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The Hawthorne School
Washington, D.C.

The Mysterious History of 1221 Massachusetts Avenue N.W.
by Dana Sawyer


There has been much conjecture about the history of 1221 before it became the home of our school, but little documentation.  Thanks to computer indexing of records and the increasing availability of archival material on the web, as well as a visit to the Library of Congress, I've begun to piece together the story.


It may be possible to determine the architect and date of construction of 1221 if the original building permit has been preserved. 
Washington building records in the National Archives may provide the answer, and early street directories will probably reveal the original owner.

My guess is that 1221 was built around 1875, but for now the story begins in 1888.

1888: An unfortunate dog

David Pariser's drawing of the iron fence at 1221

What may be the earliest appearance of 1221 Massachusetts Avenue in the Washington Post archives is on October 30, 1888, when a dog was injured on the iron fence in front of the property.

(This was probably the same fence that was there in our day.  David Pariser drew the picture at left, which appeared in the 1964 yearbook, but the dog was gone by that time.  Click on the picture for a larger image.)

From ground plans in the 1888 and 1903 editions of the Sanborn Insurance Maps of Washington, D.C., the general layout of the building in that era can be reconstructed as shown at left below.  However, the type and placement of windows on the east bay is conjectural, and the picture omits dormers, railings, and some other details.

1893: An eccentric millionaire

Reconstruction of 1221 circa 1888 - 1908 From at least the fall of 1893, there are various mentions in the news that Dr. Leroy M. Taylor, Confederate veteran, world traveler, and "Washington's most eccentric millionaire" was living at 1221 Massachusetts avenue northwest, as the address was then written.  Dr. Taylor and wife Rose Utermehle Taylor together with their son, Leroy Jr., continued to live there until 1901.  In early 1901, shortly after the death of Rose Taylor, Dr. Taylor and his son gained a lot of unwelcome publicity because of a fierce legal dispute over the estates of Mrs. Taylor and her father.  Had the suit gone against him, Dr. Taylor could have lost most of his fortune, including "the valuable property at 1221 Massachusetts avenue", which his wife had allegedly bought with funds from the contested estate.

After the death of his wife, Dr. Taylor withdrew from society.  He constructed an unusual fireproof building in a poor neighborhood at 1133 Brown Court, N.W. and moved there some time in 1901.  The very stark exterior had the appearance of a warehouse, and even had "Taylor's Storage" painted on the side, but the interior contained his extensive library of rare books and much of his elegant furniture from 1221.

Dr. Taylor died in September, 1904, and was buried with honors befitting a Scottish Rite Mason of the highest degree.  His final residence was later described as a "fortified castle" or even a "palace", "furnished with all the luxury money could buy", though few people saw its interior during his lifetime.  Clearly 1221 had been furnished as luxuriously while he resided there; perhaps the great mirror in the hallway (now preserved at the Sumner School building) is the last trace of that luxury.

Some hint of the original furnishings of 1221, apart from those which Dr. Taylor took to Brown Court, is given by an auction notice which appeared in the Washington Post in late 1901 for the estate of Mrs. Taylor.  The sale included "forty-five pairs of costly lace curtains" -- enough for every window in 1221 as it then existed -- as well as "fine tapestries, draperies, embroideries, cushions, hand-painted and embroidered screens, gilt cabinets, chairs, tables, rare bric-a-brac, paintings, curios, water colors, etchings, cut glass, &c."

It's interesting to try to imagine 1221 in Dr. Taylor's day.  The exterior would have been smooth unpainted yellow pressed brick, probably with brownstone sills and lintels, and gold numbers on the transom announcing the address.  The interior woodwork would have been unpainted as well, as some of it still was in our day.  In the evening, gas lamps hissed their greenish light through crystal shades, as guests glided silently from room to room over deep carpets, glittering past the mirror to the sound of an unseen grand piano.  Guests then, ghosts now; gone.

1908: The Epiphany Church Home

Reconstruction of 1221 circa 1909The Church of the Epiphany is one of the few remaining pre-Civil War church buildings in Washington, located at 1317 G. Street N.W.   At least as far back as the 1870s, the church had established the Epiphany Church Home for Women at 1319 H Street nearby, and in 1908 they  purchased the Massachusetts Avenue property for $27,000 and moved the Church Home there.  In 1909 they demolished a stable and carriage houses which adjoined the alley  and built a "new addition" at the rear of 1221 (not shown in picture at left), which was ready for occupancy in November of that year.  This was comprised of small individual rooms for the residents, all of whom apart from the matron and staff were elderly women.  The dining room, later known to us as the OSH (Old Study Hall), was probably enlarged at that time, as well as the room above it, which may then have served as the infirmary.  The single large wooden side porch appears to have replaced originally separate side and rear porches. 

The chapel furnishings and stained glass windows were donated in 1910 by two generous parishioners as a memorial to their aunt, Sarah Coleman, bringing the total spent on the building, addition, and chapel to $62,300.  Initially the building remained quite elegant, but at some later time stark black and white paint covered the earthy tones of yellow brick and brownstone, and linoleum tiles replaced carpets inside.

The residents seem to have led a genteel existence, becoming visible from time to time on the society pages or the obituary pages, the latter sometimes as a result of unfortunate pedestrian encounters with busy Washington traffic.  Meanwhile another similar institution, the Episcopal Church Home, was established in 1924 on Wisconsin Avenue, but the two facilities continued separate existences within the same denomination.

In 1957, a new building for the Episcopal Church Home was constructed "in a park-like Georgetown setting" on the grounds of the Bowie mansion at 3124 Q. Street, N.W.  When it was complete, the Epiphany Church Home residents and chapel furnishings were consolidated into the larger facility, and on January 15, 1958, 1221 became available for new adventures.

Possibly the most famous resident of the Epiphany Church Home was Rosalie Mackenzie Poe, who died there in 1874 when it was located on H Street; she was the only sister of Edgar Allan Poe.

1958: A School

Reconstruction of 1221 circa 1960 For the 1958-1959 school year, Hawthorne moved to a new site from its original basement at 1914 N. Street N.W.  As Robin Kraus related in the 1960 yearbook:
The new building for the school was located at 1221 Massachusetts Ave., N.W.  It was once a very fine town house and, more recently, an old ladies home.  After the old ladies moved out, and the youngsters entered, the D.C. government decided that a whole new set of fire regulations were necessary, much stricter than those for the former elderly occupants!  These were added, and after painting and washing by students themselves, the school was ready for occupancy.

At the last moment, the three rooms in the back were made into one -- Dante's art room.

Actually, new fire regulations were one of the factors which forced the Church Home to close; for a number of years, the D.C. government only allowed it to operate at half capacity, leading to a major operating deficit.  But the three story exterior fire stairs on the west side of the building were added by the school in the fall of 1962 along with other safety improvements.  Even so, the front part of the third floor was cordoned off by a heavy fire door and remained off-limits to students except by special permission, though it contained Howie's dulcimer shop and a work area for the librarian.

In the early days, Howie Mitchell lived on the third floor for a time, and John O'Hara remembers sneaking into the school one night to show the place to his girlfriend, only to be confronted by Howie, who was holding a gun!

The consolidation of small rooms in the 1909 addition continued for several years, creating an assembly room, a library, and several medium-sized classrooms on three floors.  A few of the small rooms remained, such as the ones where Mr. Howison taught Latin to his faithful band of scholars and Señorita Gonzalez taught advanced Spanish to hers.

More about the Hawthorne years at 1221 can be found elsewhere on this site, including the history from the 1961 yearbook, photographs, and newspaper clippings.  Eventually, Hawthorne made the move to southwest Washington, and 1221 was demolished in the summer of 1964.  Apart from a few bricks, only the mirror remains.

But those of us who were there will never forget the place, and now there is virtual 1221.


Church of the Epiphany web site at http://www.epiphanydc.org/.

Epiphany: Church and Parish, 1842-1972, by Stetson Conn (Epiphany Church, 1976).  I have drawn most of the history of Epiphany Church Home from this interesting book, and most of the rest from Washington Post articles.

"Episcopal Senior Ministries: History of Service" at http://www.esm.org/history.htm.  Episcopal Senior Ministries is the present successor to the Episcopal Church Home.  Currently they run several retirement communities in the vicinity of Washington.

Guide to Resources for Researching Historic Buildings in Washington, D.C., by Kim Hoagland (Don't Tear It Down and the Columbia Historical Society, 1981).  Although it is somewhat out of date, it contains a great deal of useful information on researching historic buildings.  The Columbia Historical Society museum has now become the City Museum of Washington, which is a major resource for Washington history.

Insurance Maps of Washington D.C., published by Sanborn Map Company.  I was able to view and photograph the 1888, 1903, 1928, and 1981 editions in the map room of the Library of Congress; all except the last show the general plan of the original building at 1221 and its various outbuildings or later additions.  One of the copies of the 1928 atlas at Library of Congress has a pasted-in update c. 1960 in which 1221 is labeled "School (priv.)" rather than "Epiphany Church Home".  (Since the update doesn't show the second fire escape added by the school it must be prior to 1963.)  Other Washington area libraries have varied holdings of Sanborn and other insurance or real estate atlases.  These atlases usually show the shape and height in stories of each building and sometimes its roof configuration, with notes on the types of materials used and other features of interest to insurers.

"Interments in the Historic Congressional Cemetery" available at http://www.congressionalcemetery.org/PDF/Obits/T/Obits_Taylor.pdf.  This contains the obituary for Sabrina A. Taylor (died 14 November 1882), mother of Dr. Leroy M. Taylor.  Dr. Taylor was then residing at 401 M street northwest.

The Scarlet Letter 1960 (first ever Hawthorne yearbook).  John O'Hara convinced me that Hawthorne really was at 1221 in 1958-1959, and a careful reading of Robin Kraus's article confirms it.

The Scarlet Letter 1961 (second Hawthorne yearbook).  This contains an excellent summary of the school's history which confirms that the school moved to 1221 in 1958.  In an unusually poetic valedictory, Shirley Stickney expressed her love of the building, the school, and her classmates, and her hope that we can all retain a childlike imagination and a sense of wonder.

U.S. Supreme Court, UTERMEHLE v. NORMENT, 197 U.S. 40 (1905), available at http://laws.lp.findlaw.com/getcase/us/197/40.html.  This was the final decision upholding the will of Leroy Taylor's father in law, George W. Utermehle.

Washington Post article abstracts (most relevant of those consulted) and articles:

"A Dog Impaled on a Fence", Oct 30, 1888, p. 2.  Nothing about the house at 1221 or its owner in this brief article.  The Sanborn Insurance Atlas for 1888 confirms that the house existed at that date -- and even had a window in its west third floor gable end, though this was covered sometime prior to 1903 when the adjoining building at 1229 was replaced with a more substantial one.

"BIDDING DR. TAYLOR FAREWELL:Previous to His Departure to the Sandwich Islands", Sept 28, 1893, p. 2.  This article is the earliest mention in the Post of Dr. Taylor residing at 1221 Massachusetts Avenue.

"THEFT OF CLOTHING TRACED.:Servant of Leroy Taylor, Jr., Accused of Taking it from Her Employer", Aug 18, 1898, p. 10.

"NEW MOVE IN UTERMEHLE FIGHT.:Receiver Asked for Mrs. Taylor's Estate Pending Outcome of Caveat Proceedings" Feb 8, 1901, p. 2.  Establishes the date of Mrs. Utermehle's death as 1/22/1901, and summarizes the accusations in the lawsuit.

"Important Sale" Oct 30, 1901, p. 3.  This brief notice describes items to be sold at auction from the estate of Rose M. Taylor.

"DEATH OF DR. LEROY TAYLOR: Confederate Veteran and Traveler Vic-tem of Bright's Disease", Sept. 28, 1904.  Contains some interesting biographical details.

"PALACE IN AN ALLEY:Strange Abode of the Late Dr. Leroy M. Taylor. LIVED THERE LIKE A PRINCE Surrounded by Stables and Negro Shanties and with an Exterior of Forbidding Aspect, Dr. Taylor's Home Was Furnished with All the Luxury Money Could Buy -- Protected Like a Fortress", Oct 25, 1904, p. 2.  The headline says it all, but the lengthy story, though unfortunately not very legible in PDF format, contains some interesting details about Dr. Taylor and his possessions.

"UTERMEHLE WILL SUSTAINED.:End of Contest Involving Property Valued at $1,600,000.", Feb 21, 1905.  After years of litigation, and months after the death of Dr. Taylor, the will was finally upheld (see Supreme Court decision cited above).

"EPIPHANY CHUKCH(sic) HOME.:New Addition Will Be Ready for Occupancy This Week", Nov 14, 1909, p. CA6.  The typo is only in the online abstract.   The article has the earliest picture I've found so far of the building (amazingly unchanged in the 1960's except for the colors), and other interesting information.

"Poe's Sister Buried In Unmarked Grave", Oct 21, 1933, p. 10.  She was buried in Rock Creek Cemetery, in a section belonging to the Epiphany Church Home.

"Episcopal Home Plans Restoration", Jul 8, 1956, p. F10.  Announced that the Epiphany Church Home would be combined with the Episcopal Church Home.  The new facility was attached to the Bowie Mansion in Georgetown, built in 1800.

"Bowie Mansion Serving Church", February 9, 1957.  A follow-up article on the Georgetown facility combining the Epiphany Church Home with the Episcopal Church Home.

More resources to explore

Recently, The Washington Post has put abstracts of their articles back to 1877 on line with full text search, opening an interesting window on late 19th century Washington, including an occasional peek at 1221.  Unfortunately, the cost of the full texts of the articles (considering the number of relevant items) makes it impractical to buy every article of possible interest, though I have purchased some carefully selected ones and gathered other useful information from the abstracts as listed above.  (Some libraries  offer free access to the Washington Post archives.)

The Washington Star online archives for 1852 to 1890 are available from Paper of Record; there are no free abstracts, but monthly or yearly subscriptions offer unlimited article retrievals from digitized microfilm.  References to Dr. Taylor in the Star are mainly reports of his Masonic activities, and there is little or nothing about 1221.

Other archival sources may be available in the D.C. Public Library's Washingtoniana collection, the City Museum of Washington, various archives of the D.C. government, various Episcopal Church archives, the National Archives, the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian.

Although most archives will do research and copy materials for a fee, it is useful to be able to visit them in person.  If anyone in the D.C. area would like to assist in this research, please contact me.

The Library of Congress staff were very helpful during my visit there in April 2004, as seems generally to be the case with research libraries.

Last updated February 10, 2006

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