- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 2, 2002

Muslin on the ceiling representing bandages that aided the war wounded reminds visitors who used to live and work here.

Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, spent her later years in a custom-built home in Glen Echo, just across the line from the District. Today, the house is the Clara Barton National Historic Site, where visitors can see the home and office of one of the nation's first businesswomen.

"This was Red Cross headquarters from 1897 to 1904, as well as Miss Barton's primary residence," says Bob Carns, a National Park Service ranger. "Miss Barton moved in here when she was 75 years old, but [she] still went to one more war and the Galveston hurricane. This home began as a warehouse, then was turned into a 37-room house."

The building's main rooms are on display, looking much as they would have in and around 1891, when the house was built.

The developers of Glen Echo, then an important cultural and entertainment center, were looking for a celebrity to live there. After the Glen Echo area got trolley and telephone service, Barton, who had gained fame earlier by caring for Civil War soldiers, agreed to live there if they built the home to her specifications.

Inside the house are rich dark wood and wide halls that were used for Red Cross meetings and receptions. International flags still hang on the walls, as they did when Barton was hosting dignitaries. Behind the flags lie hidden closets that the Red Cross used to stock disaster supplies, Mr. Carns says.

"The closets held food, bandages, really anything people needed, because after a disaster, they didn't have anything at all," he explains.

The front parlor contains reproductions of the time and also some originals, including an 1895 Emerson piano.

In the back were the Red Cross offices, where Barton and volunteers, who lived in the house with her, conducted business. In this age of digital technology, it is particularly interesting to see how a state-of-the-art workplace looked at the turn of the century.

The office contains giant roll-top desks, antique typewriters, a telegraph machine and a graphophone, an early recording device.

The dining room is set for a large party, as the volunteers and Barton often ate in shifts, Mr. Carns says.

Barton was as resourceful in her own house as she was nursing the wounded on the battlefield. Old newspapers once were used for insulation, and cotton and muslin bandages were used to insulate and decorate the ceiling, he says. The muslin has been re-created on some of the ceilings.

On the second floor hangs a portrait of Clara Barton that was taken by famous Civil War photographer Mathew Brady. Large panels of stained glass that hang higher up are emblazoned with a giant red cross.

"The glass was created in 1897," Mr. Carns says. "The lamp was lit at night so the trolley cars passing by could see the crosses."

The second floor gives a glimpse of what home life was like at the turn of the century. During Barton's day, the top floors contained 12 bedrooms but only one bathroom. That is why chamber pots are displayed prominently.

The largest bedroom, of course, belonged to Barton, who never married. She often sat at the large writing desk in her bedroom, composing notes to her favorite nieces and nephews as well as to soldiers, who continued to write to her well into their old age. She died of double pneumonia in that bedroom in April 1912.

The house was a private residence and then an apartment house until 1963, when the owners were going to sell it to Glen Echo Amusement Park for $50,000 so it could be bulldozed and the space turned into a parking lot.

However, a group of Red Cross volunteers pooled money to buy the place. It was a museum for 12 years before Congress declared it a National Historic Site.

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