Friday, October 16, 2015

The Oldest House in Washington

Welcome to the Old Stone House. Rather perfunctorily named, don't you think? 

Dating from 1765, the Old Stone House has the claim to fame of being the "oldest building on its original foundation in our nation's capitol." Like most old homes, the Stone House changed hands and looks several times over the course of its 250 year history. Originally owned by the Layman familiy, the Stone House consisted of just one room and had absurdly thick walls. In 1775, a rather wealthier lady (Mrs. Cassandra Chew) purchased the building and added the second and third floors-- giving the house its present appearance. Apparently, Mrs. Chew lived in the home with fifteen slaves at one point. Why one earth one lady needed fifteen slaves, I don't know!

Our National Park Service purchased the house in the 1950s due to the number of local Georgetown residents clamoring to protect the site. When I read that the NPS protected the house, I was surprised. Whenever I think of our park service, I picture the National Mall, Glacier National Park, or Yellowstone-- some sweeping natural vista. Not a little stone house in the middle of a busy city. Yet people recognized that this little house represented something unique and special.

Its simple beauty juxtaposes the domineering national monuments elsewhere in D.C. The house is not a monument to some heroic deed, national figure, or historical war. Instead, the Old Stone House stands as a monument to everyday life in colonial Washington. A monument to cooking, sleeping, dining, and working. A monument to the reality of life for some of our nation's very first citizens. 

Overtime, the Old Stone House has gained some legends. According to the museum employees, most of the familial records about the property are limited. Things like property records, lists, deeds. The primary legend of the Old Stone House involves Washington's favorite hero: our first president, George Washington himself. 

In 1810, the Old Stone House housed a clock shop run by a man named John Suter, Jr. In fact, the grandfather clock pictured above? One of Suter's clocks, built in the house in the 1800s and returned when it became a national monument. Coincidentally, the Suter family also operated an inn where President George Washington and Pierre Charles L'Enfant stayed while the designed the federal district. Somehow, the legend became tangled, and local folklore named the Old Stone House as the location of Washington's headquarters. We may never know for sure if Washington visited the house, but due to its history, it stands to reason that he may have visited and certainly at least saw it, maybe even strolled past its front door. 

One of my favorite features of the Old Stone House is the lovely English-style garden located behind it. True to its design, the garden reminded me of William Wordsworth's beautiful garden at Dove Cottage in Grasmere, England. All windy paths, tangled hedges, and sun beams. I commented to Mark that I could just take a book and sit on one of its benches all afternoon. 
If you're in the Georgetown area and haven't visited the Old Stone House, I highly recommend it. I love how our nation preserves these beautiful places for us to visit, explore, and enjoy. May as well take advantage of the opportunity! If nothing else you can pretend to be Elizabeth Bennett traipsing about your dining room and kitchen. And what woman hasn't considered that fantasy?
More info about the Old Stone House:
Official Park Brochure

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