Anna Kahoe stands at the back door of her renovated carriage house. The rear entrance is mere yards away from Blagden Alley.
If you've wandered down 10th Street NW in Washington, D.C., you may have noticed a rather peculiar break in the block's row houses. Where 1225 and 1227 should stand, there's a long, narrow tract of land, with a historic carriage house in the very back.
Anna and Dan Kahoe, who own Good Wood on U Street NW, live in the carriage house. And one day, not too long ago, historic-preservationist blogger Kim Bender had a chance run-in with Anna that would change both of their lives.
"I was at Good Wood and Anna approached me and started talking to me," Bender recalls. "I remember that I had looked up the building that she was living in at that point; it's called the Louise Hand Laundry, on 12th Street."
"And I said I was researching it for my blog and she said, 'Well, maybe you want to come write about the new place we're moving into, which is this carriage house. And maybe you could look up the history and see if there's something interesting behind it.'"
"I research tons and tons of addresses and properties around the city all the time," Bender continues, "trying to find out if there's some interesting history, and usually I come up short. And this one had something really tragic but interesting."
The story is this: In 1887, a "perambulating coal oil dealer" named Samuel Huntress built row houses at 1225 and 1227 10th Street NW; he and his wife and son lived in 1225. Two years later, on Aug. 9, 1889, the elderly Huntress was riding in his wagon with his employee James Combs. Combs was 26 years old and black, which comes in to play later in the story.
"They were riding their wagon having just come back from selling coal," Bender says. "Witnesses all said they were very, very drunk. Other witnesses saw them turning around the corner of Blagden Alley — right in back of the carriage house here — getting into a fight. Huntress punched Combs. Combs fell backwards in the wagon. The blow to Combs caused Huntress to go off balance. He lost control of the carriage. The carriage hit a building, and they were both thrown off the wagon. And Huntress hit his head on the cobblestones and he died."
Combs survived, but was immediately arrested in suspicion of murder. Over the next few days, the coroner did an inquest to determine the cause of death of Samuel Huntress and whether it was Combs' fault.
"What I think is an interesting part of the story is that Combs was acquitted by six witnesses who all corroborated his story, but all six of the witnesses were black," Bender says. "And so I find that to be very interesting, that in 1889, a black man who was arrested seemingly with no cause was absolved of any wrongdoing by his peers."
As for the fate of 1225 and 1227, Kim Bender says 1225 came down in 2009 after a raze permit was approved. "The woman who owned this building before the Kahoes tried really hard to save the building, but it was in too much disrepair," she says. "And I'm sure that once 1227 was gone, 1225 didn't have a lot of support because they shared the same inner structural wall. So I wonder how much that had to do with it, too."
But, lest you think this story has an unhappy ending, once Kim Bender told Anna Kahoe the story of Samuel Huntress and James Combs, Kahoe decided to pay a bit of a homage. She and her husband, both unrelenting history buffs with a deep passion and respect for preserving the past, have decided to paint an old-fashioned sign on the back of their carriage house. It will read: "Huntress Coal Oil Company."
[Music: "Turn Your Face" by John Davis from Title Tracks / "Since I Fell For You" by Coleman Hawkins from The Best of Coleman Hawkins]
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