The Washington House Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, a headquarters for Native Americans

Some time ago we profiled the famous National Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue (available here), where Solomon Northup was kidnapped before being sold into slavery, Henry Clay lived for many years, and John Wilkes Booth stayed while plotting the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Known as Gadsby's Hotel in the 1820s and 1830s, the National was founded by John Gadsby (1766-1844), the same Gadsby whose famous tavern still stands in Alexandria, Virginia. Gadsby's son William (1808-1866) learned the hospitality trade working with his father at the National. After his father died, William sold the National and opened his own hotel several blocks closer to the Capitol. The new Gadsby's would have a long life of its own, continuing as a hotel for almost 90 years.

Gadsby's was known as the Vendome Hotel in the early 20th century (author's collection).

In an ad in the Daily Union in September 1845, Gadsby introduced his new hotel to the public:
The subscriber having opened the house recently erected, within one square of the railroad depot, is prepared to receive his friends and the public generally. The house is admirably calculated for the convenience of guests, the furniture suited to the rooms, and the proprietor, determined to offer a comfortable home to those who may favor him with their company, respectfully solicits a share of the public patronage.
The existence of two Gadsby's Hotels only a few blocks from each other on Pennsylvania Avenue seems to have caused some confusion. Within a month Gadsby posted an amended advertisement, this time calling his place "Gadsby's New Hotel" and adding a postscript that "W.G. takes this opportunity of reminding his friends and the public generally, that GADSBY'S NEW HOTEL is two squares nearer the Capitol than his former house, and that he is entirely disconnected with any other house or person."

The new Gadsby's soon had a loyal following. In 1848 the Daily National Intelligencer printed a purported reader's endorsement:
I was called on business lately to Washington, and put up at "Gadsby's Hotel," at the corner of Pennsylvania avenue and 3d street, near the railroad depot, and within a short walk of the Capitol. I found it one of the most quiet, genteel, and admirably arranged and managed hotels (with first rate servants) I have ever been in. I found there some members of Congress as boarders, and a good deal of very genteel company, ladies and gentlemen from distant States.
Abraham Lincoln's vice president, Hannibal Hamlin, lived at Gadsby's, as did Ulysses Grant's veep, Henry Wilson. The hotel clearly had prestige, although it certainly wasn't as large or as distinguished as the National.

Located on the northwest corner of 3rd Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, the New Gadsby's vied with many other boardinghouses and hotels clustered in close proximity to the Capitol. Directly across the street, on the northeast corner of Pennsylvania and 3rd, stood the famous St. Charles Hotel, built in 1820, which hosted many distinguished senators in the 1840s and 1850s but was perhaps most famous for its extensive underground slave pens, complete with iron doors and iron rings embedded in the walls. On the southwest corner of the same intersection stood Charles Mades' Hotel, built in 1858. Frequented by soldiers during the Civil War, the restaurant at Mades’ became quite popular in the post-war years, and it was soon on the short list of fine restaurants frequented by presidents, Supreme Court justices, and members of Congress. One of its unique curiosities was a frog pond in the back yard; customers were invited to select their dinners from it.

William Gadsby sold the hotel by 1856, and new owners renamed it the Washington House. It quickly went bankrupt, and all of its new furnishings were put up for sale. Within a couple of years Amanda Beveridge (1817-1883) purchased the hotel and quickly re-established its reputation for good food and good service. While Amanda ran the 80-room hotel itself, her son, Benjamin Franklin Beveridge (1834-1909), was in charge of the bar and restaurant downstairs. It was under the Beveridges that the Washington House gained special prominence as the "headquarters" for Native American delegations visiting Washington. The first such delegations stayed at the hotel in 1863, and soon the Beveridges had a virtual lock on the market for Indian accommodations.

It was a very lucrative business. In the mid to late 19th century a steady stream of delegations from Native American communities all over the country traveled to Washington to meet with the president, be impressed with the power and largesse of the federal government, and sign treaties giving away their lands. The government paid all the travel expenses of these delegations, showered them with gifts, and put them up at the best hotels, all to ensure they were in a good treaty-signing mood when they met with high government officials.

Ben Beveridge—surely one of the city's most colorful residents—was a key player in this business from an early age. Born in Baltimore, he came to D.C. at age 20 and was soon working in hotels with his mother. He was big, burly, and down to earth; he quickly made fast friends with influential senators and congressmen, some of whom may have clued him in to the lucrative business of accommodating Indian delegations. According to his 1909 obituary in the Evening Star:
He made inseparable friends of the red men. Although he did not understand their language, it was a saying among them that he could "speak with his eyes." They obeyed him implicitly. He was also a counselor to them in matters of concern to their tribes before Congress or the government departments.
The Washington Post had similar glowing words when Beveridge passed away:
Benjamin C. Beveridge's death, from uraemic poison, at his famous home Monday night, means much to Washingtonians, but to the Indians throughout the country it signifies the passing of their greatest, best, and noblest friend in the nation's Capital.... Since 1872 he had cultivated a fondness for the red man, and by his patience, charity, friendly interest, and love of fellow-man, endeared himself to the hearts of such erstwhile savages as Geronimo, Red Cloud, and Spotted Tail.
In fact, Beveridge seems not to have been quite as saintly as these epitaphs would have us believe. Historian Herman J. Viola tells us that Ben "was a likable rogue who was always in trouble yet managed to stay out of jail.... Ben seems to have enjoyed the respect and friendship of his Indian patrons even though he was known to keep order with his fists."

A Nez Perce delegation poses for its portrait at Bell & Bros. studio, located in the same block as the Washington House. Ben Beveridge is standing at the left rear. It was customary for the federal government to pay for each delegate to receive a new Western-style suit, as these gentlemen are wearing. (Source: Library of Congress.) 
His biggest crisis was the scandal that erupted in 1873 over government payments for the Indian delegations. This was during the Grant administration, and scandals were turning up everywhere. In this case government agents scrutinizing the substantial bills that Beveridge and other merchants had submitted found troubling inconsistencies. For example, Beveridge requested reimbursement for 24 admission tickets and meals for a Ute delegation's visit to Mount Vernon, even though the entire group, including interpreters and agents, consisted of just 15 people. Claims for theater and opera tickets for a group of Cheyennes and Arapahos seemed to indicate that these performing arts aficionados were attending three different performances at the same time. Clearly something was wrong.

A Comanche delegation, with Beveridge standing second from right. (Source: Library of Congress.)
More alarming than the voucher fraud, however, was Beveridge's eventual admission that the expenses he had charged to the government included the services of prostitutes. This was more than bureaucrats at the Interior Department could stomach, and for several years after the scandal broke they attempted to enforce a strict ban against any official delegations staying at the Washington House. However, prominent Native Americans including Red Cloud and Spotted Tail insisted on staying at their usual quarters, and eventually the hotel regained some of its lost business.

According to Viola, the Washington House never fully recovered from the scandal. In 1881 Amanda Beveridge sold the business because of failing health, and she died the following year. Ben Beveridge converted the family home, just up 3rd Street from the hotel, into a boardinghouse that continued hosting Native American delegations until his own death in 1909.

Postcard from the Vendome Hotel (author's collection).
Meanwhile the old Washington House was rechristened the Hotel Vendome, and it continued in business for several more decades, until the entire neighborhood was condemned and razed in 1931 for construction of a new municipal complex, including the court buildings that now stand just to the north. The lively corner where the Washington House once stood, opposite the St. Charles and Mades' Hotel, is now an empty grassy lot across from the National Gallery of Art's East Building.

Gadsby's Hotel, aka The Washington House, aka the Vendome Hotel, was located on this now-empty corner at 3rd Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW (photo by the author).

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Sources for this article included George Rothwell Brown, Washington, A Not Too Serious History (1930); John DeFerrari, Historic Restaurants of Washington, DC: Capital Eats (2013); James M. Goode, Capital Losses: A Cultural History of Washington's Destroyed Buildings (2003); Herman J. Viola, Diplomats in Buckskins: A History of Indian Delegations in Washington City (1981); and numerous newspaper articles.

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Comments

  1. Another very interesting post. I've driven by that spot for years and had no idea. Now, I'll have a great story to tell my passengers when we are waiting at the traffic light there. (Hmm.your "Comment As" function doesn't like me. So I'll leave my web address here and choose "anonymous.") www.photographybykent.com

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