- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 20, 2004

Tudor Place, the Georgetown home of Martha Washington’s granddaughter Martha Custis, offers insights into nearly 200 years of personal, local and national history, and a chance to stroll through historic gardens.

“None of the rooms are frozen in time. So some items in a room are from the early 19th century or even earlier, and others are from the middle of the 20th century,” says Melinda Huff, curator of collections at Tudor Place.

In the downstairs parlor, for example, is a camp stool used by George Washington during the Revolutionary War just a few feet away from an early 20th-century “copying machine.”

The copying machine actually is a press in which a typewritten document and a tissuelike paper are pressed together, allowing the ink of the document to bleed into the blank paper, Ms. Huff says.

The mansion was the home Martha Custis Peter and her husband, Thomas Peter, in the first half of the 19th century. Originally belonging to George and Martha Washington, it contains the largest collection of George Washington artifacts outside of Mount Vernon.

It stayed in the Peter family until 1983, when Armistead Peter III died and left the home to the Tudor Place Foundation, which later opened it to the public.

There are 8,000 objects — including 59 sets of china — in the collection, Ms. Huff says. One of her favorite items is a letter from George Washington to his wife written in 1775. It is one of the few letters that has survived; Martha Washington burned most of the correspondence between her and her husband, Ms. Huff says.

Martha Washington considered the letters personal, Ms. Huff says.

In his letter, the future first president talked about the weight of the responsibility of leading his troops against the British. In his postscript, he tells Martha that during his travels, he saw some nice, cheap fabric she might be interested in.

“I love this letter. It makes them very human,” Ms. Huff says.

Young visitors enjoy the children’s bedroom on the second floor, says Jill Sanderson, director of education. The room is full of 19th- and 20th-century toys and furniture, including roller skates, a model airplane and an old-fashioned potty chair.

“Kids love this room,” Ms. Sanderson says. “I think seeing old toys helps them relate to history.”

Ms. Huff says the exhibit is appropriate for children 7 and older.

Young audiences also enjoy hearing about how the Peter children in the late 19th century — before telephones — used their petticoats to communicate with their cousins who lived in Arlington, Ms. Sanderson says.

“They held up their petticoats in the window to arrange play dates,” Ms. Sanderson says. “One color indicated it was a good time; another color meant ‘no.’ ”

The home also features some Civil War history, Ms. Sanderson says.

Shortly after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee stayed at Tudor Place, Britannia Peter, the daughter of Martha and Thomas Peter, was forced to rent out rooms to Union soldiers to make ends meet. Lee was married to Britannia Peter’s cousin.

“It’s interesting — she was a Southern lady and asked the Union soldiers to be respectful and not talk about the war in her presence. She couldn’t bear it,” Ms. Sanderson says.

A few decades earlier, during another conflict — the War of 1812 — Martha Custis Peter and Anna Thornton were having tea one afternoon in the parlor when they saw flames and smoke shooting up from the Capitol, which Thornton’s husband, architect William Thornton, had designed.

“The British were burning down the Capitol, and they could see it,” she says. “They were shocked.”

Thornton had also completed the design of Tudor Place, which was built in the neoclassic style and included large windows opening toward the gardens.

The large windows helped bring light in and cool down the house during hot summer days, says Ms. Huff, adding that when she gives tours to school classes, many of the children find the history of lighting fascinating.

The house has examples of pre-electricity candleholders in the vestibule, gasoline lamps from the 1850s in the saloon and electric chandeliers from 1914 in the parlor, she says.

“The children think it’s interesting that it took so much work to just keep the lights going,” Ms. Huff says. “You had to trim the wicks and clean the oil all the time.”

After a tour of the house, visitors can take a stroll in the 5-acre gardens, which feature 200-year-old trees and dozens of roses that bloom from February to early December.

The 1919 Pierce Arrow roadster is not to be missed, either. It was designed by Armistead Peter III, and it still runs, Ms. Huff says.

“The house collections, gardens and the Pierce Arrow car really showcase 180 years of American history,” she says. “Tudor Place comes alive for families and children by making history accessible through everyday items and stories.”

When you go:

Location: 1644 31st St. NW

Directions: Tudor Place is in Georgetown. From Interstate 495, take the George Washington Memorial Parkway exit.

After about 8.5 miles on the parkway, take the U.S. 29 north exit toward the Key Bridge. Turn right onto Route 29. Route 29 north becomes Francis Scott Key Bridge.

Take the Key Bridge east to M Street. Make a right on M Street. Turn left on 31st Street. End at 1644 31st St., which will be on the left.

Hours: The house is open for 45-minute guided tours at 10 and 11:30 a.m. as well as 1 and 2:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays; 10 and 11 a.m. as well as noon, 1, 2 and 3 p.m. Saturdays; and noon, 1, 2 and 3 p.m. Sundays. Guided tours are required for all visits to the house.

Parking: Street parking.

Admission: Adults, $6; children 12 and younger, $2.

Information: Phone 202/965-0400, or visit www.tudorplace.org.

Miscellaneous:

• The closest Metro stops are Dupont Circle on the Red Line and Foggy Bottom on the Orange and Blue lines. It takes about 20 minutes to walk from these Metro stops to Tudor Place.

The Georgetown Metro Connection Shuttle operates express service between Georgetown University and the Foggy Bottom and Dupont Circle Metro stations. For more information, call 202/625-7433.

• Strollers are not allowed inside Tudor Place, but they are welcomed in the gardens, which feature gravel-and-brick paths that snake through 5 acres of historic gardens.

Tudor Place holiday programs:

Tudor Place features two holiday programs in December.

• At 10:30 a.m. on Dec. 4, Tudor Place will present “The Nutcracker Story Time” in collaboration with the Washington Ballet.

This program will feature storytelling of the holiday classic followed by a short presentation by dancers from the Washington Ballet. The dancers will teach the children simple ballet steps after the presentation.

The program is open to children 3 to 6. Fee: $10 to $12 per adult-child pair. Reservations and advance payment are required.

• At 4 and 5:30 p.m. Dec. 11, Tudor Place will present “A Georgetown Nutcracker Christmas.”

The program, also in collaboration with the Washington Ballet, will provide a chance for children and adults to stroll the main rooms of the mansion decorated to depict the main scenes from the original German story, including the opening scene with trees and presents, the Mouse King and Nutcracker’s battle, and the feast at Marzipan Castle.

Children can also enjoy mingling with the dancers from the Washington Ballet, who will be in costume, adding to the atmosphere.

Live music will be provided by madrigal singers from the National Cathedral. The event will also provide an opportunity for children to create their own “Nutcracker” holiday cards. Light refreshments will be provided.

Fee: $5 to $10. Reservations and advance payment are required.

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