Answer Man has the story on Brightwood’s slaughterhouse

John Kelly
Columnist March 1

When I would visit my grandmother at Eighth and Kennedy streets NW I would see trucks delivering animals to a slaughterhouse. It was in the alley between Eighth and Ninth streets on the south side of Kennedy. This would have been between 1940 and 1945, when I was 8 or 9 years old. Around that time the slaughterhouse shut down and we would play in the closed facility. (Don’t recommend it today or even then.) One day it disappeared and a small apartment house was built. My question is: Did this place really exist? I am curious and have tried to research it but to no avail.

— Philip Mudd, Bethesda

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

On the morning of Feb. 2, 1933 — a Thursday — the students at the Petworth School, an elementary on Shepherd Street NW, were delighted by a break in their routine. Hundreds of children were playing in the schoolyard when they saw an animal galloping toward them. A rather large animal. A rather large, incensed animal.

A bull.

Delight turned to horror as the beast entered the yard, scattering the students, a group of firefighters on its tail. In its mad dash for freedom, the bull had hurdled fences, hedges and cars. The firefighters in pursuit were hampered for lack of that essential cowboy tool: a rope. When a rope was found, the bull was finally cornered and lassoed.

A truck pulled up. It belonged to Frank J. Miller, the bull’s owner. The animal was loaded into the truck and driven back to 812 Kennedy St. NW, where Miller lived and worked as a butcher.

“But the animal’s life will be spared for another day,” wrote a reporter for the Evening Star, “not for punishment, but because Mr. Miller said the meat would not be at its best until the bull cooled off.”

Washington may have been a different city 70 years ago — smaller, with a more rural feel — but even then, a bull rampaging through its streets was unusual. So was an abattoir behind a rowhouse.

Miller appears to have moved into the house at 812 Kennedy around 1909. At first, he only lived there, selling his meat at the Riggs Market. He was one of more than 200 purveyors listed under “Meat and Provisions” in the 1909 city directory, a list that included the intriguingly named Vegetarian Meat Co. (The Vegetarian Meat Co. didn’t sell meat but peanuts, peanut oil and something called Dr. Schindler’s Peanut Butter.)

By 1930, Miller had consolidated his business operation to the stable behind his house. Answer Man can imagine how this made the neighbors feel. Everyone likes fresh steak, but they don’t necessarily like hearing the sounds or smelling the smells required for its preparation.

Miller died in January 1940. That same year, the Brightwood Citizens Association lobbied the District health department not to renew the slaughterhouse permit.

These days in Washington, meat is metaphor. We liken the legislative process to seeing sausage being made. But Washingtonians used to be able to see actual sausage being made. The Gobel-Loffler plant on Benning Road — “birthplace of the famous skinless frankfurter,” according to an ad — slaughtered 4,000 to 5,000 hogs and 350 head of cattle every week in 1931. That same year, the Auth’s sausage packing plant was operating at 623 D St. SW. There was an Armour plant at 501 12th St. SW.

Farm animals once roamed Washington, too, in such an unruly fashion that eventually city law prohibited keeping them south of Boundary Road, today’s Florida Avenue. That earned the neighborhood just north of there the nickname “Cow Town,” as practitioners of animal husbandry concentrated their operations just over the line.

Cows and hogs came to be seen as nuisances, as would the places where they were dispatched, especially if, like Miller’s, the abattoirs or meat-packing plants were in residential areas. The rowhouse the butcher once lived in and the stable where he wielded his blade were torn down to make way for an apartment building that opened in 1959.

Today’s D.C. schoolchildren may fear many things, but a rampaging bull is not among them.

Twitter: @johnkelly

Have a question about the Washington area? Write answerman@washpost.com. For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

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