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Historic Georgetown

By Edited Apr 13, 2016 0 0

Dumbarton Oaks

1703 32nd St, NW.


 In 1703, a Scottish colonist named Ninian Beall was granted around 800 acres of land in this area. In later years the land was sold off and in 1801, 22 acres were bought by Senator William Dorsey of Maryland, who proceeded to build a Federal-style brick home here. A year later, financial difficulties caused him to sell it, and over the next century the property changed hands many times.

By the time pharmaceutical heirs Robert and Mildred Woods Bliss bought the rundown estate in 1920, it was overgrown and neglected.

 The Blisses altered and expanded the house, with the architectural advice of the prestigious firm McKim, Mead and White, to meet 20th-century family needs, and set to work on the garden.

 They engaged their friend, Beatrix Jones Farrand, one of the few female landscape architects at the time, to lay out the grounds. Farrand designed a series of terraces that progress from the formal gardens near the house to the more informal landscapes farther away from it. In 1940 the Blisses moved to California and donated the whole estate to Harvard University. It was then converted into a library, research institution, and museum. Many of the 1,400 pieces of Byzantine Art on display were collected by the Blisses themselves. Examples of Greco-Roman coins, late Roman and early Byzantine bas-reliefs, Egyptian fabrics, and Roman glass and bronzeware are just some of the highlights.

 In 1962 Robert Woods Bliss donated his collection of pre-Columbian art. In order to house it, architect Philip Johnson designed a new wing, consisting of eight domes surrounding a circular garden. Although markedly different from the original house, the new wing is well suited to the dramatic art collection it houses, which includes masks, stunning gold jewelry from Central America, frescoes, and Aztec carvings.

 Georgetown University

37th St & O St, NW.


Old Stone House

3051 M St, NW.  


 The Old Stone House may be the only building in Washington that pre-dates the American Revolution. It was built in 1765 by Christopher Layman, and the tiny two-story cottage has a large garden, which is a welcome respite from the shops of busy M Street.

There is a legend that still persists about the Old Stone House – that it was the Suter’s Tavern where Washington and Pierre L’Enfant made their plans for the city. However, most historians today now believe that they met in a tavern located elsewhere in


Over the years, the building has housed a series of artisans, and in the 1950s it even served as offices for a used-car dealership. In 1960 the National Park Service restored it to its pre-Revolutionary War appearance.

Today park rangers give talks about what Georgetown would have been like during the Colonial days. The Old Stone House is technically the oldest house in DC, although

The Lindens, which is now in Kalorama, was built in Massachusetts in the mid-1750s and later moved to Washington.

 Tudor Place

1644 31st St, NW.  


 The manor house and large gardens of this Georgetown estate, designed by William Thornton, offer a unique glimpse into a bygone era. Martha Washington, the First Lady, gave $8,000 to her granddaughter, Martha Custis Peter, and her granddaughter’s husband. With the money, the Peters purchased eight acres and commissioned Thornton, the architect of the Capitol and the Octagon, to design a house. Generations of the Peters family lived here from 1805 to 1984. It is a mystery as to why this stuccoed, two-story Georgian structure with a “temple” porch is called Tudor Place, but it was perhaps illustrative of the family’s English sympathies at the time.

The furniture, silver, china, and portraits provide a glimpse into American social and cultural history; some of the pieces on display come from Mount Vernon.

 Washington Post Office, Georgetown Branch

1215 31st St, NW.

 Built in 1857 as a customhouse, the still-functioning Georgetown Branch of the Washington Post Office is interesting both historically and architecturally. A customhouse was a money-producing venture for the Federal government, and the US government’s investment in such an expensive building provides evidence of Georgetown’s importance as a viable port for many years.

Architect Ammi B. Young, who was also responsible for the design of the Vermont State Capitol building in 1832 and the Boston Custom House in 1837, was called to Washington in 1852. He designed several other Italianate buildings in the capital, but this post office is his finest work. The granite custom-house was converted to a post office when Georgetown’s fortunes declined.

The building underwent a renovation in 1997 that increased its efficiency and accessibility but retained the integrity of Young’s simple, functional design.

Georgetown’s Famous Streets

 M Street

M Street, NW. 

 One of two main shopping streets in Georgetown, M Street is also home to some of the most historic spots in the city. On the northeast corner of 30th and M Streets, on the current site of a bank, stood Union Tavern. Built in 1796, the tavern played host to, among others, Presidents George Washington and John Adams, Napoleon’s younger brother Jerome Bonaparte, author Washington Irving, and Francis Scott Key, the composer of the “Star Spangled Banner.” During the Civil War, the inn was turned into a temporary hospital where Louisa May Alcott, the author of Little Women, nursed wounded soldiers.

 In the 1930s the tavern was torn down and replaced by a gas station. Dr. William Thornton, architect of the US Capitol and Tudor Place lived at 3219 M Street. On the south side of M Street is Market House, which has been the location of Georgetown’s market since 1751. In 1796 a wood frame market house was constructed and later replaced by the current brick market in 1865.

In the 1930s the market became an auto supply store, and in the 1990s the New York gourmet food store Dean and Deluca opened a branch here. Today M Street is home to a collection of fashionable stores and restaurants. Young buyers shop for alternative music at Smash and alternative clothing at Urban Outfitters.

 National chainstores such as Barnes and Noble, Pottery Barn, and Starbucks have branches along M Street. Clyde’s restaurant at number 3236 is a Georgetown institution, famous for its “happy hour.” Bill Danoff, of the Starland Vocal Band, wrote his song “Afternoon Delight” about Clyde’s; his gold disc hangs in the bar.

 N Street

1215 31st St, NW.

N Street is a sampler of 18th-century American Federal architecture – a style favored by leaders of the new nation as being of a lighter and more refined design than the earlier Georgian houses.

At the corner of 30th and N Streets is the Laird-Dunlop House. Today it is owned by Benjamin Bradlee, the former editor of the Washington Post.

 An excellent example of a Federal house is the Riggs-Riley House at 3038 N Street, most recently owned by Averill and Pamela Harriman. At 3041–3045 N Street is Wheatley Row. These houses were designed to provide not only maximum light from large windows but also maximum privacy as they were placed above street level.

 Georgetown University was the first Catholic college to be established in America. Founded in 1789 by John Carroll, and affiliated with the Jesuit Order, the university now attracts students of all faiths from over 100 countries around the world.

 The oldest building on the campus is the Old North Building, completed in 1872, but the most recognizable structure is the Healy Building, a Germanic design topped by a fanciful spiral. The university’s most famous graduate is President Bill Clinton.

Georgetown’s Best:  Canals, and Harbors

 The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal

 When it was constructed in 1828, the C&O Canal featured an ingenious and revolutionary transportation system of locks, aqueducts, and tunnels that ran along its 184 miles (296 km) from Georgetown to Cumberland, Maryland. With the arrival of the railroad in the late 19th century, the canal fell out of use. It was only as a result of the efforts of Supreme Court Justice William Douglas that the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal was finally declared a protected national park in 1971. Today visitors come to enjoy its recreational facilities and also to study its fascinating transportation system.


The attractive federal houses of Georgetown line the banks of the canal for about 1.5 miles (2 km).

 Canal Trips

Rides in mule-drawn canal clippers guided by park rangers dressed in period costumes are popular with visitors to the canal.

 The Francis Scott Key Memorial Bridge was named after the composer of the American national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner.

 Rowing on the Canal

Boating is popular on the C&O and is best between Georgetown and Violette’s Lock – the first 22 miles (35 km) of the canal.

 Washington Harbor

3000-3020 K Street, NW.

 Washington is a city where few architectural risks have been taken. However, the approach used by architect Arthur Cotton Moore for Washington Harbor, which is a combination residential and commercial building on the Potomac River, is unusually audacious.

Built on a site that was once filled with factories and warehouses, Moore’s creation is a structure that hugs the waterfront and surrounds a semi-circular pedestrian plaza.

The architect borrowed motifs from almost every type of design, such as turrets, columns, and even flying buttresses.

The harbor has a pleasant boardwalk, a huge fountain, and tall, columned lamp-posts. Under the ground are steel gates that can be raised to protect the building from floods.

The top floors of the harbor are apartments. On the bottom floors are office complexes, restaurants, and shops. Sightseeing boats dock at the river’s edge for trips to the

Mall and back.

Wisconsin Avenue

Wisconsin Ave. Tenleytown, Friendship Heights.

Wisconsin Avenue is one of two main business streets in Georgetown and is home to a wide variety of shops and restaurants. It is also one of the few streets in Washington that pre-dates L’Enfant’s grid plan. Once called High Street and then 32nd Street, it starts at the bank of the Potomac River and runs north through Georgetown right up to the city line, where it continues as Rockville Pike.

On the junction of Wisconsin Avenue and M Street is the landmark gold dome of Riggs National Bank. During the French and Indian Wars, George Washington marched his troops up the avenue on his way to Pittsburgh to engage the British.

Churches and Cemeteries

 Grace Church

1041 Wisconsin Avenue, NW.


Built in 1866, Grace Church was designed to serve the religious needs of the boatmen who worked on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and the sailors of the port of Georgetown. Set on a tree-filled plot south of the canal and M Street, the Gothic Revival church, with its quaint exterior, is an oasis in Georgetown.

The building has undergone few extensive alterations over the years and has a certain timeless quality. The church’s multi-ethnic congregation makes great efforts to reach out to the larger DC community and works with soup kitchens and shelters for the homeless. The church also sponsors the “Thank God It’s Friday” lunchtime discussion group, and holds a poetry coffee house on the third Tuesday of the month. Classical concerts, including chamber pieces, organ, and piano works, are held here regularly. There is also a popular annual festival devoted to the music of the German composer J.S. Bach.

Mt. Zion Church

1334 29th St, NW.

This church is thought to have had the first black congregation in DC. The first church, at 27th and P Streets, was a “station” on the city’s original Underground Railroad.

It provided shelter for runaway slaves on their journey north to freedom. The present redbrick building was completed in 1884 after the first church burned down. Mt. Zion Cemetery, the oldest black burial ground in Washington, is located a short distance away, in the middle of the 2500 block of Q Street.

Oak Hill Cemetery

3001 R St, NW.

 William Wilson Corcoran bought the land for the cemetery and Congress then established Oak Hill Cemetery in 1849. Today there are around 18,000 graves covering the 25-acre site, which is planted with groves of huge oak trees.

Members of some of the city’s most prominent families are buried here, their names featuring throughout Washington’s history, including Magruder, Thomas, Beall, and Marbury.

At the entrance to the cemetery is an Italianate gatehouse that is still used as the superintendent’s lodge and office. Northeast of the gatehouse is the Spencer family monument, designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany. The granite low-relief of an angel is signed by Tiffany.



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