Monday, February 8, 2010

A Man's Home: Ryder's Castle and the Removal of Little Abby

No, it was not an elegant mansion on upper Sixteenth Street. The building carrying this soubriquet was a neglected three-story house on 6th Street NW, halfway between D and E Streets, where the Hyatt Regency-Capitol Hill now stands.

The building was nicknamed after its claimed owner, George S. Ryder*, who operated a rooming house whose inmates were well-known to police at the No. 6 Precinct—swindlers, fortune-tellers, loafers and pickpockets.

In January,1897, George was said to be not only old and grey, but recently paralyzed. He hardly sounded like the father of the five-year-old little girl named Abby K. Ryder who had just been removed from the house by Agent Parkman of the Children’s branch of the Washington Humane Society.

In fact, many doubted that old George really was Abby’s father. Including George himself. In a hearing January 2, he told Police Court Judge Miller he couldn’t be sure, though he loved her and wanted to provide for her as if she were his own. He even agreed to place her in the care of his lawyer, General William Birney. However, the court dismissed this possibility after Ryder failed to make arrangements for her move.

DC Police Officer Patrick J. Creagh, along with two other officers, Kelly and Lynch, testified that the residents of Ryder’s Castle were persons of immoral and corrupting character—why, the housekeeper, Mrs. Baxter, was an alcoholic. Worse, eh hmm, well, police had sneaked inside the house once to find Ryder and Mrs. Baxter in bed together—as well as the child!

It had been Creagh who, a few years earlier, passed by the old Castle and overheard a group of three young women were laughing riotously about a scam they had going: On Pension pay days, they would follow old soldiers and pick their pockets. They were so vociferous in planning the next day's outing that Officer Creagh arrested them on the spot and had them sent to the workhouse for sixty days. For at least that month, the neighborhood’s Civil War veterans were safe from assault.

Now, Ryder, in an effort to appease the court and keep little Abby with him, told the judge that he had evicted all the residents of the house—save for Mr. and Mrs. Percy and Maud Brown, who were elderly, and a Mr. Hawkins who was an old gentleman of color.

After investigating the situation, two weeks later, Judge Miller turned poor little Abby over to the Board of Children’s Guardians, a poorly-funded agency which, more often than not, placed children in public institutions rather than private homes.

Sadly—but not surprisingly—Abby never appears in any Washington census. What became of her is not known, unless one among our readers can shed any light. 

As for the "castle": There had been some doubt all along that George Ryder was its legal owner. Sometime that year, the city had ordered Ryder to hook up to the sewer system, however he failed to do so. In September, Ryder was forced to admit that the property did not really belong to him, and pending charges were dropped.

That was the last time George Ryder made the newspapers.

Ryder Castle presumably fell into ruin...but not until far worse goings on were discovered there.

This would not be the last time the names Percy and Maud Brown appeared--in either newspapers, District court dockets or this blog.

*Not to be confused with the George Ryder of equestrian circles and society pages.

© Cecily Hilleary, 2010.
Photos courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

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