|Mount Vernon Gazette ~ June 6, 2002
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first in a series on families from Mount Vernon.
by michael K. bohn
mount vernon gazette
"I believe at that time I had the largest fishing shore in the United States. Sixteen hundred fathoms [9,600 feet] of rope and net were required to fish this shore, and it took seven hours to make a haul. Two hauls were made every 24 hours. I employed during the fishing season about 100 men. Eight horses were used for drawing in the net, but later I used steam power and dispensed with the horses. I have caught as many as 500,000 herring and 10,000 shad in one haul."
Capt. William Neitzey described his fishing operation in 1906, two years before he died. He fished three locations along the Virginia shore of the Potomac River during the second half of the 19th century, one of which was at Ferry Landing, just downstream from Mount Vernon. Capt. Neitzey bought 151 acres .at Ferry Landing from George Washington's heirs just after the Civil War. Although the captain's descendants have sold almost all of that land in the years since his death, there are members of the Neitzey family still living in the Mount Vernon area.
Alice Neitzey lives in New A1exandria in her late father's home, in which she was born and reared. "My father, Melvin, was one of Capt. Neitzey's grandchildren," said Alice Neitzey. "He still fished some, but he spent most of his time with his company, Quality Seafood, which sold fish in the District. I think one of the last Neitzey fishermen is my brother Bill, a waterman in Deal, Md."
William Neitzey emigrated from Germany with his parents and five brothers in 1832, when he was 7. Landing in Baltimore, the family lived there for a year and a half before moving to Washington. When he was older, William worked first on the C&O Canal, then later as a teamster,
My brother and sisters enjoyed playing at Ferry Landing when we were young. We called it 'the country"' Alice Neitzey
driving a horse and cart. He married Caroline Bannister in 1850, and they had seven children.
THERE IS SOME uncertainty about when Capt. Neitzey bought Ferry Landing. George Washington bought the land in 1769 from John Posey, who had operated a ferry across the
Regardless of when he acquired the land, Capt. Neitzey built a home at Ferry Landing in 1868, using brick salvaged from the D.C. Jail, which had been the Old Capitol Prison during the Civil War. •
The 1990-91 Historical Society Yearbook cites a family legend that claims ghosts from the prison haunted the Neitzey home place. Mary Surratt, a conspirator in Lincoln's assassination, spent the night before her execution in the prison, and some Neitzeys claimed to have heard Mary crying and dragging her chains. '
CAPT. NEITZEY OPERATED two other fishing shores along the Potomac besides Ferry Landing; one at Freestone Point and another at Stony Point on Mason Neck. The seine [net] he used at Stony Point was considered at the time to be the largest in the world. He sold fish to the leading hotels' in Washington, including Willard's.
Although the Neitzey fishing enterprise declined in the 20th century, most of the land stayed in the family. But the Potomac was so polluted and over fished by the mid-1900s that family members turned to truck fanning and selling fish caught by others.
"My brother and sisters and I enjoyed playing at Ferry Landing when we were young," recalled Alice Neitzey. "We called it 'the country.'"
By the 1980s, the children of William's son, John Henry Neitzey, owned most of the remaining parcels of the original plot. Some of those siblings — Hazel, Alice and Melvin—and their heirs sold their holdings to the developer of Oxford, a small community of upscale houses off Ferry Landing Road. Their brother Francis held on a little longer.
Despite the construction of larger homes around them, Francis and his wife, Alva, stayed in the family home until Francis died in 1,992. Alva sold the house and lot the following year, and next to it arose a house so large that one local called it "the junior high school." The new resident then demolished the Neitzey family home, but the ghost of Mary Surratt may indeed still haunt Ferry Landing.
CHARLES LEWIS, JR., son of Hazel Neitzey and Charles Lewis, inherited the last piece of the Neitzey homestead. He has resisted selling his property, and his house stands in stark contrast to the massive, pillared homes of Oxford. •
Descendants of William Neitzey's brother Henry have also made. Mount Vernon home, several quite literally. Henry's son Joseph began working at Mount Vernon as a guard in 1893, and his son Wilfred also joined the Mount Vernon staff. Wilfred was a revered craftsman at the estate, working there from 1918-80. A master carpenter, Wilfred also restored and maintained the priceless furniture in the mansion.
Wilfred married Marguerite Rouse, the daughter of Lucien Rouse, who was then the head carpenter at Mount Vernon. The young Neitzeys moved into a home on the grounds and raised a family of three daughters and two sons. One daughter, Mary Pastros, who lives in Hayfield, fondly remembers her childhood at Mount Vernon. "We almost had s> the place to ourselves, but we had 'rules to follow," said Mary Pastros. "Our house was behind the gates that kept the visitors away from the staff housing, so when I had a date, my boyfriend had to be escorted to the house." ,
Wilfred's brother Maurice, nephew Albert and son Randolph also worked at Mount Vernon. The family name has been so closely linked to Mount Vernon over the years that, according to Alice Neitzey, family members just mentioned their name to gain entry to the estate.
JANNIE NEITZEY, Wilfred's sister, married Frank Talbot and raised 14 children on the family farm on Route 1 in Woodlawn. Jean Talbot Kline, one of those siblings, remembered growing up at the Talbot home place, a white frame house that still stands just north of Cooper Road on the east side of the highway. "We all pitched in to do the chores, especially when my brothers were in the service during World War II," said Jean. Mine. "We raised corn, potatoes and chickens. But our main crop was strawberries, and we picked over 1,000 quarts a day."
After 80 years in the family, the Talbot heirs sold the remaining five acres of the farm last year, and the buyer, Landmark development, expects to start construction of 25 houses on the property early next year.
New homes arising on Neitzey land in Mount Vernon seem to run in that family.