Where the Streets Had Old Names: Lingan St.

GM is finally back with an installment in his Where the Streets Had Old Names series! Today he is exploring the street currently known as 36th St.

Prior to the street renaming in 1895, this short little street was named Lingan Street. However prior to that it was known as Gay St. It was renamed Lingan Street in the 1810s, and the reason for the switch was quite dramatic, as described below.

Lingan Street was named after James McCubbin Lingan. Lingan was born in 1751 in Hartford County, Maryland (coincidentally the very same month that Georgetown was founded). He would later serve in the Maryland militia and obtained the rank of Lieutenant during the Revolution. However, he was captured at Fort Washington in New York just months into his service and spent years on a prison ship.

As a young man, Lingan moved to Georgetown, working in the tobacco warehouses and acquiring land. He was among the first men named as Alderman when Georgetown was officially recognized as a town in 1789. And he was one of the original nineteen landowners that signed an agreement for the establishment of the District of Columbia.

He built Prospect House–the stunning property at 3608 Prospect St.–between 1788 and 1793.

But the most significant act of his life came at its end.

Lingan was reputably a fierce defender of the freedom of the press. As tensions with Britain led up to the War of 1812, Lingan sided with the anti-war faction and accused France of instigating the conflict. When an anti-war newspaper in Baltimore, The Baltimore Federal Republican, came under attack from rioters, Lingan offered to shelter its publisher in Georgetown. Once he began to publish again, rioters returned to the Baltimore house that was used by the newspaper. Lingan and Henry Lee III (father of Robert E. Lee) rushed to Baltimore to help defend it.

After a tense confrontation, Lingan and his compatriots were ushered into a Baltimore jail for their protection. However, later that night the rioters appeared at the jail and broke in. They beat Lingan and the others brutally, including some attempts at tarring and feathering. Lingan succumbed to the injuries and died July 28, 1812. (Lee survived but spent the rest of his life disfigured from the wax that was poured into his eyes.)

Thus Lingan died a martyr for the free press. It was shortly after this death that Georgetown renamed Gay Street after him.

A curious coda attaches to Lingan, however.

Following his death, he was brought back to be buried in Georgetown. A large gathering in what is now Montrose Park hosted the affair. Wikipedia writes that Lingan was buried in St. John’s burial grounds. But GM does not believe that is correct. Multiple historical accounts state that he was buried in his family’s plot in his Harlem estate. This was a landholding that stretched across the triangle produced by Foxhall Rd., Conduit Rd. (now MacArthur) and Reservoir Rd. (although originally it was even larger):

It was named Harlem after the Battle of Harlem Heights in the Revolution, where Lingan ha earned his “war hero” status.

Sadly, Lingan’s wife came into debt fairly soon after his death and most of Harlem was sold off. The cemetery remained, however. It became overgrown as the years past. In 1908, the Daughters of the American Revolution moved his remains to Arlington Cemetery, where they lay today.

But do they?

In 1936, DC widened Foxhall Road. In doing so, the city condemned and razed St. Patrick’s chapel, a small church built in 1916 on the location of the Lingan burial grounds. In digging on the site, workers discovered bones, including an unusually long thigh bone. Many thought these belonged to Lingan. That is because he was quite tall, and old residents suspected that the body removed by DAR was from outside the railing where they believed Lingan was actually buried.

Whoever’s bones were found were transferred to the new St. Patrick’s Chapel, built on the southeast corner of Foxhall and Reservoir. This chapel was itself sold in the 1980s and the land used for the construction of a dozen townhouses. Presumably the bones were transferred to the church’s current location on Whitehaven.

So that’s the story of Lingan St. It still leaves open the question: why was it named Gay St. before that? In fact, Georgetown had two Gay streets at some point. N St. in the east village also was called Gay St. GM has read it theorized that it was named after the English poet John Gay, but that’s a story for another time!


1 Comment

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One response to “Where the Streets Had Old Names: Lingan St.

  1. Thomas Neale

    Thanks for this very interesting item, especially the connection w/ the original sanctuary of Saint Patrick’s Episcopal Church, located at the SE corner of Foxhall and Reservoir Roads. A minor correction: the county northeast of Baltimore is Harford County, without the “t”. It was named for Henry Harford, (ca. 1759–1834). According to Wikipedia, Harford was the illegitimate son of Frederick Calvert, 6th Baron Baltimore. He was “born to Calvert’s mistress, Hester Whelan, whose residence still stands as part of a private residence on Jarretsville Pike, in Phoenix, Maryland. Harford served as the last Proprietary Governor of Maryland but, because of his illegitimacy, did not inherit his father’s title.” Looking forward to learning of the origins of Gay Street.

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