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What it Was Like Before There Was a George Washington University

Many Washingtonians are familiar with “General’s Row,” located on Ft. McNair in Southwest Washington, but the 2000 block of G Street, NW was also home to numerous high ranking military leaders from the 1860s to the 1920s. While much of the block has been torn down, and now sits in the middle of The George Washington University campus, several of the once grand homes exist that offer clues to what was once an elegant tree-lined street.

The nine houses located between Nos. 2014 and 2030 G Street were built between 1872 and 1873.

The house at 2028 G Street that remains today was sold upon its completion to Gustavus Hall Scott, who had been born on July 13, 1812 in Mulberry Hill, Fairfax, Virginia. Scott had a long and distinguished military career, first entering the Navy as midshipman at the age of 17, on August 1, 1828. He rose in rank to Commander on December 27, 1856, and Union Captain on November 4, 1863, in charge of the steamer De Soto which captured several Civil War blockade runners in 1864. He became a Rear Admiral on February 14, 1873 when his wife moved into the house at 2028 G Street. Scott then served as the Commander-in-Chief of the North Atlantic squadron until June, 13, 1874, when he was retired, having reached the age of 62.

After his death in 1882, his widow leased 2028 G Street to Marcus J. Wright (1831-1922), who had been a Confederate Brigadier General. A native of Tennessee, Wright was a lawyer, clerk of court, and sheriff in Memphis before serving in the Confederate army as Assistant Adjutant General on Cheatham’s staff, regiment commander, military governor, brigade commander, and post commander.

The corner house at 2033 G Street that still exists today was the long-time home of U. S. Navy Lt. Maxwell Woodhull and his wife Ellen beginning about 1860. He died unexpectedly during the Civil War from an accidental gun discharge during a salute. His widow lived at the house until her death in 1895, and their son, General Maxwell van Zandt Woodhull (1843-1921), lived there for the next several decades.

General Woodhull was largely responsible for bringing The George Washington University to its present location from a prior campus atop Meridian Hill. After his election as a trustee in 1911, he began a campaign to influence the school to move its operations to a rented building at 2023 G Street. Jessie Fant Evans, writing in the Washington Post in 1935, reported, “It was undoubtedly Gen. Woodhull’s influence that was responsible for the University’s removal to its present site in the G Street area.” In 1912, the University took up the option to purchase that building, and began renting other houses in the immediate area.

For the last 10 years of Woodhull’s life, the campus bordered on the edge of his property, placing him into the daily university activities. He was known as a man of unusual appearance and strict military etiquette. Evans described him as follows:

“Nearly six feet tall, the general was exceedingly erect, with a very florid complexion. He wore the Burnside style of whiskers. During his later years he always carried a gold-headed black ebony cane upon which he was accustomed to rest his clasped hands as he sat expounding his convictions or giving forth instructions. His gray, square-topped derby with its broad black band was a familiar sight in the neighborhood. Utterly unconcerned with changing fashions, the general at periodic intervals supplanted the old derby with a new one made precisely like its predecessors from a hat form which had been fashioned exclusively for him by his hatter.”

Legends of Woodhull’s interaction with University students abounded. Evans related stories of errant scholars “being summarily ‘brought to time’ by the General for some infraction of university regulations which he had witnessed in his progress up G Street. The General invariably handled these situations himself, cane in hand, without resort to university officials. . . .”

Beyond this personal interest in the school, his continuing financial support and his participation in the direction of the University’s policies, Woodhull played a critical role during 1915 in organizing a student artillery corps that kept the University’s enrollment intact during the war.”

With the building of the engineering laboratory at the rear of Woodhall’s house in 1913, the University might be said to have entered into its modern era, firmly establishing its presence in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood. And, nowadays, the former ranking military officers homes that remain in the 2000 block serve as fraternity and sorority houses.