The last sentence is more true today then when it was written in March. On Saturday, August 17th, 2002, the fates finally caught up with 901 R St NW. By the next afternoon, it was an anonymous brick-strewn lot turning to dusty yellowish clay in the August sun.
The article that appeared in Sunday's Washington Post suggested that 901 was built about 1900. It was considerably older. In 1880, it was the home of Otis Presbry, "lawyer and solicitor", his wife Sarah, their 15 year old son John, three "government clerk" lodgers , and Anna Robinson and Irene Johnson, live-in servants who were likely born slaves in Virginia. In fact, at that time every house in the Arlington Terrace row was owned by a White householder who employed at least one Black female servant on a live-in basis.
John Haase has noted that, as the century turned, Washington was on the way to becoming "the undisputed capital of black America. It had the largest black population of any city in the country and it was the leading center for African American culture." Although the rest of Arlington Row had White occupants, in 1910 901 R was owned by William McNeil, a 32 year old physician of "Mixed" race. The McNeil household included Dr. McNeil's parents, two younger sisters who were public school teachers, and a younger brother. The McNeils also rented accommodations to the Rowe family, in which the father was a Treasury Department "copyist" and the son a typist in the school system.
During the years surrounding World War I, Washington had truely acceeded to its brief reign as the African-American cultural capital, and the Arlington Terrace Row became a bastion of the emerging Black middle class. Although few new householders could match the mc Neils'accomplishments, they were skilled laborers, chauffeurs, government messengers or clerks, who lived with lodgers and extended family.