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Full text of "The history and construction of the George Washington House."

THE HISTORY AND CONSTRUCT I OH 

of 
THE GEORGE WASHINGTON HOUSE 



A THESIS PREPARED 

by 
JOHN H. I,' ITT ON 






FOR INITIATION INTO 
THE BETA CHAPTER OF MARYLAND 
of the 



TAN BETA PI HONORARY ENGINEERING SOCIETY 



April 28, 1930 



-I- 



SUMMARY. 

INTRODUCTION 

A short distance from Washington on the Washington- 
i.timore Jioulevard is the town of Bladensburg which was once 
a flourishing port hut later, owing to a variety of causes, 
declined and practically passed into oblivion. The most 
DOnular of the inns of this town was ttie "George Washington 
House" 

History 

The fortunes of this inn have closely followed 
those of the town. At one time the stopping place of such 
famous oersonages as George Washington and Patrick Henry, it 
s oraetically unknown at the beginning of the present cen- 
tury, hut is again coming into its own, this time as a tour- 
ist' s home. 

Construction 

This portion of the thesis describes the plan of 
the inn, and the Trmterials and construction methods used, 
giving soecial attention to those which differ radically 
from modern construction practice. 



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IWTRODUCTIOH 

A few miles beyond the District of Columbia 
Line on the Baltimore-Washington Boulevard, at the 
juncture of this road with the National Defense High- 
way connecting Washington and Annapolis, is the his- 
toric old town of Bladensburg. 

Bladensburg, chartered in 1742, was a flour- 
ishing business -center long before anyone even dreamed 
of the City of Washington. This town was one of a 
series of similar places, of which Georgetown and Rich- 
mond are examples, in Maryland and Virginia, situated 
at the head of navigation of the streams, as near as 
possible to the tobacco fields, because of the cost 
of overland transportation, and serving as ports of 
trade through which the tobacco and other produce of 
the colonies were sent to England and manufactured goods 
imported in return. 

Bladensburg was located on the Anacostia 
River, a stream which is so small today that the av- 
erage person who crosses it scarcely notices it, al- 
though it still goes on a rampage occasionally and 



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floods the town, but which at the beginning of the 
nineteenth century was forty feet deep and of which a 
traveller records that in 1804, while crossing it, the 
stage coach driver pointed out a tree in which the 
passengers had taken refuge on a previous trip when 
the flood waters overturned the stage and drowned the 
horses . 

But the deforestation of the upper reaches of 
this river led to erosion of the soil and the filling 
of the bed with silt. As the stream filled, navigation 
became impossible and the town, once flourishing, came 
to resemble Goldsmith's "Deserted Village". 

It seems probable however, that this town 
would have declined even though the stream bed had not 
filled, for the growing importance of Baltimore and 
the decrease of overland transportation with the build- 
ing of the railroads took away the trade of these small 
river stations and the founding of Washington tended to 
overshadow its prestige. The founding of Washington 
however, was a partial blessing, for many government 
officials and dignitaries preferring the country or a 
commercial town to the mud of the new Capital lived in 



-3- 



or near Bladensburg. ?he Inns of Bladensburg were 
also frequented by Washingtonians, particularly those 
who ordered "coffee and pistols for two at dawn" and 
followed the coffee by a visit to the duelling ground 
near Bladensburg where the disputes of that day were 
settled and honor satisfied. 

The oldest and most famous of these inns 
was the "George Washington House" built on the old 
Georgetown- Philadelphia post road a decade before the 
founding of Bladensburg. 



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HISTORY 

This inn, which was built in 1732, is the 
oldest in the neighborhood although the Palo Alto 
Hotel across the road, built in 1737, runs it a close 
second. 

This building seems to have been an inn from 
the beginning although there is no definite proof that 
it was built for that purpose. It is definitely known 
however that it was used for an inn a few years later, 
and inasmuch as it was customary to place private res- 
idences some distance back from the road, it seems 
probable that it has always been one. 

The fortunes of this old inn have been closely 
linked with those of Biadensburg and consequently its 
history has paralleled that of the town. 

It was at this inn, the oldest and best in the 
town, that the stages stopped while the horses were 
changed and the passengers refreshed themselves. And 
numerous indeed were the important persons who stopped 
here for food or lodging. 



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It is one of the traditions of this old 
house that George Washington often stopped here on 
his way to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia 
and this is not one of the legions of traditions which 
has placed Washington's headquarter ' s in every house 
old enough for this purpose, and many which are not 
that old, "but an authenticated fact. 

It is definitely known, for instance, that 
Washington and Patrick Henry stopped here on their 
way to Philadelphia in May, 1775, and that Martha Wash- 
ington stopped here on her way North to join him in the 
fall of the same year, and we also know that General 
Washington also stopped here on his way to meet the 
Marquis de Lafayette. 

Just when it was named the "George Washington 
House" is not definitely known, but we do know that 
this was its name by 1810, and that the long sign 
which was then hung from the front of the house was 
not replaced until 1914. 

When Eladensburg was a flourishing port this 
was the stopping place of many visitors and many ships' 



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Captalns spent the nights here while the ships were In 
port. 

later, when the new Capital of the young Re- 
public was established, it became the stopping place 
of many of the notables and of those who expected to 
satisfy the code of honor on the duelling ground. 

Gradually the Importance of the town as a 
port diminished. Duelling was no longer in style, 
and Bladensburg was no longer a fashionable place to 
which to drive; and hard days had come upon the town. 
The old Inn was particularly hard hit by the cessation 
of stage traffic which came with the advent of the 
railroads which were providing cheaper and better trans- % 
portation. 

The proprietor built a bar on the south end 
of the old inn and began to cater to the carters and 
teamsters who travelled this road. 

These men had formerly gone to the Palo Alto 
Hotel, where a more enterprising and less proud owner 
kept a cheaper inn than the George Washington House 



-7- 



and where the familiar "First Chance" and "Last Chance" 
signs of the coitskirt saloon attracted the attention 
of the thirsty traveler. 

Still, however, business was not very brisk, 
and at the beginning of the twentieth century a 
traveler who passed would have decided that both the 
town and the hotel were hibernating. 

The salvation of both however, was already 
in sight; the automobile had been invented and the 
dawn of the Tourist Ira was drawing near. Travel a- 
long the roads again became popular and refreshment 
stands and tourist homes have sprung up over the coun- 
try like mush rooms, and the once famous old inn has 
again come into its own and a new era of prosperity 
has dawned for Mrs. Mary J. Gafford who has owned the 
inn for the past thirty-five years, since the long 
weatherbeaten "George Washington liouse" sign has been 
replaced by one reading "Rooms for Tourists". 

With the passing of the Eighteenth Amendment 
the bar was changed to a pool room and soft drink 
stand and finally torn down and replaced by a larger 



-8- 



refreshment stand farther to the left In front of the 
old stables in which the coach horses were formerly 
kept. 

CONSTRUCTION; 

There are two distinct parts to this house. 
The original inn which is built of brick, and a 
wooden part at the back which has been built on and 
added to at various times since the construction of 
the original inn. Since the construction of this 
wooden addition Is so recent, some of it having been 
built within the past year, that it follows modern 
practice very closely and offers no points of Interest 
to us, it will not be treated in this paper. It is 
interesting, however, to note that the first floor of 
this addition is one step below the level of the 
ground floor in the original inn and that the second 
floor leads off from a landing in the stairs by a 
short flight of steps again one step below the old 
floor level, and that no third floor has been built on 



-9- 



this part of the structure although there is one on 
the original inn. 

The inn proper was built of bricks brought 
to Bladensburg from England. It is three stories 
high and has no cellar. The roof is of gable type 
and has an unusually high pitch which can be noticed 
in the pictures. The present roofing material Is 
tin, but wooden shingles were originally used. 

It has front porches at the level of both 
the first and second floors but I do not think that 
these are the original porches, for one of the two 
trees in front of the house grows partly under the 
porch floor and apparently has necessitated the chang- 
ing and replacing of the porch supports. 

The outer walls of the building are twenty- 
one inches thick at the base and decrease four inches 
at eacb floor, making them nineteen inches above the 
first floor and fifteen above the second. The entire 
four-Inch ledge is on the inside and is used as a 
support for the floor beams, thus leaving a smooth 
wall on the outside. The bonding of the brickwork is 



-10- 



the Flemish "bond of alternate headers and stretchers 
In the same course and apparently is uniform through- 
out. There are no noticeable cracks in the brickwork 
but the building is kept in excellent condition and 
a few may have developed and been repaired. It is in- 
teresting to note in this connection, that the bricks 
are of the same size and apparently of the same quali- 
ty as the common bricks in use in this country today 
and that the bonding is accomplished by use of a flush 
joint about three-eighths inches thick, which is 
common today. 

The inside carrying wall which is to the 
left of the hallway is fifteen inches thick, but all 
the other partitions have a thickness of only eleven 
inches. 

As one enters the doorway which consists 
of a single wide door with a glass panel on each side, 
he enters a hallway. The right side of the hallway 
is taken up by the stairs; the left is a corridor 
leading back to the door. There are only two rooms 
on this floor, so the original inn must have had some 



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sort of outkitchen in the space now occupied by the 
wooden part of the building. 

Each of these rooms originally had a large 
fireplace in the middle of the wall opposite the door, 
but the one in the South room has been removed and 
bricked up, and a Latrobe has been put in the one in 
the North room. 

On the second floor there are three rooms, 
the space over the South room being divided from Fast 
to West and a hall leading along the front of the 
south half of the house. m he fireplaces up here are 
smaller than downstairs and have Latrobe s in them at 
present. 

A door above the front door downstairs 
leads out onto the upper porch. 

The writer has appended plans of these two 
floors showing the size of the rooms as nearly as it 
was possible to obtain them. 

The third floor is reached by a stairway 
above the one leading up from below. 

The attic, like the first floor, is divided 
into a hallway and two rooms ; but up here the original 



-12- 



f looping remains and the fireplaces are small indeed, 
but still intact. Light Is furnished by three dormer 
windows in the front, one in each room, and one In 
the hall, and by a small window just in front of the 
fireplace in each end wall. 

The roof joists are two Inches by ten Inches 
and are spaced twenty-four Inches center to center. 
The sheathing is one inch thick. As I have mentioned 
before the present roof is tin, but the original one 
was made of wooden shingles. 

The windows on the first and second floors 
are two feet, six inches by six feet and have wooden 
sills and brick arches above. In the attic they are 
smaller and are of the dormer type. On the first 
two floors there are two on each side of the front 
door and two in each of the end walls. There were 
probably windows in the back originally but the 
additions have necessitated bricking these up. 

There is no cellar under this house and 
the foundation walls extend to the ground on all sides 
so that it is impossible to determine what size floor 



-13- 



beams were used or to gain any idea of the condition 
of these beams, but the floor does not show any evi- 
dence of sinking, so it seems reasonable to assume 
that they are in at least a fair state of preservation. 

In this paper the writer has endeavored to 
trace the history of this old inn as far as it is 
known and to give some idea of the construction of 
the inn with particular reference to the outstanding 
differences between this construction and modern prac- 
tice, and he trusts that he has been at least partially 
successful in this endeavor. 



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-15- 




South view taken shortly after the 
passing of the Eighteenth Amendment t 
showing the old bar as a pool -room 
and the old "George Washington House" 



1 1 board. 




Front view today. 



-16- 




Left -General view 

looking North. 



Right-South view showi 
inscription and 
the tree growing 
partly under the 
porch. 




BIBLIOGRAPHY! 

The information presented in this thesis 
was obtained from the following sources; 

The Transmitter, published by the Chesapeake 
and Potomac Telephone Company. 

The Washington Star, 

The Washington Post. 

Historic Highways of America by Archer Butler 
Hulbert.