The Kidwell Houses (401, 400 & 216 East Howell)

Early Beginnings
Frank Beal, 40, and his wife Alice, 34, moved to Del Ray in hopes of cashing in on the apparently incipient housing boom in this new development. The plan was for Alice to run a grocery store in the home, a common practice at the time, while Frank worked as a carpenter and painter. To this end they were among the first purchasers, buying a two-lot corner property on the south-east corner of Howell and Leslie in August 1894. They took out a $900 mortgage with the Baltimore Building & Loan Association in September 1895 to finance the building of their house.

 Their plans depended on a quick build-up of the development. Construction never really took off in Del Ray/St Elmo, however, and in November 1897 Frank and Alice sold their house to the building & loan for $500 in addition to forgiveness of the loan. The house was large by local standards and it took a year and a half to resell, William Kidwell buying it from the association for $800 in May 1899. Three generations of Kidwells would call it home.

Building Up in Del Ray
William, born in Prince George's County, Maryland in 1871, was a believer in the Horatio Alger ethos. He started out as a butcher before switching briefly to a less physical role as a salesman, then in 1916 as an insurance agent for the Home Beneficial Assn of Richmond, with offices on North Fairfax Street. He was also a relentless civic booster, including serving as a trustee of the Del Ray Methodist Church. He agitated for the creation of the Town of Potomac and was rewarded by being named by the state legislature to the first transitional (unelected) Town Council in 1908. He served on the council on-and-off through the years, including winning the elections in the mid- and late-1920s that saw him the only person to have sat on both the first council meeting in 1908 and the last one before annexation in 1929. He also served as Mayor in 1914 and Town Magistrate during the first anti-speeding crusade of 1915, which was aimed at increasing safety by enforcing the 10 mph speed limit, but which not coincidentally also brought funds into the town treasury from DC and Alexandria residents passing through.

 He clearly believed in the future of Del Ray and Potomac and put his money down as well. In May 1907 he purchased a plot a block and a half to the west that is now 216 E Howell and immediately put up a sizable house. In September 1912 he bought the land directly across Howell from his home and put up another house, now 400 E Howell. He ventured into potential commercial real estate in July 1914 when he bought empty property at the corner of Howell and Mt. Vernon, now 2001-2009 Mt Vernon, home to Del Ray Hardware, among others. This may have been a bit more than he could handle, however, for he resold that property in July 1919, still barren.

The 1912 Mattingly house in 1971. Note the faux stone finish on the front.

The wonderfully restored 400 E Howell in 2015. (Google Earth)

The Children Stay Close
With his wife Effie (nee Lacy) they had five daughters; Susie, Virginia (“Virgie”), Naomi, Effie Gertrude and Willie, the last being born in 1911. They raised their sizeable family in the new, large house on Howell, this taking quite a while. Indeed, daughter Susie was married and out of the house before Willie was born.

 Susie married Warren Mattingly, a railroad conductor in 1909 and moved to his rental place in DC. A bachelor pad apparently was unworkable for a growing family and in 1912 they moved into her father's rental house at 400 E Howell, with Warren having followed his father-in-law into the insurance business, but with competing Metropolitan Life. In February 1919 they bought a large vacant lot immediately to the east of their rental house, but turned around and sold it, still empty, in October of that year. Susie and Warren continued to live at 400 E Howell as renters until May 1927 when they bought the house from Kidwell, taking out a $2,750 mortgage at 6% interest to pay for it. William Kidwell probably subsidized the rental a bit to keep the family close, but the sale price was significant for the time, and would probably have been only a small bargain. In any event, the Mattinglys turned around and quickly sold the house in August of that year to RB & Bertie Gills, the newcomers taking over the mortgage. Warren and Susie then decamped to Sheppard Park in DC.

 Virgie was born in March 1890 and married James Gordon, a railroad engineer, in 1911. They quickly moved into Kidwell's rental house at 216 E Howell; that would be their family home for the next fifty years. Clearly the Gordons had an understanding with Kidwell that they could buy the house at some point, for they purchased the vacant 25' wide lot on each side of their rental unit in January 1921. Finally, in August 1926 they bought the house from Kidwell, financed by a mortgage from CS Taylor Burke for $2,000, resulting in what is still a very large lot by Del Ray standards. They raised three sons and two daughters in the house, with James continuing to work for the railroad. Virgie died in September 1961; James moved out in 1962 then he too passed away in August 1972.

  Naomi was the one daughter to not live on Howell after leaving home. She married the Rev J Raymond Wood and moved around Virgina, to wherever the Methodist Church sent them, including Salem and Leesburg.

The 1907 Gordon house at 216 E Howell. The original front porch has been enclosed by the time of this photo in 1971.

The insurance business was not immune to the effects of the depression. In 1933 Home Beneficial moved to smaller offices on North Columbus St and William appears to have been reduced to intermittent work. By New Years of 1938/39 William was completely unemployed. At 67 years of age he was a bit old to find a new job, and indeed his efforts to secure new employment were unsuccessful. Fortunately, he had some help. Although Susie, Virginia and Naomi had all married and moved away, Gertrude, something of an eccentric, remained in the house at age 32 in 1940, making $1,200 a year for 40 hours a week as a public school teacher.1

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Further, Willie had married Walter Dakeman in 1938 and she, her husband and son James moved into the Kidwell family house. As a result, there were two incomes for the household, Gertrude's, plus Walter's, working 44 hours a week as an assistant line chief for the phone company at $3,000 a year.

 Thus for the ten years starting in 1938 the Kidwell clan was well represented locally. Although the Mattinglys had moved out, William and Effie Kidwell, along with daughter Gertrude and the three Dakemans shared the original house at 400, while the seven Gordons lived at 216.

 William died in March 1947 after a long battle with heart disease, age 75. Effie passed away two years later at 76. Neither had drawn up a will and the children appear to have decided to simply leave the status quo undisturbed, with Gertrude and the Dakemans remaining in the house.

 By the mid-1960s, however, young James Dakeman had moved out, leaving the two sisters and one husband, all in their 50s and eyeing retirement, in an aging house. Gertrude and Willie had never lived anywhere other than that house, but in 1970 they moved out, the Dakemans to an apartment on Van Dorn St. The house sat vacant while the family decided what to do, a problem exacerbated by the fact that it was still officially owned by the Kidwell parents, who had passed away over 20 years earlier but left no wills.

 Finally, in June 1973 Susie Kidwell Mattingly, Virgie's children, Naomi Kidwell Wood, and Gertrude Kidwell signed over their interests in the house to Willie Kidwell Dakeman. In March 1974 Willie and Walter signed the old family house over to AG Denice as a trustee, finally ending 75 years and three generations of the Kidwells on Howell.

 Two of the three Kidwell houses remain, blessing the Del Ray scene. The main house, at 401 E Howell, stands in its original, lovely configuration. The handsome Mattingly house across the street, from 1913, is also still there. Unfortunately, the Gordon house, at 216 E Howell, was torn down around 2002 to make the large lot suitable for two new houses. 

 William and Effie Kidwell, and daughter Gertrude Kidwell are buried in Ivy Hill Cemetery, along with James and Virgie Gordon and their son William who died at age 17 in 1932.

1Gertrude completed her freshman year at the State Teacher's College Blacksburg in 1924/25, but there is no record of her presence after that. She is not listed in the alumni database. Nonetheless, she was a 22-year-old public school teacher in April 1930. Willie followed her to Blacksburg for her freshman and sophomore years in 1928-30, but then dropped out, possibly due to the family financial situation. It is not clear if Willie ever served as a teacher, but in 1940 she was a homemaker and not seeking employment.

The beautiful original Kidwell house at 401 East Howell