Blouse House (and more)

A Story by John W. Creegan

 

 

 

Blouse house 1414 King Street (around about 1917-1918) was a restaurant or Inn and was across Peyton Street from the Virginia House (also known as Jackson Hotel – an inn also). The Blouse Inn and property covered ¼ of an entire square. The main building, now known as 1414 King Street, is still there (1980) and known as Exxon Gas Station. The service section of the same complex was once a bricked floor or patio and trellised beer garden.

 

There were 4 or 5 sheds facing King Street, probably used for storage or maybe for travelers’ horses. They were there in the 1920’s, as a photo will show. A large open lot was adjacent to the buildings (grape vines on rear fence) probably for carriages, service etc. In the last years the lot was covered with trash, an old wagon top, a broken-down fence facing on Peyton Street. Various persons squatted in the sheds from time to time. They made a fine playground for kids. They faced King St. between the pub and Peyton St.

 

The Washington-Virginia Railway ran from 12th & Pa Ave. and down King St. There was a stop in front of the door and that’s where I got off when I came to visit Mama on all weekends and nearly all of the school vacations. I jumped off too soon and tumbled once. Mama lived in the old place and Ruth and I just about took over. The second floor plan was one long hall and rooms off of it. There must have been a dozen rooms and must have housed travelers stopping at the Inn. Our family used 4 or 5 rooms and the rest was our play area. Ardell was born there.

 

The first floor was divided into 2 sections. The living section was on the east half that contained a stairway to the second floor. (The bar and Inn was on the west half). How did the upstairs visitors get up there? Maybe they had another stairway that had disappeared when we lived there or would they have to come through the living quarters to get there?

 

Across the street the Baptist Church was new and the property behind it was open commons and was used for Circus’, road shows, and sandlot football and baseball. There wasn’t much in the line of buildings between King St. and the Potomac Yards. The Colross Mansion in that area was destroyed by a tornado in 1927.

 

Dell Herder about that time went to Quantico, Va when they had the camp under construction. We went down one winter (must have been 1917), the weather was a record cold. Plenty of snow. The flu was at its worst. We stayed at 1414 and Dell would come home at the weekends.

 

Serfer Blouse (more later about Serfer) was born in Rothenbach Weutemberg Germany. His tombstone in St. Mary’s Cemetery in Alexandria shows his birth date Sept 8, 1823, and his death as Oct 8, 1897. His wife’s name doesn’t show on his stone but in the 1879 census a wife named Mary, keeping house, and born in Prussia. The census also says Serfer was born in Prussia. Is Prussia and Weurtemberg the same? Another stone next to Serfer’s marks the resting place of Karl Frederick Dilger, born in Ravensburg, Weurtemburg, Germany May 31, 1875 and died January 28, 1928. Probably a relative. Mama says she saw the ghost of Serfer upstairs standing at the foot of their bed. He was wearing old style clothes but didn’t speak.

 

From book by Ruth Lincoln Kaye entitled: Legends and Tall Tales of Old Alexandria Virginia (1975). Page 26: “The discipline imposed in the jail of the 19th century might well be termed lax by today’s standards, as is illustrated in the case of one Serfer Blouse, German keeper of a restaurant on upper King Street. Imprisoned for some minor offense now forgotten, Herr Blouse found his physical condition threatened by confinement. He therefore was allowed to go out every day for a week, but always came back in time for dinner.”

 

The “Inn” side of the house still had the grocery shelves and bar that would go with an Inn pub. The trellis’ outside around the bricked floor or deck were very high grape vines covered them. They still produced fruit.

 

There were plenty of kinfolk around. The parkers (Aunt Helen [Hall] and Uncle Clarence) about ½ block away at 1514 King, Mazie was about our age. Aunt Mary and Uncle Frank were about a block away on Peyton St. Aunt Laura was around the corner on S. West Street. Uncle Jim and Uncle Ned visited from time to time. Most of the Halls lived around the West end of town and the Creegan clan was around what is now called Old Towne. The main Creegan house was the Edmonds at 423 Queen St. Aunt Bessie Creegan Edmonds was called mama by most of the clan (I didn’t). Most everybody met there after Mass at St. Mary’s. The door was never locked. You just walked in and made yourself at home. I had an idea then that they all lived there. They had outdoor plumbing. I usually met Aunts Bessie and Molly on my way to 9 o’clock Mass and escorted them to church. In turn they escorted me to 423 and maybe something good to eat. There was a pew there that read JOHN CREEGAN, grandfather’s pew but it had my name on it so that’s where I sat. He had passed on nearly 25 years.

 

 423 was a crowded house [Photo by JWC c1920 as labeled from top, left to right: Molly Creegan, Mary Teresa Thomas, Julie Thomas, John C. Edmonds, Sarah Edmonds Best, Mary and Helen Tatsapaugh (twins) at 423 Queen St]. Aunt Bess and Uncle George, some of the children were married and gone but there was Charles, John and Sarah.  May and Bessie were married. Ruth died about 1918. John was an active volunteer fireman. When the alarm sounded, he was off and gone. One time while I was there, he left wearing white flannel trousers at dinnertime despite Aunt Bess’ protests. Most of the area east of 423 to the river was lumberyards, fertilizer factories, warehouses, and very poor families. 423 was considered a better address than closer to the river, especially north on Fairfax or Royal. Now you have to be very well off to afford the neighborhood. Queen St. was paved with cobblestones. Some of the streets were just dirt or maybe some gravel.

 

Mama next moved to 1413 Prince St. (House is still there, 1981). Ed was born there. Photos from the second story window were taken with my trusty #2 or 2A Box Brownie (of Blouse House, etc). They have kept very well and I have copied them with my Canon camera.

 

Annie V. Lyles (remembers Civil War) had a dairy next door at 1419. Her daughter Lolly Miller and her son Sherman (Annie’s grandson) kept it going. Sherman had a milk route that he covered with his little wagon. We were a customer. I did some carpenter repairs around their place but didn’t get rich. The cow shed shows (as does the Blouse House) in one of my old photos. Mrs. Lyles’ cows roamed Peyton and Prince Streets.

 

[Added by WJC – additional photographs by John W. Creegan]:

 

     Dinner at 1413 Prince Street c 1925.

Post card received at 1413 Prince Street in 1923. Mrs. Schmirmund ran a boarding house in Baltimore where JWC lived when he was younger.

Cow Ally” 1926, notice the cobblestone pavement. This is a cute picture but the girls are not related.

Shooter’s Hill Alexandria, winter, 1920. This may be one of the pictures JWC mentioned above.

Another shot of Shooter’s Hill, 1921.

Some of the local kids on Prince Street, 1923.

 

 

Slave Pen – 1315 Duke Street, Alexandria about 1910.

 

We lived in the slave pen in 1910 as a postal card dated then shows. This is a three-story building that housed slaves and later in the Civil War was used for confederate prisoners. It has been remodeled much since then. It was made into flats (apartments) and we were on the upper floor (3rd). The Sillix family was on the second floor below us and the Woodyards were on the first floor.

 

The railroad roundhouse was across the street. There were piles of telegraph poles stacked on the vacant lot also across the street. There was about a ¼ block open lot on the west side of the building. This was the neighborhood playground. Full of bottles and broken bricks to throw at each other, and we did. A man with a pushcart sold ice cream cones for a penny.

 

Aherns store was a block away at Prince and West streets. I can remember going there for small amounts of groceries with a store book. My favorite was a loaf of Vienna bread. I liked the 2 ends. Aherns name is still on the store under several coats of paint, but you can still make it out. The last owner of the grocery store was Mr. McFarland. See Photos.

 

The roundhouse was beside the main R R. line that ran down Henry Street. This was about the time that that the station below Shooter’s Hill was built.

 

All the above happenings were just prior to our moving to Riverdale. The Aherns are buried in St Mary’s Cemetery (see Photo). When you bought a gallon of kerosene (we called it coal oil) they put a potato in the spout to prevent spillage. They were cheap then. There were not long aisles to push carts through, you told the clerk your wants and he waited on you. The flour, sugar, beans, and all loose stuff had to be ladled from bins or barrels and weighed. The stored had a smell of everything therein, all at once. Real good. Outside of the store there were 2 or 3 breadboxes for the bakery wagon to leave their loaves early before the opening time. They were not locked. There was also was cellar door on the West St. side to slide down on. A great corner to hang around on.

 

Frank Hall, Son of William R. Hall and Isabella Hall, born May 11, 1872 married to Mary Anderson. Both Burried in Bethel Cemetery. He was a painter. A house painter, sometimes self employed and often working for somebody else. Among his self employment skills was sign painting. Quite a few of the merchants signs on King St. were his productions. The Southern Railroad hired him to paint gold-leaf numbers and letters on the engines and tenders. Some of these numbers were over a foot in height (on the tenders).

 

     Frank and Mary lived most of their lives aound Commerce and Peyton Streets or in that vicinity. Mary died at 306 Elizabeth St. [no longer there] and he died at his sister Helen’s house 1514 King St. JWC received a Christmas card from Mrs. Schmirmund at this address on Dec 23rd looks like 1926.

 

     Frank was also an artist and his house was like an art gallery. Paintings from floor to ceiling and every room in the house including the kitchen. If he needed a new canvas, he’d just paint over an old one. We have a painting of the battleship “Oregon” painted about 1900. He also worked in watercolor.

 

     A lifelong baseball fan, he never missed a game while able. He played the game himself in his younger days. Their house seemed to be the Mecca for all their nephews and nieces. We lived about a block away. Aunt Mary usually had a pie (usually apple or raisin or maybe mincemeat on occasion). I liked to watch him at his easel which was, usually, was a chair back.