a fairly nondescript block between 20th and 21st streets in Woodridge. The storefronts were a little worn; a daycare center, a dancing school, a barbershop. I didn’t think much more about it except to wonder from time to time why there wasn’t more life there. If only I’d gone by on a late Saturday afternoon and walked past the Alpha Tonsorial Parlor, I might have gotten a different impression. 


Archie Edwards in front of his barbershop. Click below to hear Archie playing “Stagg-O-Lee"

Inside the barbershop I would have found Archie Edwards, the owner, probably sitting on an old sofa playing some Piedmont blues on his Gretsch resonator, along with a crowd of other musicians joining in when the spirit called. The shop at 2007 Bunker Hill Road may not have looked like much, but it was a shrine of sorts, a mecca, a home for bluesmen and women and a place to preserve their music.  


Edwards had grown up near Union Hall, Virginia, learning guitar from his father and other local musicians. He and his brothers chipped in and bought a $5 Sears guitar with a picture of Gene Autry on the front. He also listened to and learned from recordings of Blind Lemon Jefferson, Big Bill Broonzy, Blind Boy Fuller and was particularly fond of Mississippi John Hurt. During WWII, Edwards served as an MP in the Pacific. After the war, for no particular reason, he decided to become a barber. He went to school, apprenticed, and in 1959 opened the shop on Bunker Hill Road. He cut hair part time, worked as a security guard full time, and sometimes drove a taxi.

HISTORIC PLACES: More Angles on the Shrine


After my post on the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception last week, I was contacted by Dr. Geraldine Rohling, the Shrine's archivist and curator. She had a little more information to add to the conversation about Gothic vs. Byzantine architectural style.

The original intention of the Shrine’s founder, Bishop Thomas Shahan, was for the church to be Gothic, French Gothic to be precise. There was even a model that toured the country to draw interest in the Shrine project. But then the concept for the church was changed to Romanesque Byzantine. According to Dr. Rohling, that wasn’t only because Gothic would have been too similar to the National Cathedral being built across town, but for more personal reasons as well:

Abp Glennon

One of the most influential people in the change from Gothic to Romanesque-Byzantine was John J. Cardinal Glennon (1862-1946), Archbishop of St. Louis, member of the CUA Board of Trustees and a close, personal friend of Shahan: “While the Gothic ... appears ... to lift the people to God, the Roman style or the Byzantine ... endeavors to bring God down to earth ... [God] lives with us.” 

Archbishop Glennon had been responsible for the building of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, a stunning Romanesque Byzantine church, with obvious similarities to the Shrine:

Basillica 001

Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. Photo by Colin Faulkingham

Bishop Shahan’s friendship with Archbishop Glennon coincided with his desire to have the church stand apart from the National Cathedral across town, making the choice of a Romanesque Byzantine design a logical one. 


IMG 4255

The Shrine at sunrise.  Photo by Robert Malesky

It is not even in Brookland, yet for some it has become a symbol of our neighborhood. That’s understandable, given its size and presence. Formally, it is the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, but most just refer to it as the Shrine. And it is big. It’s the biggest Catholic church in the United States, the biggest in the western hemisphere. Brooklanders see it every day, poised on the next hill over, yet many don’t know its story, and it’s an interesting one.

Shahan nd(a)

When The Catholic University of America was founded in 1887, it was only for the graduate-level education of priests and seminarians. There was one beautiful chapel on campus in Caldwell Hall for them, but that was all. When the university expanded to include first lay students (1895), then undergraduates (1904), it soon became apparent that a real university church was called for. Bishop Thomas Shahan (right), the fourth rector of the university (1909-1928), became the driving force behind it. Shahan liked the Collegiate Gothic style of institutional architecture, and soon came up with a bold campus plan with a university church at the very center: 

© Robert Malesky 2017