Thomas Row Starts Off
Thomas Daniel Row was born in January 1895 in the booming railroad town of Hinton, West Virginia to Absalom (“Abbie”) and Julia Annie Row. Abbie was a railroadman and by 1911 he had moved the family to Groves Ave in Mt Ida to work as a conductor for the Southern Railway. Thomas followed in his father's footsteps and took a job as a brakeman for the Pennsylvania RR, working from Washington to Wilmington.
He registered for the draft in January 1917, being described by the Town of Potomac's Dr Yates as tall, medium build, with brown hair and eyes. He claimed an exemption from the draft as an employee of a critical industry, the rail lines, but this apparently cut no ice. In August he was one of 306 called up by the Alexandria draft board.
The Army posted him to Ft Lee, near Richmond, and after training was assigned to Company A of the 318thInfantry Regiment, made up of fellow Virginians. The regiment arrived in France in May 1918 and entered combat in late July. In late September the regiment was thrown into the unimaginably brutal Meuse-Argonne offensive, taking heavy losses. Thomas was one of those, being grievously injured and spending the next eleven months in a military hospital before being discharged as a corporal on 5 September 1919, rejoining the railroad a week later.
Being called up for service had spurred him into action on another front for in September 1917 he had married his girlfriend Rachel Allen. On his return they rented a house on Myrtle (now Mosby) St in Mt Ida and then in December 1919 he purchased what is now 17 West Wyatt, a one-story bungalow. Living with them were Rachel's sister Grace and her husband Elbert Fordham and their son Elbert Jr.
The Rows on Rosecrest
When Rachel gave birth to son Thomas Jr in June 1921 it was apparent new living arrangements would be needed. As good-looking as the current house is, it was too small for their expanding family and in November 1923 they purchase the house on Rose Crest from the Rose Crest Corp, assuming the $3,500 mortage the company had taken out to build it and getting an additional $2,150 mortgage for the balance of the purchase price.
The family was enlarged by son Allan Abbie in January 1927 and things went well into the next decade. In 1934, however, Rachel was diagnosed with arteriosclerosis and hypertension and on 1 November 1935 she suffered a severe cerebral hemorrhage that killed her almost instantly at age 39.
Here the story gets murky. A March 1959 newspaper article identified Mary Myer Gropp as having “served the Row family for 23 years as a housekeeper”. That would put her arrival at 1936. The complication comes with the 1940 census, taken in April of that year, in which Mary is identified as Mary Row, wife of Thomas, accompanied by her daughter Genevieve Gropp and Genevieve's 2-year-old son Robert Gropp. Indeed, up until his death Thomas continued to refer to Thomas and Mary Row. Alas, there is no record they were ever married and, as mentioned, by 1959 she had apparently been demoted to “housekeeper” again, at least by son Thomas Jr.
Certainly one question is who was the father of Genevieve's son? Although identified by his mother's and grandmother's surname Gropp, he later took the surname Dove and and on his marriage in 1960 he identified his father as Robert E Dove. Genevieve herself married Charles Proctor in October 1947, at that time identifying herself as Genevieve Dove, divorced. There was a Robert E Dove in Alexandria in the 1930s to 1950s, but he was married to Olive Dove until his death. It was all very confusing. In any event, Genevieve and Charles separated two years after the marriage and divorced in 1951. Young Robert remained at 31 Rosecrest with his grandmother Mary.
Presumably Genevieve had left the house in the early 1940s, leaving Thomas, quasi (common-law?)-wife Mary, brothers Thomas Jr and Allan, and young Robert Dove.
In the meantime, Thomas Jr had enlisted in 1942 and Allan in May 1945. With the end of the war they both moved back to 31 Rosecrest, Thomas Jr as a freight rail conductor and Allan, newly married to wife Sady Hamilton, as a mechanic for a Studebaker dealership. Allan and Sadie moved out when she became pregnant with daughter Patricia in 1950. Genevieve moved back in briefly after her second divorce but moved out again around 1953, leaving Robert with his grandmother, although Robert moved out around 1958.
The Drama Comes to a Head
Thomas Jr proved to be socially awkward and remained single and living with his father, tending to his radio and TV repair hobby in the shop he had set up in the garage out back. The confusing situation came to a head in the spring of 1959.
In the evening of March 24 Sarah Kirschner, who had been a boarder in the house prior to her marriage, came by to visit her friend Mary. Thomas Sr had been ill for some time and had gone to stay with Allan in Fairfax a few days earlier and when Sarah arrived she confronted Junior with a barrage of complaints about the way his father had treated Mary. Junior retreated to his hobby shop in the garage. Around midnight Junior returned to find Sarah's husband Edward had arrived to pick her up. Edward was a 32 year-old United Airlines mechanic and appeared to be the opposite of Thomas Jr, confident and good-looking. An argument developed in the upstairs hallway and Thomas did the only thing he could apparently think of. The police later described him as a quiet guy “who keeps a gun under his pillow because he fears someone might kill him”. He pulled out his .25cal automatic and yelled at the couple to leave. Sarah took a swing at him, either to slap him or knock the gun away. In either event the gun discharged, sending the bullet through Thomas's wrist and into Edward's chest. Edward was dead by the time he got to the hospital.
The police arrived and arrested Thomas on a charge of murder, but two weeks later a judge at a preliminary hearing cleared him. Apparently believing that few people try to shoot a person through their own arm, he ruled it an accident.
In the meantime Thomas Sr had been taken to Alexandria Hospital from Allan's house suffering from cerebral edema and passed away a week later on 3 April 1959.
By the terms of his will Thomas' property passed equally to the two sons, Thomas Jr and Allan (with wife Sadie) and they sold the property in May 1961 to to John and Sarah Porter. The Porters kept the house until 2010, without Row-type drama, when they sold it to the current owners.
Remarkably, this 1923 house has had only three families, the Rows for 38 years, the Porters for a remarkable 49 years, and the current owners perhaps aiming to beat the record themselves.