Off the Tracks

Replacing water pipes in the West Village

January 16, 2012

Frustrations are rising on the P and O streets corridors in the West Village as heavy construction continues, sometimes all night.  “The night shift ends before daybreak and the day shift picks up where they stopped,” one bleary eyed resident said.  “There’s no getting away from it.”

alternative view 33rd and O (Photo by: Constance Chatfield-Taylor) alternative view 33rd and O

While the roads are being reconstructed, the water mains are also being replaced, some having been in place for 100 years.  The old pipes vary in material, from terra cotta to galvanized iron to steel, some with lead fittings around the old joints.  Some are 12 inch, some are smaller ,and all are being replaced by new pipes.

12 inch water mains, old and new (Photo by: Constance Chatfield-Taylor) 12 inch water mains, old and new

“It will be worth it to have it done right – the old gas lines were dangerous, and have you seen the insides of the water pipes that are being replaced?” Florence Auld of O street asks.  “And the roads are going to look fantastic.  We just need to be patient and know it will be over soon, with great results.”

She crosses the road, stepping carefully between the mud and holes next to the old track bed, shouting good morning to her neighbor above the din of the jackhammer across the street.

interior look at old water main (Photo by: Constance Chatfield-Taylor) interior look at old water main

another view of old water main (Photo by: Constance Chatfield-Taylor) another view of old water main


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My heroes of the week

December 13, 2011

Last week I had an appointment at Georgetown Veterinary Hospital on M Street.  Afterwards, I found I was missing my wallet.  I called the vet’s office and asked them to take a look.  “I paid with a credit card, – could you look at the counter? It has to be there somewhere, I’ve searched the house and car…”

“Not here that I can see, but I’ll call you if I find it,” the vet tech, Bridget, said.

I retraced my steps - found nothing - and decided to call again.

“Bridget, I was parked outside on M street and to the left three spots.  Could you possibly take a look?  I’ve looked again and can’t find it.  It is an orange leather zippered pouch with money, credit cards – you know, my life”.

She told me she was on the phone with a client and had others waiting, but would look as soon as she could.

“I’ll call you back,” she said.

Ten minutes later she called back, breathless.  She said she walked to the parking place and searched in the gutter and on the sidewalk.  On her way back she looked up to see a young man sitting on the steps of the animal hospital, going through my orange zippered wallet.

“You found my wallet!”, she exclaimed.

The young man looked up.

“Bitch, this ain’t your wallet,” he said with my license in his hand.  “Get lost.”

“OK, it isn’t my wallet.  But I know whose it is,” she said.  “Didn’t you see me looking for it?”

“Get lost,” he said.  His friend was leaning against the steps to the animal hospital.   

“I’m calling the police,” Bridget said calmly.

“The one with the wallet threw it on the street and they both ran”, Bridget told me.  “Your cards were scattered all over M Street, but I picked up everything I could find.”

“Can you tell me which ones are there?” I asked, not believing she had actually recovered some of the cards. 

She listed a variety of colors of personal and business Visas and AMEX cards, a bank card.  She kept going.  “Your license, insurance card, looks like some checks, a building key card? Some business cards and more cards – Costco?” she read out to me.  “And more.  Lots here.”

I couldn’t believe it.  I told her I’d be right down, and arrived a few minutes later.

She met me on the steps on her way out to pick up some lunch. 

“Here it is!” she said as she handed it over.  All the cash was gone as was the fistful of change, mostly Canadian.  But what I had been given was the time that would have been spent canceling cards, getting a new license, calling the bank, closing accounts - I had what I thought was everything in the slimmed down wallet.

“They came back,” Bridget said.  “Looking all over for the credit cards.  Nat (the other vet tech) went outside and leaned on the stairs to ‘have a smoke’.  They left abruptly.”

I told Bridget I would love to give her a reward, but had no cash at the moment – but had cards!  What would you and Nat like for lunch?  We drove down M and stopped for a large pizza, drove back to the animal hospital and then I went on to work.

Georgetown Veterinary Hospital – not only an excellent animal hospital, but they go above and beyond for the owners as well.  My heroes of the week!


Georgetown Veterinary Hospital - 2916 M Street (202) 333-2140

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Pies by Copperthite make historic return to Georgetown

November 14, 2011

In 1886, Henry and Johanna Copperthite came to Georgetown on the eve of Thanksgiving and started baking pies. By 1914, they were baking 60,000 pies a day in Washington, D.C. Their pies were declared the finest in all of America. In 2012, the Copperthite family plans to return to Georgetown to open a pie company right here. The Georgetown Dish welcomes the return of the family spirit, captured in the voice of its patriarch Henry Copperthite:

Street seen in the heyday of the Copperthites (Photo by: Copperthite archive) Street seen in the heyday of the Copperthites
Cupcake sisters.  Pie girls. Baked and Wired.  It’s interesting to me, watching what is going on in 2011 in my old hometown, West Washington. 

My name is Henry Copperthite, and I’m from Connecticut originally, but joined the 79th Highlanders of New York and came to Washington during the War Between the States and was stationed at Georgetown College in 1861. The name Copperthwaite is from a family who gave much to this country.  Some were indentured servants who were released after the slaves in Antigua in 1844. I returned to Connecticut after the war where I had been a wagon driver for a bakery, and spent the next 20 years learning the production side of the business.

But I liked what I had seen as a sentry during the war, stationed at what is now Georgetown University.  Farmland, hills rolling down to the river, farmhouses dotting the landscape.  I liked it so much I brought my wife here for our honeymoon in 1870, and we decided it would be a good place to return to start a business.   So, on Thanksgiving eve in 1885, with a horse, a wagon, $3.50 and a lot of knowledge about the baked goods business, we moved to Georgetown.  And we started baking pies! 

So why am I stirring from my comfy digs in Oak Hill Cemetery to author an article? 

Henry Copperthite (Photo by: Copperthite archive) Henry Copperthite
I have a few reasons.  Thanksgiving is coming up shortly, exactly when my wife and I moved here, 126 years ago.   Secondly, with the cupcake and pie craze here, I thought it was about time to lay down a little history.  Add to that the fact that you’re digging up half of the streets in the West Village, dating back over 100 years – and, well – you’re stirring up history, so I decided to tell my story as well.

We started baking pies the moment we arrived, and quickly were turning a profit on a daily basis of $100, in today’s money.  25 years later, the Connecticut Copperthite Pie Company was baking and selling over 50,000 pies a day in Washington. 

That’s right – 50,000 pies a day.  I understand that is a bit hard to believe, so I’ve dug up lots of old newspaper articles and pictures.  It helps to understand that in the late 1800s and early 1900s, it was at a time when shopping for groceries and the delivery of fresh baked goods was in its infancy, and it was a novelty for the woman of the house to be able to buy something already prepared.  We sold wholesale to markets - thousands of pies a day - and we also started delivering to the White House, Congress and the Supreme Court.  But here in Washington, on average, every man, woman and child ate two of my pies every seven days.  Maybe now when you see the people lined up on the sidewalk for cupcakes, this will put it in perspective. 

Quality control in my time meant producing your own ingredients.  We produced 29 different types of pies – meat, fruit and vegetable.  In 1900, I purchased a 600 acre farm and structure at Burke Station, VA and started a dairy farm to provide milk and butter for our pies.  I also purchased over 5,000 acres in Loudoun County for the production of fresh fruit and vegetable ingredients.  A portion of this farm is part of what is now Runnymede Park in Herndon.  I acquired land in Rock Creek Park, several lots in Georgetown and throughout the city of Washington.  I even owned Analostan Isloand, which later became Teddy Roosevelt Island. 

Wisconsin & M Street (Photo by: Copperthite archive) Wisconsin & M Street
But it wasn’t just about the pie business and all the farmland, dairies and orchards.  We built factories on Capitol Hill, Bridge Street (M today, across from Dean and Deluca), and at High and O street (Wisconsin and O). Most people don’t know this, but before the War Between the States, a slave pen stood at the site of the factory at Wisconsin and O streets (now where the CVS is).     

We also built houses, 3337 N Street NW and 14 other houses in the West and East Village.  I was a founding board member of the Potomac Savings Bank at Wisconsin and M, we were very active in St. John’s on O street (as evidenced by the pages of births, deaths and baptisms recorded in church history), and I served on Georgetown’s Planning Board and many charity organizations, including protective services of children in the workplace, and animal rights organizations.

I’ve got lots more Washington history to share having to do with racetracks and race horses, inventions and – hey, the current location of the Ritz Carlton Hotel today is South Street, but until the 1980s, it was called Copperthwaite Lane.  I’ve uncovered some amazing glass negatives from the National Archives with photographs that have not seen the light of day for over 100 years.  And I’m happy to share them with my readers in upcoming columns.

For now, enjoy Pie with your Thanksgiving meal, and think of me, Henry Copperthite, the original Pie King of Washington, D.C!

Advertisement of the time (Photo by: Copperthite archive) Advertisement of the time




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