Scouting out the corners of Capitol Hill has been quite profitable for me. While the center of the neighborhood has some of the most well connected people to its history, the surrounding edges also have a few surprises. Almost invariably, these are the types of people and businesses that have been squeezed off the Hill over the last, well, 100 years. As the neighborhood has grown more residential, you have to look to some old maps to find the secrets of the Hill’s evolution.
This week’s Lost Capitol Hill column takes us to an ice cream and butter factory located just north of Capitol Hill.
On September 1, 1894, a short item in the Washington Evening Star stated that the “firm of Chapin Bros will from this date be known as Chapin & Sacks.” While terse, there was a long story behind it. Arthur A. Chapin and Alvin W. Chapin had been born in New York state around the end of the Civil War, but moved to the District as young men. They became butter dealers in the Central Market, at first separately before joining forces. Sadly, they did not work well together, and so Arthur threw Alvin out and took on George P. Sacks. The new company, while still essentially in the butter business, added the words “Manufacturing Company” to the end of its name, indicating that they were destined for bigger and better things.
One thing they needed as a “manufacturing company” was a factory, and they soon found land north of the Capitol, at the corner of Patterson and First Streets Northeast. Patterson lies between M and N Streets, and is just south of Florida Avenue.
On this land, they built a butter factory, which they sold under the name Elk Grove Creamery. Their premiere selling gambit was to run a popularity contest for high school cadet lieutenants and captains – each pound you bought gave you the right to cast one vote for your favorite. The two with the most votes were given $100 in gold – a not insignificant sum, being about $2,500 in 2013 dollars.
Given the popularity of their butter, Chapin and Sacks moved on to ice cream, which seemed a reasonable next step. They bought further land next to the butter factory and expanded.
This time, they decided to sell the wares under their own name, and soon, ads touting Chapin-Sacks ice cream as “The Velvet Kind” spread through all the newspapers.
In late 1905, a large food show was held at D.C.’s convention hall. Manufacturers large – Borden’s was well-represented – and small vied to show off their products in the best light. One of the more popular venues within was an ice cream parlor run by the Chapin-Sacks company, which was located near the entrance, and where you could procure their “famous Neapolitan brick.”
And, on the last day of 1905, a long article in the Sunday Star sang the company’s praises, extolling its cleanliness, the modernity of their equipment, the quality of the cream they brought in from Maryland. Included were pictures of the three main men in the firm: Chapin, Sacks, and S.C. Redman, the Secretary and Treasurer of the company. There was no doubt that the next year would bring great things, including a large increase in production of ice, which had thus far been a sidelight to their enterprise.
It would not come to be the way they hoped, as we will see next week…