Now and a Long Time Ago: Washington and Gay St.


This week for Now and a Long Time Ago, GM is going a long ways back, all the way to the Civil War. The above photo from the Library of Congress is of the Seminary Hospital on Washington and Gay (30th and N nowadays).

The building was originally Miss Lydia English’s Finishing School for Girls. As this writer recounts:

From 1820 to 1861 this was “Miss English’s Seminary for Young Ladies”. Many of the daughters of Washington’s elite families were educated here under the direction of Miss Lydia Scudder English.

Miss English wrote in her brochure that she would provide girls with “that amount of mental and moral culture necessary to render them amiable, intelligent, and useful members of society”.

About 140 girls boarded each year at Miss Lydia English’s Georgetown Female Seminary. One of the most famous was Harriet Williams, the teenage bride of the middle aged Russian nobleman whose marital home is at 3322 O St. NW.

The seminary was three floors high and contained 19 bedrooms, a library, several parlors, and porches on the wings. It even had running hot water. The union army confiscated the seminary in 1861 and turned it into a hospital for officers after the Union defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run.

It is believed that Mary Walker, the famous doctor, served here. She was the first woman to receive the Medal of Honor.

Miss English, however, was one of Georgetown’s most ardent secessionists. She could not stand to see the United States flag flying over her building so she moved out of sight around the corner to 2812 N Street, where the widow, Susan Decatur, lived after the death of of her husband, Stephen Decatur, who died from wounds suffered in a dual in 1820.

The building was eventually converted into apartments, and is now known as the Colonial:


Filed under Now and a Long Time Ago

3 responses to “Now and a Long Time Ago: Washington and Gay St.

  1. Kate Whitmore

    Thanks for posting this, GM! So much interesting history in Georgetown (and DC) related to the Civil War. A bit more to add to this:

    At the SE corner of N street between 30th and 29th are the former barracks built for Union NCOs. I think many of them would be aghast at the prices these semi-temporary houses now command!

    N Street farther east was notorious for the fact that quite a few confederates on the run found safe harbor among confederate sympathizers living there.

    The NW corner house at N and 30th (formerly owned by Deborah Dean) was also the home of Dr. Grafton Tyler:
    “He was so aghast at the sight of the [U.S.] flag flying over the seminary across the street that he slammed his shutters closed and kept them boarded throughout the remainder of the war, including the dog days of summer…When Richmond was captured in April of 1865, a newspaperman from the Evening Star was reporting on the festivities around Georgetown. He recorded the following about Dr. Taylor’s house:

    “The house appeared unusually dark with all its windows and doors tightly shut. Upon suspicion it was because of sympathy for the rebel cause, soldiers in the vicinity of the Seminary Hospital and the young men living near there became excited and put the house in mourning, hanging crepe on the knobs. Then they illuminated around the door with candles and put up national colors around the doors and Serenaded the house with national songs.”

    Lots more to read at:

  2. Pingback: Come Out to Learn About Georgetown During the Civil War | The Georgetown Metropolitan

  3. Christopher Wolf

    My grandfather, Alexander Wolf, Sr. purchased the building at 1305-1315 30th Street in 1903 for $6,000 and converted it to apartments called The Colonial. I lived in one of the units from 1980 to 1989. The family sold the building in 2008.

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