Home > History of Wine > When vineyards were just miles from the U.S. Capitol: The wine houses of Washington, DC, 1880-1910

When vineyards were just miles from the U.S. Capitol: The wine houses of Washington, DC, 1880-1910


A day trip to Virginia wine country is an increasingly popular activity for those who live in the greater Washington, DC, area.  A century ago residents did not need to travel so far to drink the local wine.  As late as 1910, people would ride three to four miles north of downtown to one of several wine houses.  This area was known as Washington County and was less developed with estates and farms.  It is here that many wine houses were located near what is now the Old Soldier’s Home and Catholic University of America.

B.H. Warner & Co.'s Map showing a bird's-eye view of the city of Washington and suburbs. 1886. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division. URL: http://www.loc.gov/item/87693417/

B.H. Warner & Co.’s Map showing a bird’s-eye view of the city of Washington and suburbs. 1886. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division. URL: http://www.loc.gov/item/87693417/

The higher elevation of this area was known for its commanding views of the city and cooler temperatures.   It is perhaps due to these qualities that this area had been home to vineyards since the beginning of the 19th century.  Samuel Harrison Smith had a vineyard on his property at Harewood Road and Bunker Hill Road from at least 1816 into the 1830s.  Thomas Mustin cultivated Pleasant Hill Vineyard near Rock Creek Church into the early 1830s.  John Agg’s estate, adjoining the Military Asylum or Soldier’s Home as it was later named, was known as The Vineyard from the 1850s through the 1880s.[1] Thomas Brown’s property was put up for auction in 1877.[2]  Located along Rock Creek Church Road near the Soldier’s Home it contained “a fine vineyard, in good bearing order, and is in a good state of cultivation”.  There was also the five room building “known as the ‘Wine House’”.

Overview showing relationship of Brightwood, Soldier's Home, and Catholic University. Image from Baist's real estate atlas of surveys of Washington, District of Columbia. 1903. Library of Congress. URL: http://www.loc.gov/item/87675190/

Overview showing relationship of Brightwood, Soldier’s Home, and Catholic University. Image from Baist’s real estate atlas of surveys of Washington, District of Columbia. 1903. Library of Congress. URL: http://www.loc.gov/item/87675190/

Wine houses were places to drink homemade wine on private property.  These properties all contained vineyards from which the fruit was gathered to make the wine.  Wine houses typically operated without a license because it was commonly believed that selling the wine from their own grapes was exempted by the law.  Wine houses that were located within one mile of the Soldier’s Home were eventually outlawed from selling intoxicating wine but could sell “unfermented wine”.  One motivation for this law might be found in the case of the old soldier Alexander Irving.  He spent much of his time drinking at the nearby wine house of Mary Haberman.[3]  One day he kept drinking until he was “suddenly ill and dropped dead.”  The coroner certified that he drunk himself to death.

Soldiers' Home, Washington. c 1898. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. URL: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2008678220/

Soldiers’ Home, Washington. c 1898. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. URL: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2008678220/

There were several wine houses within one mile of the Soldier’s Home, such as that of Agnes Helm[4], Allright’s[5], and Frederick Rose[6].  Technically the wine was to be unfermented but accounts of intoxication and the increasing attention from the police suggest otherwise.  For example, in 1895 three young men had spent the afternoon “wine drinking” at a wine house.[7]  They boarded the electric car at Brightwood near the Soldier’s Home and got into an altercation with the motorman.  The young men were fined and the judge stated that intoxicated people from wine houses and speak easies “made electric car traveling uncomfortable”.  A year later, Frank Ward had been drinking wine at Allright’s wine house on Rock Creek Church road.[8]  He left intoxicated and was last seen leaning against a lamp post as the electric street car was arriving.  He spontaneously fell on the tracks in front of the car and was killed.

Street car, Washington, D.C. c 1890. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. URL: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2001706113/

Street car, Washington, D.C. c 1890. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. URL: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2001706113/

Rosie’s Wine House appears to have been the most notorious of them all.  Rosie Arnold or “Miss Rosie” was the “fair waitress” who served those who visited “the wine-house” on Shepherd Road near Brightwood.[9]  Though the wine house was owned by Theresa Arnold it was the daughter Rosie who was known to all.  The Arnolds were a German family.  Their house was located on a hill whose side was covered with a vineyard.  It is from this vineyard that the grapes were sourced for the wine served at the house.  They produced 15 to 20 barrels of red wine annually once described as “sparkling fluid”.[10]  It is this wine that landed Rosie Arnold in court during November 1889 for the house had never held a license.  The Arnold’s believed they did not need a license since the wine was manufactured on site.  Despite two police officers testifying that a pitcher of the wine had no intoxicating effects, Rosie Arnold was fined and ordered to apply for a license.[11]

This was the first of several court appearances.  During the summer of 1892 the charge of running a “disorderly house” was dropped[12] but was followed in the fall with a fine for selling wine on the Sabbath.[13]  Rosie Arnold must have been so well known that the court mistakenly assumed she owned the “Wine House” and had to file a second charged against the true owner, her mother Theresa Arnold.[14]

Theresa and Rosie Arnold were not the only wine-house keepers that appeared in court.  Henri Schreider advertised for a young German woman to do work at the Wine House, Rock Creek Church Road near the Soldier’s Home on April 10, 1888.[15]  Later that summer Henry Schreider, proprietor of the wine house, was charged with being an unlicensed liquor dealer for selling wine made from grapes on his property.[16]  The charges were dismissed by the claim that the grape juice was simply allowed to clear for two or three days before being cured with sugar and barreled.

It was generally believed as late as 1893, that a wine house could sell wine manufactured from the vineyard on the property without license but it could not sell other intoxicating drinks.  The court was aware that wine houses were sourcing fruit from other vineyards.  One judge reported he “had seen wagon loads of basket of grapes going out the road”.  Indeed the Virginia grape grower J.H. Gray of Falls Church, Fairfax County reported in 1880 that he and other growers sold fruit to a “wine establishment” in Washington.[17]  The rate was $3 per 100 pounds delivered to the “wine house”.

There were rising complaints against the wine houses by the citizens and the superintendent of the Brightwood schools.  The Temperance Union applied pressure as well.[18]  By 1894 the view had changed and the Court found a wine house could not dispense the wine it manufactured for consumption on the premises without a license.[19]  With this in mind along with the successful prosecution of Theresa Arnold, “’Wine House’ Keeper” Frederick Rose of Glenwood Road was fined as well.

Location of Frederick Rose's property. Image from Baist's real estate atlas of surveys of Washington, District of Columbia. 1903. Library of Congress. URL: http://www.loc.gov/item/87675190/

Location of Frederick Rose’s property. Image from Baist’s real estate atlas of surveys of Washington, District of Columbia. 1903. Library of Congress. URL: http://www.loc.gov/item/87675190/

Frederick Rose was a native of Germany who enlisted in the Union Army and served throughout the Civil War.[20]  He returned to Washington in 1865 after which he established a restaurant and wine house near the entrance of the Soldier’s Home.  With passage of the one-mile law, Frederick Rose moved his wine house to his property right near the entrance of Catholic University on Lincoln Avenue between Eckington and Brookland.[21]  He used part of his land as a vineyard which supplied his business for nearly twenty years.  He did a “flourishing” business until the electric street car line on 4th Street was abandoned.  His volume of business fell, he became despondent and ended his life during the fall of 1903.

During the fall of 1894 the elderly Theresa Arnold was back in court.[22]  Though a policeman had testified her wine was not intoxicating, chemical analysis proved it contained 9% alcohol.[23]The charges and fines continued for the Arnold family over the next decade.  Eventually a change in the law allowed the police to arrest Theresa Arnold.  She was charged and arrested at the age of 72 for selling wine in quantities of less than five gallons to be drunk on the premises.[24]  It was testified that her wine was the strength of “ordinary claret” for which she had to move and quit the business.[25]

Despite the arrest of Theresa Arnold, Rosie Arnold maintained the business.  Its popularity continued for in one advertisement a young man listed his address as “near Rose’s Wine House”.[26]  The wine house must have operated under a license because there are no more accounts of court proceedings.  Instead there are reports of an 80 year old veteran of the Civil War found dead in his room at the Wine House in 1909.[27] The last mention comes during 1910 when a group of 500 Russians held a picnic at the “Arnold’s wine house”.[28]  One year later Theresa Arnold passed away and accounts of Rose’s Wine House disappear from the papers.[29]  I suspect one of the last vineyards of Washington, DC, disappeared as well.


[1] Date: Wednesday, May 7, 1856     Paper: Daily National Intelligencer (Washington (DC), DC)   Volume: XLIV   Issue: 13656   Page: 1
[2] Date: Saturday, August 4, 1877      Paper: Evening Star (Washington (DC), DC)   Page: 3
[3] Date: Friday, July 16, 1880              Paper: Evening Star (Washington (DC), DC)   Page: 4
[4] Date: Monday, July 18, 1881           Paper: Evening Star (Washington (DC), DC)   Page: 4
[5] Date: Friday, April 7, 1893               Paper: Evening Star (Washington (DC), DC)   Page: 9
[6] Date: Friday, July 27, 1894              Paper: Evening Star (Washington (DC), DC)   Page: 3
[7] Date: Friday, May 31, 1895             Paper: Evening Star (Washington (DC), DC)   Page: 12
[8] Date: Friday, April 7, 1893               Paper: Evening Star (Washington (DC), DC)   Page: 9
[9] Date: Wednesday, November 20, 1889        Paper: Evening Star (Washington (DC), DC)   Page: 5
[10] Date: Saturday, October 22, 1892                Paper: Evening Star (Washington (DC), DC)   Page: 15
[11] Date: Monday, November 25, 1889             Paper: Evening Star (Washington (DC), DC)   Page: 8
[12] Date: Monday, July 25, 1892         Paper: Evening Star (Washington (DC), DC)   Page: 5
[13] Date: Tuesday, October 4, 1892  Paper: Evening Star (Washington (DC), DC)   Page: 10
[14] Date: Saturday, October 22, 1892                Paper: Evening Star (Washington (DC), DC)   Page: 15
[15] Date: Tuesday, April 10, 1888       Paper: Evening Star (Washington (DC), DC)   Page: 2
[16] Date: Tuesday, June 26, 1888        Paper: Evening Star (Washington (DC), DC)   Page: 3
[17] McMurtrie, William. Report Upon Statistics of Grape Culture and Wine Production in the United States for 1880. 1881. URL: https://ia601602.us.archive.org/26/items/reportuponstatis36mcmu/reportuponstatis36mcmu.
[18] Date: Monday, May 15, 1893        Paper: Evening Star (Washington (DC), DC)   Page: 9
[19] Date: Friday, July 27, 1894             Paper: Evening Star (Washington (DC), DC)   Page: 3
[20] WINE DEALER ENDS HIS LIFE: Frederick Rose Fires Fatal Pistol Shot in … The Washington Post (1877-1922); Sep 2, 1903; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post (1877-1997) pg. 4
[21] Date: Tuesday, September 1, 1903              Paper: Evening Star (Washington (DC), DC)   Page: 3
[22] Date: Wednesday, December 12, 1894      Paper: Evening Star (Washington (DC), DC)   Page: 11
[23] NINE PERCENT ALCOHOL.: Mrs. Teresa Arnold’s Wine Was Adjudged of Intoxicating Strength. The Washington Post (1877-1922); Dec 12, 1894; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post (1877-1997) pg. 2
[24] Date: Thursday, October 27, 1904               Paper: Evening Star (Washington (DC), DC)   Page: 15
[25] LIQUOR CASES DISPOSED OF.: Fine Imposed in One and Charges Dismissed in Two Others.
The Washington Post (1877-1922); Dec 9, 1904; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post (1877-1997) pg. 12
[26] Date: Saturday, February 11, 1905               Paper: Evening Star (Washington (DC), DC)   Page: 12
[27] FINDS AGED LODGER, DEAD.: Attendant at First Thinks Octogenarian Is Asleep. The Washington Post (1877-1922); May 8, 1909; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post (1877-1997) pg. 14
[28] ENJOY BREAKING UP PICNICS.: Police Accuse Set of Negroes With Har- rassing Foreigners. The Washington Post (1877-1922); Aug 4, 1910; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post (1877-1997) pg. 14
[29] Date: Sunday, March 5, 1911        Paper: Evening Star (Washington (DC), DC)   Page: 5

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