By Frank Leone
The Foggy Bottom area, especially the Historic District, is known for the Irish immigrant workers who settled there during and after the Civil War and worked in Foggy Bottom’s industries. Many lived in the modest but well-crafted row houses built by fellow Irish immigrants. The Irish presence in the neighborhood continued at least until the late 1950s, when Pete’s Irish pub – frequented by a green-horned goat – closed down.
The Irish were among the first immigrants to the new city of Washington, arriving in the early 1800s and settling in areas such as “Swampoodle” (now “NoMa”). The first Irish in Foggy Bottom, and the first D.C. alley dwellers, may have been the gardeners employed in 1858 by C.A. Snow. Snow, publisher of the National Intelligencer, lent his name to Snows Court and built a greenhouse and four wood frame dwellings there.
After the Civil War, Foggy Bottom industry flourished and the working class population increased. While many Germans worked in the breweries, the Washington Gas Light Company employed many Irish immigrants. In fact, in the 1870s, the pastor of St. Stephens Catholic Church (2424 Penn. Ave. NW) would wait outside Washington Gas Light on payday to collect donations from its parishioners to fund church construction.
Irish immigrant Peter McCartney began as a carpenter in the 1870s and became a builder. His skill with brick and wood is evident throughout the Historic District, including the corbelled brick cornices and delicate jigsaw work on at least seven houses in the neighborhood. Several of his houses are highlighted on the Foggy Bottom Historic District Walking Tour (https://theclio.com/tour/2098). McCartney was born in Ireland in 1845, married Anne Fletcher in 1882, became an American citizen in 1890, and died in 1901. He is buried in D.C.’s Mt. Olivet cemetery, along with many local Catholics.
The Irish also operated businesses, including grocery stores and saloons, within Foggy Bottom. The bright yellow Fitzgerald House (840 New Hampshire Ave.), built in 1886, was the home of John and Kathleen Fitzgerald. The family also operated it as the M&J Market grocery store from the 1890s to the 1950. Restored in 1960, it was converted into several apartment residences. Steve Timlin, a devotee of Foggy Bottom and its history, lived there from 1986 to 2008.
The Irish engaged in sporting and social activities. The area fielded baseball and football teams, Emerald AC and the Irish 11. Marty Gallagher, “the Pride of Foggy Bottom” and “The Irish Warrior,” was a well-known heavy-weight boxer from 1925-1939 (at one point ranked 7th in the world). Retiring with a 72-11 record, Gallagher became a boxing coach and administrator at Georgetown University for 30 years. Many Irish were members of St. Stephens-related organizations, including the West End Hibernian Society, which marched in the St. Patrick’s Day parade of 1878 before President Rutherford B. Hayes.
George “Pete” Dailey, the unofficial mayor of Foggy Bottom, ran Pete’s Restaurant (2500 G Street NW) located at the site of the People’s Life Insurance Co. (b. 1960) and now the Saudi Arabian Embassy. The pub was “a favorite of the social set and the hoi polloi, the boys in blue and the men who live by chance.” Edgewater Riding Academy, one of riding stables in the area, kept a goat to calm the horses. Pete the goat would walk himself over to the Pete’s to snack on crackers and cigarette butts. His horns were painted green for St. Patrick’s Day. The bar closed in September 1957.
Sources: D.C. Historic Preservation Office, Foggy Bottom Historic District Brochure, https://planning.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/op/publication/attachments/Foggy_Bottom_Brochure_0.pdf; Rev. Lawrence P. Gatti, Historic St. Stephens, An Account of its Eighty-Five Years (1952); Leo Warring, The Foggy Bottom Gang (2020); “Morning Walk: Foggy Bottom/GWU,” Jaybird’s Jottings (May 18, 2019); Phil Casey, “Pete’s (Goatless) Closes Forever,” Washington Post, Sept. 15, 1957, p. B1; “Closing of Pete’s Place Blow to Foggy Bottom,” Washington Star, Sept. 15, 1957.