Archive for June 15th, 2012

Lost buildings of Howard University… because of bad bricks?

If you’ve been in the city more than two days you most likely have perspective enough to have seen something come and go. That’s how it is. But for historians of the city who specialize in the “built environment” they can tell you Monday morning straight through to Sunday night about all of the buildings that have been lost, and these are just the buildings of recent decades.

According to 1996’s The Long Walk: The Placemaking Legacy of Howard University many of the campus’ original buildings are no more which would be expected for any institution as old as Howard, the city’s third university.

But (with help from a LOC reference librarian) discovering a March 1869 article from Harper’s Weekly provides an explanation for disappearing buildings we haven’t heard before: bad bricks.


Full text:


The history of Howard University, of which we give an illustration on this page, enforces an important moral in connection with the construction of public buildings. The numerous accidents which have happened in the country from the recklessness of speculative builders – among which, as being the most disastrous, the falling of the Lawrence Mills, over ten years ago, stands out most prominently – ought ere this to have taught there terrible lesson. In connection with the Howard University we do not purpose to denounce any thing or any body, but only to state a few facts.

For some years past an attempt has been made to bring into use for building purposes a patent composite block which should displace a common brick. A company was organized in New York city; the manufacture of the new block was commenced on a large scale; a large number of edifices were constructed from it in various parts of the country; and patent rights were sold for different geographical sections. Indestructibility, beauty of color and texture, and cheapness were claimed for the new invention. General Howard and other gentlemen organized a company in Washington, purchasing the patent right for $10,000. Thus it happened that when the Howard University for the education of colored youth was set on foot a hundred and fifty acres were bought north of the Capitol, and it was determined to build the edifice, as also the private structures upon the grounds, of the new material. It is asserted that $300,000 of public money has been used in forwarding this enterprise. The blocks were constructed from sand taken from the grounds, mixed with lime.

The result has been a failure. The material does not answer its purpose. Portions of the buildings constructed have crumbled, and none of them are considered safe. It may be that the blocks were not properly manufactured, or that they were too hastily used; but certainly, as manufactured and used in this case, they have proved unsatisfactory and useless. Our illustration shows a pile of these blocks in the foreground.

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UPDATE: Was Anna Murray Douglass still buried in DC when Frederick Douglass died in 1895?

A couple days ago I posted a clipping from the Baltimore Sun indicating Anna Murray Douglass was buried in Graceland Cemetery within days of her death on August 4, 1882. I then called the clerk of Mount Hope Cemetery who told me their records indicate Anna Murray Douglass was buried there in 1882, but didn’t have the exact date of her internment. Fair enough.

NY Times, Feb. 22, 1895

A friend and a reader have since sent an article I’d overlooked from February 22, 1895 revealing that upon Frederick’s death in Washington in February 1895, his children intended to “disinter” Anna, who was still buried in DC, now at Glenwood Cemetery (as Graceland Cemetery closed in July 1894), and move her to Rochester to rest alongside Frederick, and their youngest daughter, Annie.

I called over to Glenwood Cemetery on Lincoln Road NE and spoke with Walter, the superintendent. I explained all the background and said I was trying to get to the bottom of this mystery. Ever gracious Walter gave a thorough once-over through the card files and internment book from 1894 until 1896. This would have covered Anna’s possible move from Graceland and/or her disinterment, right Well, Walter didn’t see anything but extended the invitation to come over and check the books out in person, if I’d like.

What I find interesting is, that if Anna Murray Douglass was moved from Graceland to Glenwood, she was moved to what Richardson calls one of the city’s “big five” white cemeteries of the last nineteenth/early 20th century. Those five being, Oak Hill, Rock Creek, Congressional, Glenwood, and Mount Olivet, which was a biracial burial ground. The “big five” of Washington’s black cemeteries of this time, Richardson writes, were Harmony, Payne’s (east of the river), Mount Olivet, Mount Zion, and Mount Pleasant.

Now, back to Mount Hope. The New York Times clipping must be read with a certain level of critical perspicacity. At the time of Frederick’s death in 1895, Rosetta, his oldest daughter, was alive, but his youngest daughter Annie, had been dead for thirty-five years. So, only one of Douglass’ daughters was buried in Rochester, not two.

Calling Mount Hope I spoke with Lydia Sanchez, a clerk at Mount Hope Cemetery which is run by the city of Rochester. I explained Lydia my quandary. Once again, Lydia confirmed that according to Mount Hope’s records Anna Murray Douglass was buried in 1882. It wasn’t until 1888 that datebooks of burials were kept.

With this info, is it correct to say that if Anna Murray Douglass was buried in Mount Hope in late February or early March 1895 alongside her husband of 44 years there would be an exact date. I have a whole collection of newspaper accounts of Douglass’s funeral service in DC and Rochester and his subsequent burial in Rochester that I can examine as well as letters. This is not something I had expected to find, but it’s been found nonetheless.

Foner, Quarles, and McFeely don’t really get into detail about Anna’s death and burial. Deadrich in Love Across Color Lines does go there, stating that Anna was brought to Rochester and buried there right after her death. Her citation does nothing to prove her claim. While Douglass’ other biographers didn’t step up to bat on this one, Diedrich did. But she struck out.

My main man, Frederic May Holland, and his blasphemously ignored work 19th century work on Douglass, may come the closest to to giving some valuable clues to solving his mystery.

Will look into this further and get up another post. To be continued….

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