Reminiscences of the District of Columbia;
Washington City Seventy Nine Years Ago 1839 to 1909
by Mrs. Sarah E. Vedder

Sarah Vedder, a Washington resident for 30 years, vividly portrays city life. Young Sarah
accompained her father on visits to his close friend President Andrew Jackson. She walked
by H & 15th Sts where President and Mrs Madison lived until White House renovation was completed

Charles Sousa lived on 18th St. just north of Pennsylvania Ave.
Sarah had heard but did not know for sure, that his grandson was the
great band leader. Sarah Vedder describes our own haunts and political ancestors.

My purpose in writing these Reminiscences and presenting them to the public is to show how the "City of Magnificent Districts" has changed from the village it was to the "City of Beautiful Mansions;" and thinking, perhaps, many would like to read of times and places long since gone, and hoping to gain a little, not notority, but cash, as everyone in these days are turning all things available to some account, I thought I would write what I knew to be the facts, and as I have related them many times to my friends and neighbors, all of whom declared it would interest the curious, and give them some information concerning the city and its inhabitants in the years from 1830 to 1850, or Washington 79 years ago, or more truly the District of Columbia.

I don't suppose Alexandria has changed much--only faces and persons; neither Georgetown, with its hills and hollows; for neither place was trying to be first in anything, only in old families and residences, and they were many. Washington was always famous for trying to be "in the swim" and often times in the "scum" as well, and from what I hear of it, in my home in the West, it is still as eager for notoriety as in the days of long ago.

Hoping this little volume may find favor in your eyes and replenish the exchequer of which just now I am greatly in need, I remain, your humble servant. The Author.

Left: View of Washington City; perspective from the Capitol, looking west; by Edwd. Sachse. This is an enlarged portion of lithograph. Near the upper left corner is the original Navel Observatory (on 23rd st across from today's State Department). Sarah Vedder lived just 5 blocks east on 18th St. near H. Even closer to the Observatory is the future site of Watergate East.

We went to Washington to live, then a city of 20,000 inhabitants. General Andrew Jackson was president. My father was an intimate friend, having been in the war of 1812, and used to take my brother and myself to the White House to see him. We would go up in his bed chamber; the president would always say to the servant, "Bring a cricket for the little girl," and we would sit like mice, hearing them tell of old times.

My father was an invalid, having contracted consumption while in the war of 1812. He was taken prisoner at the battle of North Point, and carried with others to the Island of Bermuda, where he was kept on a prison ship three months, with water up to his chin. He lived until 1837.

While on his deathbed his friends got up a petition to Congress for his relief, with back pay amounting to thirty-three hundred dollars, principally through the influence of Hon. William Merrick, member of Congress from Maryland. The bill passed the House and two readings in the Senate when my father died, and they allowed the widow, with four little girls, the magnificent sum of two hundred and eighty dollars, and they were destitute.

Left: View of Georgetown and Washington looking west
with the Potomac River on the E. Sachse & Co.
Library of Congress digital archive.

One little incident I must relate--I have often heard it repeated in my earliest childhood: One gentleman's wife was afflicted with "hysteria," and imagined strange things. Amongst others she imagined she was a "goose," and made her nest in a basket of turnips, declaring she would "set there until they were hatched." How to get her off no one knew; the doctor said she would die if they could not get her to leave the basket. Amongst their valued possessions was a set of "French China," been in the family for generations; her husband, knowing how she prized it, set a long table before her, each piece separate, and, with a cane in his hand, broke each piece until he came to the last. As he raised the cane to smash the teapot, she rushed at him, declaring he should not break that.

One thing, above all others, that interested me, was to see men, women and children going to the "soup house," with tin pails, to get soup. Three times a week the poor of that city were sure of a good meal.