Joseph Milton Peake was born in December 1854 in Fauquier County and at age 21 married Jane Frances O'Bannon, five years his senior. They moved to Alexandria where Joseph worked as a grocer and then at grain and feed business at King and Alfred Streets with his son James, then in the coal business. By 1900 he had become a regional manager for Singer Sewing Machines.
In the meantime they had started a sizeable family. Jane gave birth to James Frederick in December 1876, Jane (“Janie”) (December 1878), Charles (May 1881), Joseph T (November 1882), Bertha (April 1885), Henry Neville (October 1888) and Rose (January 1892).
With a well-paid job secured he went out and bought two lots in the Braddock Heights neighborhood from the developer, North West Alexandria Improvement Company, in 1899 and built a large, handsome house, now known as 117 West Monroe. They then started buying land as rapidly as finances permitted. They bought another lot in 1900, three more in 1901, and no fewer than fourteen in June 1905. As a result, they owned 22 of the 24 lots (each 50x135 feet) comprising the block bounded by Monroe, Russell, Mason and Hancock. These were apparently intended simply as medium-time investments for they never built houses on any of them, other than the original family house. They started disposing of the properties in the late 1910s and early 1920s so that by 1926 they were back down to six lots, including Lots 7-9 that held the house.
In the meantime, life had gone on. In October 1906 Charles married Juanita Mann of Washington DC and the couple took up residence there, with Juanita giving birth to a daughter the following August. Unfortunately, Juanita passed away in September 1911 and Charles with daughter Evelyn moved back to Braddock Heights. Charles was then diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1911 and slowly faded away. He finally succumbed in June 1916 at age 36. Evelyn remained in the house to be raised by her extended family.
Janie moved out to West Virginia to marry John L Arnold, an engineer for the B&O Railroad in 1912. They set up their home in Keyser WV, 18 miles south of Cumberland, MD, where she gave birth to John Jr in November 1918. Sisters Bertha and Rose, being adventuresome, made motor trips to visit her starting in 1916. The Peake women tended to be long-lived and she passed away at age 85 in 1965.
Joseph, the most ambitious of the siblings, married Edith Childs of Alexandria in December 1910, he 28 years old, she 23. They lived for two years in his family house on Monroe then moved to Brooklyn, NY, where he landed a job with the maritime department of Standard Oil. They had a son, Joseph Jr, and things apparently went well. Then he took ill and died shortly thereafter in June 1927. Funeral and burial were held in New York.
On 30 December 1906 twenty-year-old Bertha was involved in the infamous Terra Cotta train crash near Catholic University. She and her friend Carrie Cromwell were returning home on a slow-moving local train of three cars that originated in Frederick, MD. At 6.30 PM they had just left the Terra Cotta station in the District. Behind them in the fog was fast-moving work train No.2120 that blew through the red stop signal at the Terra Cotta station at full speed of 65 mph, causing the station master there to send his famous frantic telegraph to the next station “2120 by my red target, going like hell”. A few minutes later the huge steam engine smashed into the flimsy wooden passenger cars of the local train, hurling wreckage and body parts a quarter-mile to each side of the tracks. Fifty-three died.
Bertha's friend Carrie, who was sitting next to her in the same seat, was killed instantly. Bertha survived, but suffered grievously. She was taken to Garfield Hospital where doctors initially envisioned amputating her left leg, but Bertha was tough and managed to get discharged back to home care after only a month, with both legs, although undoubtedly still suffering from what the Washington Evening Star referred to as her “severe nervous shock”.
In March 1918 she married William G Middleton and they moved to Trenton, NJ where he ran a veterinary practice. He passed away in January 1930 at age 50, but she continued to live in Trenton until she was moved the the Lawrenceville (NJ) nursing home and soon thereafter passed away in July 1970, at age 84.