The National Archives, the Fireman’s Insurance Building, and the Carter G. Woodson House

By M. Marie Maxwell

RG 64, entry NA-273A. Center Market, looking southwest on 9th St., 1928

What do these three have in common? They all are properties within the District of Columbia, properties that appear in National Archives Textual series housed in Washington, DC.

Initially, I had hoped to trace the property ownership of the land upon which the National Archives Building in Washington sits through a few series, which name the owners of taxable properties in the city. Unfortunately for this project, the Center Market building and National Guard armory located on the block where the National Archives currently sits, were on a “reservation” which tends to be government property. Therefore there was little change in ownership, despite a change in use.

When at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. There is a popular coffee shop chain a few steps away from the National Archives Building. It sits in the Fireman’s Insurance Building at the corner of 7th Street and Indiana Avenue NW. In regards to real estate it sits on Square 458, lot 5. In the District of Columbia the different blocks are identified as squares, which are further divided into lots. That is, unless the square is a reservation. Once again and unfortunately for this project, the series I wanted to highlight ranged from 1883 to 1938, a time when Fireman’s Insurance owned the Fireman’s Insurance Building. No change in owner and no change in use.

For the sake of this project, which is to show potential researchers where they may find information about District of Columbia properties and their owners, I needed to find a property that changed hands more than twice between 1883 and 1938. I chose Carter G. Woodson’s office and home. Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950) is considered to be the father of Black History month. He lived and worked at 1538 9th Street NW, which currently sits on Square 365, lot 819. Looking back at the Baist real estate map, the lot was letter C.

Image of 1937-38 General Assessment. RG 351, entry P 1. Woodson’s name is highlighted.
1937-38 General Assessment. RG 351, entry P 1. Woodson’s name is highlighted.

Working backwards, let us begin with entry P1 from Record Group 351, General Land Assessment Files, 1902 – 1938 (NAID 4748936), noting that all the series explored are from RG 351. In the volume for 1937-1938 Carter G. Woodson is listed as the owner of Square 365, lot C. He is still listed as the owner in the 1923-1924 volume. Woodson purchased the property in 1922, and this is reflected in the 1921-1922 volume where Ida J. Heiberger is named as the assessed. From the 1914 to 1922 volumes, Ms. Heiberger is listed as the owner. In the 1902-1903, 1905-1906, and 1911-1912 volumes the assessed party was Jacob Xander. A little research using other tools such as newspaper, census databases, and other online resources reveal that for Dr. Ida J. Heiberger and Mr. Jacob Xander the 1538 Ninth Street NW building was not their residence.

In RG 351 entries P 28 A and B General Assessments, 1883 – 1903 (NAID 7861714) we can look at the years 1883 to 1900. For 1899-1900 the owner remained Jacob Xander. This changed sometime between 1897 and 1898, as a lawyer by the name of Saul S. Henkle is listed as the owner. Previously, between 1883 and 1890, the building was owned by his sister (according to the 1880 census) Clorinda S. Henkle. The city directories say she resided at 1538. Saul Henkle lived there for a few years with his sister, but never when he had ownership. If we wanted to look even further back we would have to look at PI-186 entry 47, Taxbooks, 1824-1879 (NAID 1488302) which cover the years 1824-1879.

Image from RG 351, entry P28.
RG 351, entry P28. Owner of 1538 9th St NW highlighted.

Other series were examined to see if there was anything more to be learned. RG 351 entry P 23 Records Concerning General Assessments and Plats, 1896 – 1897 (NAID 7868344) confirmed what we already discovered. Entry 22, Tax Assessor Card Files, 1905 – 1977 (NAID 7788693) yielded nothing, since there were no great changes to the building structure. Another tax assessment series, P 30, Field Assessment Books, 1889 – 1930 (NAID 12021790), provided basic tax related data but, gave no information about the owner.