OF PRESIDENT and Mrs. James Madison's levee, Mary Bagot wrote in March 1816: "very stupid, very much stared at & very happy to get home before 10 o'clock. Introduced to the President -- he is a very little wizen old man wearing a powdered head a thick club tail platted and tied up. His con"stant attitude is standing with his hands in his breeches pockets & his shoulders up to his ears -- he always looks dirty & has an unpleasant & sour expression of coutenance." Bagot was the wife of Charles Bagot, the first British minister posted to Washington after the War of 1812. She was not the first, nor the last diplomatic and political wife who did not come to Washington cheerfully.
In a journal intended to be circulated to friends at home, she wrote that the roads from Annapolis to Washington "were actually worse than ploughed fields," there was nothing to see but "interminable forests," and seven crewmen from the British man-o'- war that had brought the Bagots to America deserted as soon as they set foot on American soil.
Mary Bagot's three years in Washington made her no happier, but "Exile in Yankeeland: The Journal of Mary Bagot, 1816- 1819" excerpted by David Hosford in the Records of the Columbia Historical Society is delicious and malicious gossip.
ot all her ire is directed at the Americans. At a party given by the French ambassador, Monsieur de Neuville, Bagot declares the music "vile" and writes that they left shortly after 11, leaving "the most disgraceful scene I ever saw going on -- the men most of them drunk & running at the champaine & Maderia which they drank like Savages."
Three other articles in the always informative Records -- it is published annually by the Society -- relate 19th-century Washington history.
If Washington were a riotous place under President Madison in the first decades of the 19th century, it didn't calm down much later in the century. "South of the Avenue: From Murder Bay to the Federal Triangle," by Donald E. Press, tells a rowdy tale of that area's wicked past:
"From the middle of the nineteenth century to the advent of the Federal Triangle after World War I, the area at various times contained neglected slum shanties, infamous bordellos, dirty industrial buildings and dingy saloons. Names such as 'Murder Bay,' 'Louse Alley,' and 'Rum Row' sprang up to describe locations as well as activities in the vicinity . . .
"Drunken civilians and soldiers alike could be found in droves, particularly during the Civil War years. Thieves and pickpockets worked dimly lighted streets and darker alleys. Shacks and hovels dotted the landscape and until 1871, the stench of the old Washington Canal added to the aroma of the neighborhood. Later on, smokestacks discharged the waste of the industrial activities. Up until World War I, madams and prostitutes in large numbers successfully practiced the world's oldest profession . . ."
DURING THE Civil War years, the western part became known as "Hooker's Division" after Major General Joseph Hooker, who had tried to concentrate the ladies of the night in that section. The author claims that the women who worked there thus became known as "hookers," though he writes that the term hooker was also used in the same sense about the same time in New York City in an area known as "The Hook."
"After-hours in Georgetown in the 1890s" by Mary Mitchell tells of the diversions of a fancier society. The "German" dance for instance, frequently "lasted as long as a session of the United States Senate," wrote a society reporter of the time. Hare and hound paper chases sent young Georgetowners swimming through Rock Creek Park.
"The History of Mt. Zion United Methodist Church and Mt. Zion Cemetery" by Pauline Gaskins Mitchell traces the history of the oldest black congregation in the District. The devotion of the church members, beginning 168 years ago, was remarkable. An early mortgage was paid off by women who each gave 10 cents a month; and craftsmen contributed their skill and labor to build the fine church. Today the congregation still includes many descendants of old Georgetown families who go back to the church's founding. With such a history, it isn't surprising, as the article relates, that in recent years, the Mt. Zion Cemetery, a truly historical landmark was saved from obliteration.
Records has 11 articles in all, including the interesting histories of "Demonet's Architecture and Ice Cream on Connecticut Avenue"; The M Street High School, 1891- 1916"; and "W.H. Lowdermilk Company," a fine piece about the missed rare book dealer.
In the last few years, diligent amateur scholars have added greatly to our knowledge of Washington and its suburbs. Takoma Park, a new picture book with a brief but useful text has all the nostalgic charm of a family photograph album. The beginning is illustrated by the flowery advertisement of B.F. Gilbert's real estate company for his new development. The reason why people move to Takoma Park today is illustrated with a then (1910) and now (1983) photograph of a splendid house at 7116 Maple Avenue. What a shame about the side porch, but how satisfactory that the tower with its hilarious roof still stands tall.
Dupont Circle, a tantalizing taste of Washington's densest concentration of great houses, is not to be compared to the Fine Arts Commission's definitive two-volume set on Massachussetts Avenue Architecture and one-volume Sixteenth Street Architecture. However, the Dupont Circle pamphlet is considerably more portable.