ⓘ Quincy House (Brookland)
Quincy House is a home to Catholic graduate students from across North America, located in the historic Brookland neighborhood of the District of Columbia.
Within easy walking distance of the Catholic University of America, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and the Franciscan Monastery, Quincy is something of an epicenter of Catholic young adult culture, best known for its celebrations of the Christian Sabbath, the Lords Day, and for its monthly coffee house events, of which recordings are regularly produced and posted online. A "Best of Quincy, vol. 1" is anticipated within the next year.
Residents of Quincy House have been known to study philosophy, theology and national security at CUA.
1.1. History The First Quincy House
The original Quincy House was built in the summer of 1781 by Jeremiah Cunningham born 1756, a graduate of the College of William & Mary, who left Williamsburg earlier in the year when the British invasion of Virginia forced the closing of the college and ended the lively intellectual life he had come to love. One of the founding members of Phi Beta Kappa, Cunningham came from a family of some means and intended to take up the life of a learned gentleman, living off his estates income while undertaking a life of moral, civic and intellectual virtue.
Cunningham chose the site for his new home because he appreciated the natural scenery, a feature which latter caused George Washington to select the area for the national capital. Nine years after the construction of Quincy House, on July 16, 1790, Congress created the District of Columbia, with the house becoming part of the new entity of the County of Washington. In 1871 Congress passed legislation uniting the District under an eleven-member legislature, which included two representatives of the County of Washington. In 1878 the County of Washington ceased to exist as a result of the District of Columbia Organic Act.
Among the friends of Cunningham who visited him at the original Quincy House were William Short 1759–1849, a classmate from William & Mary and a fellow Phi Beta Kappa, who stopped by in 1786 before leaving with Thomas Jefferson for Paris, acting as Jeffersons personal secretary while the future president served as ambassador. Short would return to visit Cunningham again in 1793 when he was back in the States between his ambassadorships to France 1790–1792 and Spain 1794–1795, though it was his third visit was probably the most important. In 1796 Short enthusiastically told Cunningham about the man he had spent time with in Europe, John Quincy Adams, then serving as US minister to the Netherlands. For years Cunningham had been toying with different names for the House, without settling upon one he liked, but on December 5, 1796, the 20th anniversary of the founding of his old college society, Jeremiah Cunningham christened his home the Quincy House.
Jeremiah Cunningham was not only a man of letters but also an amateur whiskey distiller. To satisfy his interest in both, the builder of Quincy House constructed an extensive basement which housed the better part of his growing collection of scholarly works, his distillation equipment and several rooms for aging casks of Scotch whisky. This honeycomb of various tunnels and chambers played a crucial role in the life of the second Quincy House.
As the new American capital grew, Cunningham established relationship with men of similar tastes: learned gentlemen with interests in moral and civic matters. Among them were two men who went on to importance in the War of 1812, Dr. William Thornton and Lt. Col. Franklin Wharton. Thornton, whose design was chosen for the Capitol building in 1793, was named first Superintend of Patents in 1802. When British forces attacked Washington in August, 1814, in retaliation for the burning of York today Toronto, Dr. Thornton convinced them to spare the Patent Office, pleading that the loss of the knowledge it contained would be a loss for all mankind. Franklin Wharton became the third Commandant of the US Marine Corps in 1804 and when the British were busy burning the White House, Capitol and Treasury building, his home at the Marine Barracks was spared, according to Marine Corps lore as an act of respect for the brave rearguard action fought by the Marines at the Battle of Bladensburg earlier in the day.
In 1835 a neighbor of note moved into the area, Jehiel Brooks Jeremiah Cunningham of Quincy House befriended the Brooks family and the two men would often stay up late at night drinking Cunninghams scotch and discussing the numerous essays Brooks was known to write.
The first Quincy House was burned to the ground by an anti-Catholic Know Nothing mob in 1844. The mob, apparently inspired by the Nativist Riots in nearby Philadelphia, attacked Cunninghams house, believing he was a closet Catholic. To this day, the record on that point remains obscure. Cunningham was known to be friends with several of the Catholic bishops of Baltimore, including and the Jesuits John Carroll and Leonard Neale and bishop Samuel Eccleston. However, Cunningham was never known to have officially entered the Catholic Church and remained a practicing Anglican his entire life. In any event, Jeremiah Cunningham, at the advanced age of 88 when his beloved Quincy House was burned, never really recovered from the event. He sold the property to James Baer a Pennsylvania Catholic, which did nothing to dispel the rumors about Cunninghams faith and died a year later. All that Baer inherited of the original building was the basement; luckily, much of the distilling equipment, many of the scholarly texts and several casks of Scotch survived the fire.
1.2. History The Second Quincy House
In 1845 James Baer built a new house on the site of Cunningham’s Quincy House, incorporating the remains of the basement into the new building. Though Baer himself was neither brewer nor distiller, he paid to have Cunningham’s distillation equipment refurbished and had his brother Thomas, a Pennsylvania brewer, install a small brewery on the back of the house. James, himself a book merchant, never personally operated either set of equipment, but made sure the complement of house servants always included a few men who could both brew and distill, providing an added source of income. Likewise, those portions of Cunningham’s library which had survived the fire were sold with the property to Baer. It is unknown, however, whether he retained the books for himself or sold them off at his business. Perhaps because of these legacies, Baer retained the name Quincy House for his new structure.
The American Civil War broke out in 1861. To provide for the defense of Washington City, a series of forts was erected, encircling the city. Roughly 100 yards from the Quincy House was Fort Bunker Hill, a rectangular emplacement with thirteen guns. Ft. Bunker Hill saw no action during the war, but its proximity to the Quincy House was significant when the young Miss Emily Sawyer, daughter of an officer from the 11th Vermont Volunteer Infantry, came to visit her father, stationed at Ft. Bunker Hill. Lt. Colman OHiggins may have been staying at the Quincy House at the time. In any event, his daughter and James Baer rapidly struck up a courtship which soon resulted in their marriage.
There are reports that Baer had been involved in the operations of the Underground Railroad prior to the Civil War, though these stories may result from a confusion about the arrival of run-away slaves at the forts around Washington and Baer’s employment with the Freedman’s Bureau from 1865 until 1867.
Colman OHiggins - whose grandfather had been a cousin of the legendary Bernardo OHiggins - was a dairy farmer and cheese maker in civilian life. When he died in 1877, the family farm, located near Middlebury, passed to his only child, Emily Baer nee OHiggins. Though remaining in the District of Columbia, the Baers chose not to sell the dairy farm, but continued to operate it through a manager, and began selling the occasional cheese - along with beer and whiskey - at the bookstore outside Washington. This happy arrangement lasted until the death of James Baer in 1880, at the age of 61. Emily, a quarter century his junior and with young children still at home, chose to remarry, wedding Hans von Eisenwaller born 1844, the son of Austrian revolutionary Johann von Eisenwaller, who had participated in the failed revolution of 1848 and fought with the Illinois 1st Hecker Jaeger Regiment during the Civil War. Eisenwaller took up the operation of Baers bookstore cum liquor store, though the dairy farm was finally sold off a few years later.
In spite of his fathers radical politics, Hans von Eisenwaller was of more moderate bent and a devout Catholic. As Catholic bishop John Lancaster Spalding was working to establish the Catholic University of America, von Eisenwaller provided what financial assistance he could though it was considerably less than such Catholic greats as Mary Gwendoline Caldwell were giving. In 1898 he provided funds to the Franciscans then establishing the Memorial Church of the Holy Sepulchre a few hundred yards east of his house. However, it seems that von Eisenwallers fortunes were declining at this time, since when the Dominican House of Studies was established in 1905, von Eisenwaller this time simply donated a significant portion of his stock of books, providing an early boost to the Dominican library.
In 1907 Emily OHiggins Baer von Eisenwaller was killed in a carriage accident, at the age of 63. Her husband was devastated, dying more or less of grief the following year. By this time even the youngest children had all left home and the Washington area. The house was abandoned for several years, falling into a state of disrepair, and for a time being frequented by vagrants and troublesome youths. In 1913 it was finally sold by the children to a real estate agent and demolished.
1.3. History Third Quincy House
According to the publicly available records of the District of Columbia tax assessors office, the current Quincy House was built in 1915, as a single family residence. The current home is unassuming and of contemporary age with the rest of the neighborhood.
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