Meet Edwin Horatio Fowler: Nineteenth Century Architect, Draftsman and Capitol Hill Resident
by Amanda Molson
One of Fowler's early houses, incorporating elements of the Richardsonian Romanesque style, is located at 1106 East Capitol Street, NE.
Born in New Hampshire in 1856, Edwin Fowler took a job in Washington as a draftsman for the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey (USC&GS) in 1879 after graduating from Dartmouth College with studies in engineering. First authorized by Congress in 1807 as the Coast Survey, USC&GS employed surveyors, cartographers, mathematicians, and sailors to map the coastlines of the United States. By the middle of the nineteenth century, USC&GS was also principally responsible for determining sea depths, predicting tides and currents, using geodetics to measure the gravitational and magnetic field of the earth, and developing the lighthouse system. Serving alongside Fowler as a junior draftsman in the Drawing Division of USC&GS was Robert E. Peary, who would go on to lead the exploratory team that set foot on the North Pole in 1909. USC&GS was rolled into the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the 1970s.
Although he first settled in Northwest Washington, Fowler moved to 207 A Street, NE, on Capitol Hill in 1883 after marrying a fellow New Hampshire native, Martha, that same year. The couple relocated to 1100 East Capitol Street, NE, in 1887, and so began Edwin Fowler’s commitment to the Lincoln Park neighborhood. By the mid-1880s, Fowler was making strides at USC&GS, drafting charts for Long Island Sound and Cape Hatteras and mapping the coastal stretches from San Diego to Santa Monica and Tampa Bay to Key West. Earning a comfortable living, Fowler soon combined his talents in both engineering and drawing to moonlight as an architect-for-hire and speculative builder (not an uncommon side business for Washington draftsmen of the era).
Primarily incorporating elements of the Richardsonian Romanesque style, Fowler’s first project was 208 11th Street, NE, in 1889. He then designed 1104 and 1106 East Capitol Street, NE, before markedly showing his creativity with a seamless bay on 1206 East Capitol Street, NE, in 1891. After producing 115 and 117 Tennessee Avenue, NE, as a speculative builder, Fowler created his own residence at 1126 East Capitol Street, NE, and its mate next door at 1124 in 1892. Fowler’s home and many of his other designs exhibited such trademark Richardsonian Romanesque details as deep recessed entryways and windows below exaggerated arches, use of heavy stonework at the base, organic motifs carved in limestone, and the playful use of Capitol Hill’s traditional rounded bays topped by gabled rooflines to mimic Richardsonian’s conicalroofed towers.
At his most prolific during the 1890s, Fowler produced 1014 and 1108 East Capitol Street, NE; 907 and 1103 East Capitol Street, SE; 1312 North Carolina Avenue, NE; 118 and 128 Tennessee Avenue, NE; 1018 Massachusetts Avenue, NE; 112 12th Street, SE; 129 and 131 12th Street, NE; and the Lane Chapel Church at 14th and C Streets, NE – all near Lincoln Park. Fowler also designed a handful of residences in Northwest Washington and a turnof- the-century single-family dwelling at 1200 East Capitol Street, NE, which would be radically expanded into the present condominium building after Fowler’s death.
Fowler showed his creativity with a seamless bay on 1206 East Capitol Street, NE, built in 1891.
In addition to his membership in the local chapter of the New Hampshire Association, Fowler was also a founding member of the University Club in 1904, a gentlemen’s association that consisted of alumni from such esteemed institutions as Dartmouth, Yale, Princeton, Harvard, Columbia, and Cornell. As the Vice President of the Dartmouth Alumni Association, Fowler represented his alma mater. Fowler’s obituary notes that he contributed to the beautification of Lincoln Park, and these efforts were likely related to the addition of fountains in 1884 and pathway improvements in 1894.
Fowler would never see the success of the University Club, which still exists today, as he died at the age of forty-seven in the year of its founding. By his death on March 11, 1904, in his own home at 1126 East Capitol Street, NE, Fowler had achieved the rank of Chief Draftsman of USC&GS. He had studied mapping techniques in England and France in 1900, and USC&GS noted upon his death that Fowler had worked diligently through a long (but undefined) illness in the last months of his life while under great mental pressure. Fowler’s last designs on Capitol Hill were 210 Maryland Avenue, NE (later demolished) and 610, 612 and 614 Third Street, NE, in 1902, all removed from Lincoln Park and perhaps indicative of his attempts to expand his architectural impact to other areas of Capitol Hill.
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