Are Houses Associated With Washington's Civil War Era Heroes In Harm's Way?

If General Harrison Allen had awakened this morning, he might have imagined himself bivouacked on the battlefield beneath rippling fabric. For the past year, the General's long-vacant home at 1017 K Street NW was been shrouded by a high-tech fabric billboard.

Pennsylvania-born Harrison Allen was one of the Union' Army's "young guns". While in his mid-twenties he helped raise the 10th Pennsylvania Reserves, for whom he served as Major. He was then elected Colonel and commander of the 151st Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, whom he led at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville.

Colonel Allen, who had been on furlough, rejoined the 151st Volunteers on the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg and helped pursue Lee back to Virginia. Mustered out in 1863, he was retroactively promoted to Brigadier General, United States Volunteers for "faithful and meritorious services" in 1865.

After the war, General Allen entered politics, serving as a delegate to the 1868 Republican Convention, Pennsylvania State Auditor General, and State Senator. In 1882 he was appointed United States Marshal for the Dakota Territory, where he remained active in Republican politics while pursuing stage coach robbers and horse thieves.

In 1889, the Dakotas became states, and Benjamin Harrison, a champion of the Civil War veteran, occupied the White House with the powerful backing of Pennsylvania Republican boss Matthew Quay. General Allen came to Washington in search of a national role. Although the General was still "a splendid looking swarthy man of fine physique" with "a mass of grey black hair roll[ing] over his coat collar", this chapter of his political career proved frustrating.

After an unsuccessful attempt to win the Republican nomination for governor, General Allen was mentioned in connection with a North Dakota Senate seat. However, his candidacy was not universally embraced. The Philadelphia Record cited General Allen by name when it remarked that "a new state could make no worse beginning than by sending to Congress worn-out hacks who have gone to the Territories because there was no room for them in the states".

In the end, Republicans Lyman Casey and Gilbert Pierce became North Dakota's first senators, to what must have been the general's vast disappointment.


1017 K Street NW was originally home to one of post-bellum Washington's most notorious curmudgeons, iconoclasts, and disturbers of the cultural status quo.William Henry Burr (1819-1908) had been a leading practitioner of the high-tech recording technology of the day, stenography. In prosperous retirement he became a debunker of literary tradition, arguing in numerous articles that the Earl of Essex was the author of numerous Shakespearean sonnets.

But Burr's most scandalous writings asserted that much of the Bible had been forged in the Middle Ages and that proported divine revelations were rife with contradiction. Famous atheist Robert Ingersoll awarded Burr the title "America's formost literary detective". One hundred fifty years after its publication, AMAZON.COM stocks Burr's most famous work, "Self-Contradictions of the Bible" in paperback.

Just one year later, General Allen's name appeared in the Chicago Daily Tribune under the headline "Was Boodle Used?". The article reported the defeat of a North Dakota bill to charter the Louisiana Lottery, which was in danger of losing its home state charter after repeated charges of corruption. The Tribune alleged that, shortly before North Dakota became a state, General Allen had met with Lottery representatives in New York. In the articles mixed metaphors, "the fine Italian hand" of the "lottery serpent" had been on his subsequent failed bid for the gubernatorial nomination. To be fair and impartial, the Tribune also speculated that the lottery bill had actually failed because foes in the banking community had offered a lucrative stock deal to the governor.

General Allen soldiered on, summering in Fargo and wintering in Washington. He eventually won a less-than-glorious appointment as Deputy Auditor of the Post Office. Early on September 23, 1904, the sixty-nine year old General was found dead of heart disease in a chair in his K Street home.

In General Allen's Washington, the most fashionable addresses were on K Street NW. However, the most elite mansions were slightly west. The more easterly blocks of K Street were more the province of complementary-styled townhouses clustered about a flamboyantly turreted central house. An outstanding example, the nine Second Empire houses of Mount Vernon Row, stood at Tenth and K Streets NW. The Italianate-towered 1017 K Street appears to have been a mini-version of a row, with complementary-styled smaller houses at 1015 K and 1001 Eleventh Street attached to either wing.

However, by the 1920s, fashion was fleeing K Street and commerce was moving in. The mansions near Sixteenth Street were methodically demolished, while such grand rows as Shepherds Row at Connecticut Avenue and Franklin Park Terrace at Vermont Avenue were torn down house-by-house. Mount Vernon Row lasted until 1969, when it was replaced by a parking lot. By the mid-1980s, when most of the lesser rowhouses were cleared, the neighborhood around Tenth and K Streets had become a virtual skid row.

Today, the area around Tenth and K has become a hotbed of high rise commercial and hotel development. With the demolition of several nearby vintage buildings, 1017 K Street and its adjoining houses are among the few reminders of what once was.