The Yates-Barry House

In a different era, before the wealthy began putting their mansions behind gates and hedges at the end of cul-de-sacs, the worthies of a town arrayed their large houses along the main street, to impress visitors with the town's importance and reassure residents of its permanence. Thus it was with the Town of Potomac and Mt. Vernon Avenue.

 One of these houses has been beautifully restored as the Anne Welsh Salon, reminding us of the grandeur of The Avenue in its heyday. Another exists, but you need to use your imagination.

 Next time you pass by St. Elmo's on foot pause and look at the building on the same side of Mt. Vernon, but on the opposite side of Del Ray Ave, now the Del Ray Pizzeria. If you can, in your mind's eye, unenclose the front porch and eliminate the brick addition on the north side, you will be rewarded with another of our grand houses. More of the original lines remain when viewed from behind, although the original stained glass above the rear door appears to have been removed in the last year or so. This was the house and office of the town doctor, Dr. Robert Yates.

The Initial Purchase
John and Sophie Gosseling, immigrants from Germany, had begun buying lots in Del Ray as soon as sales opened in 1894. They eyed the west side of Mt. Vernon Avenue between what is now Custis and Del Ray as promising and immediately purchased the southern half of the block. There they put up a substantial house (see the Gary-Hornthal House). In 1899 they bought the northern half.

 Unfortunately, John Gosseling passed away in 1905 and Sophie began liquidating the property holdings in preparation for moving to the state of Washington. In 1907 she sold the house to up-and-coming John Gary and the still-vacant northern half of the block to Dr. Robert Yates. He put up another house, of similar size, the following year for his nascent medical practice.

The Doctor Is In
Robert J. Yates was born in 1864, seventh of eight children of Abner and Sarah Yates, a farm couple in Culpepper, VA. He graduated from William and Mary College, and married Gertrude Best in 1896 in her hometown of Brucetown, VA. He worked as a railroad clerk for about a decade, then enrolled at George Washington University to study medicine and graduated in 1908. In the meantime they had started a family, producing sons Paul in 1901, Janney in 1903 and Robert C. in 1904, followed by daughter Frances in 1909.

The family moved to the brand-new Town of Potomac immediately after graduation, where Robert became the town doctor, putting up a substantial house at what is now 2216 Mt. Vernon Avenue for his practice and his residence.

He was notable, among more substantial contributions, for keeping a milk cow, a rarity in Del Ray. Presumably it was housed in the single-story shed south of the house, although he did own some other properties

The original footprint of the house as it was in 1921. It is roughly L-shaped with an almost-full width one-story front porch, and a partially-enclosed two-story back porch. A garage and outbuilding are also present.

He entered local politics in the 1920s, by which time the town had abandoned national party labels and instead relied on shifting alliances based on local priorities and personalities. Dr. Yates headed up what was called “the law and order ticket”, the main laws of interest apparently being the 18 mph speed limit and drunk driving bans that enriched the town coffers at the expense of Alexandria residents traveling to and from DC. Opposition came initially from a group known as “the progressive ticket”, then by former law-and-order members as “the citizen’s ticket”.

 In his first race, for town council in 1922, he proved the top vote-getter with 109 votes. The next election came in June 1924 and validated Yates’ popularity with his election win as mayor with 137 votes to 94 for Ray Cobean.

 His term as mayor was certainly an active one. He engaged in continuing turf wars with Mayor Smoot of Alexandria, who claimed that enforcement of the low Potomac speed limit on Jeff Davis highway brought his city “into disrepute”, as well as costing his constituents considerable money.

Of more lasting import was the realization that the tired converted barn that served as the home of Potomac Fire Company 1, as well as providing some space for town offices, was in need of replacement. Shortly after he took office an expansion of the building to accommodate new fire equipment was initiated. The fact that mayor Yates fell through a hole, suffering a compound fracture of his right leg, during an inspection may have highlighted the inadequacy of even the improved structure.

In any event, the town formed a special committee to examine the possibility of constructing a new multipurpose building with town hall, jail, fire house and auditorium in May 1925. The study appears to have been a formality, however, for within a matter of weeks the town was already petitioning the state legislature for permission to issue $24,000 worth of bonds to pay for what would become the town hall (now the fire station on East Windsor).

 This was to be his last official act, however. He had been suffering from nephritis for about two years and he was finally laid low mid-June and died at his home on July 8th 1925. His term of office was filled out by Councilman Charles Adams. At the next election Adams, still on the “law and order ticket” was narrowly defeated by William Kleysteuber, a breakaway who formed the “citizens ticket” to shake up governance (that is, he apparently disliked Adams).

 Gertrude continued to live in the house with a steadily-decreasing brood around her. By 1930 the house held just her and daughter Frances, who had returned from Blackstone College. Middle son Janney had moved to Augusta County where his wife gave birth to daughter Jean and where he worked as an electrical engineer1. The other two sons, although maintaining their official residence in Del Ray, only showed up for brief visits. Paul, now 28, was living with his wife and young child as a professor of biology at Ohio State University, while 26-year-old Robert C. was a teacher at the University of Maryland, having received his PhD from Johns Hopkins in June 1930 after serving on the faculty of VMI.

 On September 26th 1931 daughter Frances married Dr. Madison Campbell of Washington, DC. In what must have been a bittersweet event the ceremony took place at the house she had grown up in on Mt. Vernon Avenue, in the absence of her father she was given away by her brother Robert, and was presided over by Rev. O.C. Beall, who had married her parents 30 years before. Then she too moved out.

 Although the house undoubtedly held memories it was far too large for a single person, and expensive to keep up. Among other costs, Gertrude had been assessed $97 for concrete curb and gutter on the Del Ray side and $64 for a concrete sidewalk on the Mt. Vernon side by the City in 1934/35, significant costs in the depression. Finally, in March 1937 she sold her longtime home to local real estate investors Michael and Joanna Barry and bought the property at what is now 15 East Custis. The purchase was nominally in the name of her son Robert C. and his wife Emily, but they did not live there. The more modest brick house now standing there was undoubtedly built for Gertrude at that time.

The Barry Era
Michael Barry had been born in Syracuse, NY in 1889 and moved to NYC at 20 to study law. Instead, however, he found a calling in the real estate business and joined the large Wood Harmon development corporation, which sent him to Alexandria to sell off the corporation's remaining holdings of Del Ray properties. Once that was concluded he returned to New York City.

 There he met Johanna Metzger, an interior designer. Johanna (later spelled Joanna) had been born in Frankfurt, Germany and moved to the US with her family in 1908. She plied her trade in New York, where she was naturalized as a citizen in 1924. The couple married in 1929 and in 1931 were joined by baby daughter Joan. Shortly thereafter they moved to DC where Michael became the sales manager for Aurora Hills Homes Inc. in Arlington. They moved to Arlington Ridge Road in 1933 and the following year struck out on their own as the MH Barry Organization, acting as both realtors and investing in property on their own.

 When the Yates house came available Michael jumped at it, having (admittedly dated) experience in the Del Ray market. They became a powerhouse duo by the early 1940s, acting as realtors and buying and selling lots in Braddock Heights, Beverley Hills, and Rosemont. By the mid-1950s, however, Michael's health went into decline. Suffering from arteriosclerosis he was spending considerable time at the Circle Terrace Hospital. He was finally felled instantly by a massive heart attack at home in July 1957 at age 68.

Joanna was undeterred. Memorable for the German accent she retained she continued to run the MH Barry organization from the old Yates house and continued to live upstairs. In July 1972 Joanna had given a half interest in the property to her daughter, Joan Hemmer, as a gift. Interestingly, the deed provided specifically that Joan's husband was to have no interest in the property whatsoever, it being solely the property of Joan. She was apparently prescient, for when she finally went to sell it, her co-owner was identified as “Joan Hemmer Nolan, formerly Joan Hemmer”.

 Thus, through 1980 the two large Gosseling-property houses on Mt Vernon stood little changed, with Dr. Hornthal practicing at 2200 Mt. Vernon Ave for over 50 years until 1980, and the MH Barry firm, with Joanna above, in the Yates house at 2206 for 49 years to 1986.

Two views of the building shortly before its conversion to a pizzeria. On the left, a front view., on the right a fire upstairs that shows the surviving rear porch.

As a Commercial Building
By the mid-1980s it was time for Joanna to enter into a well-deserved retirement. The sale of 2206 Mt Vernon Ave2 went through in April 1986 and conveyed an undivided half-interest in the property to Graph Tech Inc. for use as offices and the other half to Samuel and Angela Taylor.

 Graph Tech apparently had the brick extension built on the north side and then, in September 1987, they entered into a complex land deal with seven other parties to reconfigure the block. In the meantime, OTV Inc had purchased the former Hornthal property on the doctor's death in January 1980 and wanted to demolish it in favor of a larger office building. To do this they purchased the open southern part of the former Barry/Yates property, and swapped air, light and access easements with Graph Tech and the Taylors. Once the deal was concluded OTV tore down the Hornthal building and put up the long brick building named Potomac Town Square, apparently without irony.

 The Yates house survived, but minus a portion of its lot, and with the porch enclosed and the brick addition to the north to increase floor space. The addition served as a title office, while shops and some offices occupied much of the rest of the building, including the second floor.

 It was then converted to house the Del Ray Pizzeria on the ground floor, which opened in October 2010. An enclosed stairway was built on the south side of the house to permit access to the upper floors without going through the first floor.

 Note on numbering: The Dr. Hornthal house was originally 800 Mt. Vernon Ave, while the Dr. Yates house was 810. In 1939 Mt. Vernon Avenue was renumbered, and the Hornthal house became number 2200, while the Yates house became 2206. When OTV decided to build the large office building on the Hornthal property they needed additional numbers, so the Yates building was again renumbered in 1988, this time to 2216, leaving the numbers 2200-2214 available for tenants of the office building.

1 Janney moved around and after service in WW2 moved to Cumberland, MD, where an elderly Gertrude moved to be close by. Unfortunately, Janney took ill and passed away in 1950 at age 47, and Gertrude moved to Williamsburg, where she finally passed away herself in 1957 at age 87.

2 the address had changed from 810 Mt Vernon Avenue to 2206 in 1940, and later to 2216 to accomodate the offices that filled the old Gary-Hornthal lot.