The Gary - Hornthal House (2200 Mt Vernon Ave)(Gone)

The Unfortunate German Connection
Sophie Werner immigrated from Germany to Kansas in 1879 at age 20 and there met John G Gosseling, a year her senior who had immigrated from Germany himself a year earlier. They wed in 1884 and had daughter Elsa in 1888 and son Max in 1890. John took a job with the War Department as an assistant draftsman and was transferred to Washington and promoted in May 1893 to civil engineer.

They lost little time choosing a place to live, buying the southern half of the west side of the Mt Vernon Avenue block between Custis and Del Ray in August 1894. They put up a very nice house there very quickly; indeed, they were already advertising for domestic help as soon as they bought the lot.

Enter the Garys

John Gary had been born in 1879, part of a family that moved from Duke Street Extended to a rental house on Howell Avenue in 1898. His father, William, had died the following year and his mother Lucy W raised the two daughters and four sons thereafter.


John worked as a clerk, then as a mail clerk for the railroad, handling and sorting the mail on the rail cars. John married Lida Varney, daughter of John W. Varney, a grocer living on Lloyd (now Custis) Avenue, in October 1903.  The job apparently paid fairly well, for in June 1907 they purchased the large, handsome Gosseling house on Mt Vernon Avenue for $3,400. For the next 18 months they leased their new home to Robert Yates, the physician who was building his house and office next door, but then they would move in and form their family there for the next twenty years.


 There they raised son John (b 1908), twins Ruth and Robert (1911), and son Howland (1917). John complemented his mail duties at the railroad with part-time duties as a vice-president of the ill-fated Bank of Del Ray and playing 3rd base for the Potomac baseball team. In the meantime Lida raised the kids and was prominent in the various women's groups of the Del Ray Methodist Church, particularly those supporting missionary work.

A pretty Ruth Gary in her George Mason High School yearbook. She married and went on to become a nurse in Rhode Island and New Jersey.
By the mid-1920s Mt Vernon Avenue was becoming more commercial than residential and the Garys decided to move someplace quieter. In 1927 they sold their home and moved to the large house at 2911 Holly Street in Mt Ida. By 1934 the last of the kids had left that house and they downsized, moving to 2406 Leslie, and then to John's sister Lucy's Cape Cod at 305 E Howell in 1951. That was their last house together, John dying there after many years of declining health in 1963 at age 84. Lida then moved in with son Robert at 100 W Bellefonte until she, too, passed away in 1967 at age 89.

Doctor Hornthal
The death of Mayor Yates in 1925 had left Potomac, Virginia without a town doctor for the first time since its founding. Dr. Yates had practiced medicine from his home on Mt. Vernon Avenue (now Del Ray Pizzeria) since 1908. Fortunately, a young doctor was looking for a neighborhood in which he could not only practice medicine, but also set his widowed mother up for independent living.

Dr. Henry Hornthal had graduated from the Medical College of Virginia in 1924 and then served as an instructor at GW's school of medicine from 1926 to 1928. Looking at Potomac he discovered that John and Lida Gary, long-time stalwarts of the town, were moving from their house on Mt. Vernon Avenue up to quieter Mt. Ida. The Garys had bought the house from the unfortunate Gosseling family back in June 1907 and had prospered there, raising four confident, accomplished children, serving on assorted civic and religious bodies and becoming fairly wealthy, if only by the standards of a small town.

The house that Dr. Hornthal and his sister Mary purchased in August 1927 was similar in size and configuration to the Yates house right next door. Where Yates integrated his office into the house, however, Hornthal built out the front, extending and enclosing the porch. This space was used for two offices, each with a separate door. The office on the southern side (the left-hand door as you faced the building) was Dr. Hornthal's office. The northern side was a rental unit, and for most of the time it was taken by Julian Major, a dentist.

 The original part of the house remained as it had been, except that a new main door had to be cut in, on the north side of the house, facing the Yates house (from the late 1930s the Barry Realty office). The only real effect on the inside was that the two front rooms, the dining room to the south and, particularly, the living room to the north, were now quite dark since the front windows had been covered over for the office expansion. In addition to those rooms, the first floor had a kitchen, a bedroom and a bathroom, while the second floor had three more bedrooms and a bathroom.

The front of the Hornthal house after the offices were installed on the front. (Ann Hornthal Merlo)

The north side of the house, showing the porch and what was now the main door to the residence. (Ann Hornthal Merlo)

Dr. Hornthal and his mother Irma moved in in late 1928, at which time he was 27 years old and she 48. In 1933 he married Ellen Hall, daughter of a congressman from North Dakota, and moved into DC. There they became the first residents of the Fairfax Hotel in the district, later being joined by a substantial number of the “who's who” of Washington. Indeed, their daughter Ann grew up in the hotel as a friend of Al Gore's older sister, the older Tennessee senator living there as well.

 Irma continued to live at 2200 Mt. Vernon Avenue until 1946, singing in the Methodist church choir, making preserves from the fruit trees and grape vines in the back yard, and visiting friends such as the Bowmans, who ran the drug store across the street. Young Ann also visited for days at a time, particularly enjoying the small bakery a block north that offered cupcakes for sale, and the Ben Franklin Five-and-Dime store at Mt. Vernon and Uhler. In 1946, however, Irma fell and broke her hip and needed prolonged rehabilitation in a care facility. The house was rented out to tenants.

For about twelve years of that time the tennants were Aubrey Brown, a WW I veteran and railroad car inspector, and his wife Louise. He passed away in 1967 of lung cancer at age 72 and the following year Louise moved out. They were replaced by Samuel Donohue.


 In spite of moving, Dr. Hornthal continued his practice at the front of the building, taking over Dr. Major's space to expand his office around 1951. He commuted every day from DC to Del Ray, and one or two nights a week, returning after dinner at home for evening hours. As more people became mobile with automobiles, and thus relied less on a GP within walking distance, he also gradually shifted to a specialty in obstetrics and gynecology.

The commute became more taxing as he grew older but he refused to give up his practice, so finally when the Fairfax closed for complete renovation they moved to the Representative apartment building at the northern end of Arlington Ridge Road, a nice, straight shot down to his office, in 1977. This did not last long, Ellen dying at 73 in August 1979 and Henry succumbing to a heart attack at age 79 four months later.


Aside from brief stints as a flight surgeon at the Anacostia Naval Air Station during World War II, he had served the Potomac/Del Ray community with a medical practice from 1928 to 1979, over fifty years. For many of the early years he was the only doctor in town.


After his death daughter Ann rented out the building until 1986, when she sold it to William Scott, who in turn sold it to OTV Corp in September 1987. The firm also bought the southern portion of the old Yates property, almost up to the house itself, then tore down the Hornthal house to put up the present large brick office building. This they named Potomac Town Square, presumably in honor of the former town, although the only square visible is the parking lot at the rear. In 1989 they officially subdivided the building into 8 lots, each with a separate entrance, and sold them individually.

It is certainly possible that John had begun to act erratically, for they had great difficulty keeping a servant, with follow-on ads being placed in May 1895 and March 1896. In any event John went on a minor land-buying spree. He purchased two lots behind the house in April 1899, a plot on the SW corner of Del Ray and Dewitt along with the other half of the Custis-Del Ray block in 1901, and the land of 214-218 E Del Ray in 1905.


On the 23rd of May 1895 John resigned from the War Department citing ill health and two days later disappeared. He was located by the Baltimore Police on the 28th, with Sophie going there to bring him back. The next day he was brought before a police court in DC where he was judged insane and temporarily committed. On June 30th Sophie was appointed his “committee” in a lunacy proceeding.  He passed away at age 50 of unknown causes in DC on 28 August 1905 and was cremated.


With that, Sophie waited until the end of the school year in June 1907, sold the properties, scooped up Elsa and moved to her brother's town of Gray's Harbor, Washington, where she bought a house. There Elsa passed the examination and became a teacher in 1909.


Max moved separately to Seattle1, where he became a printer, married in 1914, divorced, married in 1927 and eventually passed away in Santa Clara, CA in 1976.  Sophie had passed away in Los Angeles in 1946.


1The Washington Star reported in December 1906 that a “John G Gosseling” of Del Ray had been examined by a commission of two doctors and a judge and declared non compos mentis, recommending he be sent to the state asylum at Staunton. The paper noted that he was “but sixteen years old”, so presumably they were actually referring to Max rather than his deceased father. They also pointed out that he was “an excessive cigarette smoker”, although the connection was not made clear.






Irma Hornthal (Anno Hornthal Merlo)

Dr Henry Hornthal (Ann Hornthal Merlo)