Historic Structures

Rays Warehouse and Office (Corson and Gruman Company), Washington DC

Date added: December 6, 2010 Categories: Industrial

3262 K St. was one of the original dock buildings of the important Georgetown milling firm of A. Ross Ray & Bro. during the second half of the 19th century.

The waterpower provided by the C. & 0. Canal made Georgetown a good site for mills, and its closeness to transportation both by the canal itself, and the Potomac, made the location ideal. Richard Jackson, in his Chronicles of Georgetown, D.C 1751-1878, writes that there were eight flour mills (including "Ross Ray and Bro." and "A. H. Herr at the foot of the market") and a paper mill. "The flour mills will shell out from one hundred and fifty to three hundred barrels of flour per day"; "the flour and produce trade has become one of great importance in our town, and most of our merchants are engaged in that line of business." As an inspection point for flour, as many as 300,000 barrels were examined a year. In William A. Gordon's"Recollections of a Boyhood in Georgetown" he mentions not just the activity of the busy waterfront, but, along K Street, "the warehouses filled with flour, tobacco, whiskey, salt, grain and other merchandise." By 1842 we can be sure that flour mills were well established, for in that year, William Morrison, in his Strangers Guide to the City of Washington and its Vicinity notes that in Georgetown "flour mills are numerous and rank with the best in the country."

The flour mill of Alexander Ray, and his two sons Andrew Ross Ray and Albert Ray was built just south of George Bomford's mill, and separated by about 45 feet. Negotiations for the water power that would be needed to run the mill were carried out in 1846 with Mr. Bomford, who had a lease of 400 inches from the Canal Company, and leased 100 inches of this to the Rays. The deed of December 9th, 1846 to Alexander Ray states that Bomford had sold "recently" the lower part of lot 79 to Alexander Ray upon which he is to erect a mill. The 100 inches of water was "to be furnished from the present Cotton Mill and Factory of first party through a circular orifice to be made in the side of said factory the bottom of said orifice to be level with the top of the present 30 feet water wheel of said factory to be conducted therefrom in a trunk to be constructed at his [Ray's] own cost."

On the northwest corner of Potomac St. and K Street today is a mill building erected in 1922, but on which is a stone plaque which reads; "Erected for A. Ross Ray and Bro. by Henry Rohrer 1847;" next to it is a similar one which says: "Rebuilt by Wilkins Rogers Milling Co. 1922." Thus while the original Ray mill is no longer standing, its site is still used for milling.

In 1851 Alexander Ray bought additional land to the west of this lot, and adjacent to it, part of lot 80, undoubtedly for expanding the mill facilities. In 1853 Andrew Ross Ray and Albert Ray acquired the vacant lots across the street from the mill, and on the waterfront, Nos. 29 and 30.

Our next clue to the development of the Rays' milling is found in the Assessments for Real Property Taxes 1865-70, that gives us the following information. "A. Ross Ray & Bro." owned the "large flour mill" at the end of lot 79, also "55 6/12 feet, south line. Water street, back to river: improved, small brick tenament 10 x 12' 2 stories, large brick warehouse $3500." This is probably the warehouse presently on the site. Their property next to the mill, on the north side of K Street (53' on the street and 130' deep, according to the assessment records) was improved by "a large story brick warehouse."

Listed under Alexander Ray was a considerable amount of land along the river front, i.e. the southern part of lot 32, lots 33 and 34 "with improvements" (today lot 34 has a 19th century brick structure on it) and also lots 35 through 46, which run "441 feet S. side Water street, back to river - with wharfs." This, we see from directories, was used for coal storage and shipping.

The assessments for 1871 show that lot 79 (presumably the southern part) was valued at $2000, with the mill at $30,000; the adjacent lot (part of 80) having a building (probably the 4 story one above) valued at $3,500, and lots 29 and 30 having "improvements" valued at $3,600.

When Alexander Ray died in 1878, it was his desire that the mill continue operation. After mentioning his Georgetown property, including ("known at least by the members of the Ray family") "Ray's Mill" and "Ray's Dock" he stated: "I wish and direct that the business of the "Mill" and also that of the "dock" be conducted and carried out jointly by my sons Andrew Ross and Albert Ross, that both properties be kept always in the best repair and the most effective working condition, that they keep the properties properly insured..." The "Ray's Dock" mentioned is undoubtedly the coal dock on the C. & 0. Canal that was at 30th and K, from which the unloaded coal was transfered to the wharfs on the waterfront.

This was not to be, however, for in 1885 the mill property was sold to George W. Cissel.

Alexander Ray was born in Prince George Parish in 1799, married Harriet Ross in 1822, and besides the flour mill business described above was also active in the coal business. Old photographs of the Georgetown waterfront show that the area in which he held his property, and all the way to the Aqueduct Bridge was one large coal yard, with elevated tracks and great mounds of coal. This was, of course, brought down from the coal fields of Pennsylvania from Cumberland by the C. & O. Canal, and here would be transferred to sea going boats. Thus both of the Ray family enterprises owed much to the very nature of the town, aided by the canal, and the port facility.

Overall dimensions: Irregular shape with north-south walls at acute angles with north wall on K Street. Measures 64' 8" on north, 89' 0" on west. The structure is made up of two buildings, the Warehouse to the west (gable end to the street) and the Office to the east (flat roof sloping south). The office has two bays, and two stories; the warehouse 3 bays and 2 1/2 stories.

After alterations, all that remains of the interior is a brick shell with a concrete floor, and a fire proofed ceiling. A bit of heavy ceiling molding remains in the office. Both structures contain fluorescent lighting and hot air heating. The only interior door is a sliding wooden one over the segmental arched opening in the party wall. A row of cut off wooden floor joists is evident midway up the walls in the warehouse.