Southwest Washington DC is dominated by the legacy of mid-20th Century urban renewal projects and new developments such as the Wharf. Nonetheless, there are several late 18th Century and early 19th Century houses that remain south of M Street SW.
The Wheat Row houses were built in 1794 by a group of early developers called The Greenleaf Syndicate. William Lovering is generally believed to be the architect of the design. The Syndicate, consisting of John Greenleaf, John Nicholson, and Robert Morris (who was the principal financier of the American Revolution), owned one third of saleable land in early Washington, DC, and constructed other nearby houses, such as the Duncanson-Cranch House and the Thomas Law House.
Ultimately, the three members of the Greenleaf Syndicate went to debtor’s prison after their investments in land speculation collapsed.
The historic preservation application for Wheat Row notes that although the building exemplifies a Georgian architectural style typical of the period, its central pavilion is more typical of buildings from several decades earlier. The structure is also unique among older Washington buildings in that most of the brickwork is laid in Flemish bond, but the north wall is partially laid in English bond .
The name Wheat Row comes from one of the early owners, John Wheat. Another likely early resident was Philip Stuart, a Revolutionary War veteran and Congressman for Maryland. Thomas Jefferson was possibly even a house guest at Wheat Row at one time.
In the 1930s and 1940s, several of the Wheat Row houses were converted into space for community service organizations and a day nursery. In the 1960s, Wheat Row was renovated by Chloethiel Woodward Smith, a prominent Washington architect and urban planner (and freeway opponent).
Wheat Row was incorporated into the Harbour Square Co-op, alongside both modern row houses and other historic Lewis and Barney Houses. To date, the property serves as private residences—and as an example of how historic preservation can interface with new construction of a very different scale.
In a neighborhood dominated by 20th Century urban renewal, Wheat Row still stands out as a link to the District’s earliest days.