Lost Farms and Estates

by Kim Prothro Williams

Bleak House and Its Carriage House

Initially, at least, similar efforts were made to save Bleak House, the post–civil War country home of Alexander Shepherd, vice president of the Board of public Works during part of the city's four years as a territorial government (1871-74). During its brief tenure, the board, created to improve the city's infrastructure, graded and paved miles of streets, laid gas and sewer lines and water mains and planted thousands of trees along the city's streets and in its parks and reservations. In the process, however, Shepherd significantly outspent the government's budget and was charged with corruption, and the entire territorial government experiment was abolished. In 1880, Shepherd and his family moved to Mexico, where he ran a silver mine for the next twenty years. But throughout their Mexican residency, the Shepherds maintained their 260-acre country home in Washington. Bleak House, built in 1867 in today's Shepherd Park neighborhood, was an exuberant Second Empire–style frame house, with a stone porter's lodge marking the entrance to the estate and a stone carriage house at its rear. The estate also contained a bowling alley, a gymnasium, a barn and an overseer's house, as well as trout ponds and a cherry orchard.96

By 1900, developers were pursuing the subdivision of land in a northerly push, purchasing farms and country estates as far as the District line. After Shepherd's death in 1902, the Lynchburg Investment Corporation entered the scene in 1909, making “the largest transaction in suburban real estate in recent years.”97 Armed with a plan to “bring the city limits as far north as the District line,” the Virginia syndicate purchased three separate tracts of land, including one hundred acres of the Bleak House property. The subdivision, named Sixteenth Street Heights and later Shepherd Park, was approved by the Office of the Surveyor in 1911 , with Bleak House preserved in the center on a four-acre house lot bounded by Alaska Avenue, Fourteenth, Holly and Geranium Streets NW. The good intentions were short-lived, however, and between 1916 and 1919, the four-acre site was sold, Bleak House demolished and new houses were being constructed on the site. A site plan for a new house at 1332 Holly Street, filed in 1929 as part of its D.C. building permit, called for the retention of the “old stone carriage house to be used as garage on premises.” The stone carriage house/garage remains on site, a physical reminder of Alexander Shepherd and his family's country home.

96 Richardson Alexander Robey Shepherd, 53.

97 Washington Post, Feb. 28, 1909.

Lost Farms and Estates of Washington, D.C., by Kim Prothero Wiliams, 2018, Pages 148-149.