A 'center of commerce' will be restored as gateway to the city, to the tune of $7.5 million

By Mark Holan

In the 1840s a man named John Moore lived and worked in D.C. in a small stone house at what now is the corner of 17th Street and Constitution Avenue NW.
 
The two-story structure, still there today, will soon be moved back from the busy intersection in a $7.5 million transformation over the next two years. A $1 million donation from the American Express Foundation is helping the National Park Service and Trust for the National Mall restore the house — the oldest structure on the Mall — as a gateway to the revitalized 38-acre Constitution Gardens and nearby monuments.
 
Moore operated a canal lock along one of Greater Washington's critical waterways of commerce in the first half of the 19th century. From the house he assessed tolls on the sand, stone and other raw materials used to build the Federal City, monitoring barge traffic between the Washington City Canal and nearby C&O Canal.
 
"This beautiful house was built 178 years ago and was at the center of commerce in the city of Washington," said Caroline Cunningham, president of the Trust for the National Mall. "This space really told the history of commerce in this city."
Moore shivered through miserable winters as the canal froze and waved off pestering clouds of mosquitoes in the summer. He probably had a few opinions about President John Tyler, the elected representatives of the 26 states in Congress and maybe the growing controversy over slavery that soon divided the nation.
 
The rise of the railroads and post-Civil War transformation of Washington rendered obsolete Moore's job and the city's canal system. The fetid waterway was filled in 1872, later to become Constitution Ave. The circa 1835 "Lockkeeper's House" began a long tenure of abandonment, interspersed with periods as a Park Police headquarters and a public restroom, closed some 40 years ago.
 
The S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, the Clark Family Foundation and Trust board member C. Boydon Gray are also contributing to the project, which includes moving the house 32 feet from the street and transforming it into an education center for the Mall's 29 million annual visitors.
 
The project will begin as the weather warms next year and should be completed in time for the 100th anniversary of the Park Service in August 2016.
 
Plaque on outside of Lockkeeper's House, National Mall