Meet George W. Utermehle: 19th Century Developer
and Capitol Hill Resident
by Amanda Molson
Upon the death of George W. Utermehle on April 16, 1889, the Evening Star newspaper noted that Utermehle had “done more to build up the city than any other man, being at the time of his death the largest individual owner of property in the District.” An “old and wealthy citizen,” Utermehle left behind ownership of over 500 buildings across the city and a personal wealth estimated at approximately $1.5 million.
Utermehle was a native of Germany who arrived in Washington in 1832 and quickly learned the tailoring business. Utermehle used the proceeds from his own small merchant tailoring shop, along with a heavy investment in government bonds, to purchase and develop numerous properties. Utermehle was recognized in the Evening Star as the most extensive builder of houses in Washington when he died at age 73, and he was known as a highly conscientious investor who was current on taxes for all 500 properties under his ownership while still donating frequently to charitable causes. Utermehle lived unostentatiously at his home at 510 Second Street, SE, and died in his residence. An 1887 map shows Utermehle’s large brick residence at the block’s center, surrounded by grounds, and notes his ownership of the entire square.
The battle over Utermehle’s estate was contentious, reaching the United States Supreme Court in 1904 before its conclusion. Utermehle’s grandson, Charles H. Utermehle, accused various family members of coercion in the preparation of the will and asserted that his grandfather had in fact made repeated reference to provisions intended for inheritance by the younger Utermehle.
George W. Utermehle’s wife, Sarah, continued to live in their residence at 510 Second Street, SE, until her death in 1893. Sarah left their 27-acre Queen Chapel Farm in Washington to the Lutheran Church of the Reformation for use as a home for the aged. After the Utermehle will was finally settled, lots were sold off from the grounds of the estate by the Utermehle descendants. The Utermehle residence itself disappears from maps beginning in 1909.
Utermehle’s obituary noted that he “had great faith in the future of the city and built his fortunes on that basis.” Utermehle was buried at Congressional Cemetery, followed by the interment of his wife.
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