- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 2, 2005

Armistead Peter III, the last owner of the historic house called Tudor Place, on the west side of the village once dubbed Georgetown Heights, once wrote that “Time stands still for those who live in this house.”

Tudor Place Executive Director Leslie Buhler offers a different take on that.

“It’s a living house, living history,” she says of the national historic landmark that celebrates its 200th anniversary this year. “It’s not static, but always evolving.”

Yet if you visit Mr. Peter’s mansion, wander through the garden and the grounds and hang out in his old stamping grounds, you’re tempted to think he got it half right.

For often, time does stand still in this part of Georgetown. There’s probably no neighborhood in Washington that carries so much historical cachet.

Just steps from Tudor Place, for example, stands the 19th-century mansion Dumbarton Oaks, site of the 1944 conference that led to the creation of the United Nations and home to 10 acres of landscaped garden and a renowned collection of Byzantine and pre-Columbian art.

Down the street is Oak Hill Cemetery, since its creation in 1848 a resting place for Washington notables.

Around a corner are the grand mansion Evermay, built in 1801 and still a private home, and the Federal-style Dumbarton House, owned since 1928 by the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America (NSCDA), which marked Dumbarton House’s 200th anniversary last year.

That’s a chunk of history, come to the fore again this year with Tudor Place’s own anniversary, celebrated two weeks ago with the gala opening of the renovated servants’ wing.

So take a step back into this past and hear what it has to tell.

• • •

“When we embarked on the idea of resurrecting and renovating the service area, we also meant to show how a house like this operated, and how the idea of service itself changed over successive generations,” Ms. Buhler says.

“This is a place where slaves were part of the day-to-day life of the family, so the renovation we’re doing now is as much a journey of discovery as anything else.”

The anniversary is that of the purchase of an 8-acre property by a young and fortunately connected couple named Thomas Peter, the son of the mayor of Georgetown, and Martha Parke Custis, granddaughter of Martha Washington, with a legacy of $8,000 provided by a gentleman by the name of George Washington, Martha Parke Custis’ step-grandfather.

The neoclassical house itself was designed by William Thornton, the first architect of the U.S. Capitol, and completed in 1816. Today, thanks to Mr. Peter III’s creation in 1966 of the Tudor Place Foundation, which took over stewardship of the property on his death in 1983, the historic site is open to the public.

Each year it draws about 15,000 visitors eager to see what life probably was like for six generations of a single family. It’s also a site for exhibitions, education programs, community and social events.

“This place can be enchanting,” Ms. Buhler says. “It sort of takes you over. I come home often, and I’m talking to my husband about the house, and he’s never sure whether I’m talking about our house in Bethesda or Tudor Place.”

The Peter home is rich in history — yet even the recent history may be too much for the current generation. On one recent mid-week morning, a pair of families from California with young children were being shown a reconstruction of the study of Armistead Peter III’s father, Armistead Peter Jr. It included an old manual typewriter.

One of the pre-adolescent girls looked at it with all the wonder of someone seeing a Roman coin.

“They didn’t have desktop, did they?” the girl asked.

• • •

At Tudor Place the Washington family connection remains strong, and includes some 50 artifacts belonging to George and Martha Washington, including a solid chest-on-chest from Washington’s bedchamber.

That kind of history jumps out everywhere, and includes the unlikely story of the pronunciation of the word salon.

“Here, this is called the saloon,” a guide will tell you. “That tells you of the Federalist connection in this household. No Jeffersonian, Frenchified words here.”

But if the Washington influence was strong, so was the Southern influence.

“You have to remember that Georgetown was very much a Southern place, and for that matter, Washington was too,” Ms. Buhler says.

Martha Peter’s three surviving daughters, Ms. Buhler says, were named Columbia, America and Britannia, and it was Britannia Kennon Peter, a Southern sympathizer, who became the second owner of Tudor Place. Britannia ran the house for more than 60 years, through the Civil War, Reconstruction, the Gilded Age and into the 20th century. She lived until 1911, and was remembered fondly by her grandson.

• • •

It’s evident that Tudor Place was a home for the well-off. The manicured gardens sport dog sculptures, fountains and cupids. In the carriage house a 1919 Pierce Arrow roadster sits waiting.

The restoration of the butler’s pantry and the servant’s dining hall in the west wing takes you back to a time when a house like this was run by a black-suited butler, maids, cooks, drivers and gardeners.

But that’s typical of this section of Georgetown. Consider Evermay, a Federal-period house built in 1801 with the help of Nicholas King, who had worked with Pierre L’Enfant on the design of the capital city. First owned by a wealthy merchant named Samuel Davidson, it was bought in 1923 by diplomat-architect F. Lammot Belin, and the property remains in the family. It is used primarily for private functions, including corporate meetings, weddings and conferences.

Dumbarton Oaks’ Federalist-era property, built in 1801, was bought by Mr. and Mrs. Robert Woods Bliss in 1920. They eventually gave the garden, house and museum collections to Harvard University. The house and museum are closed for renovations until 2007, but the justifiably famous gardens remain open to the public.

The 22-acre Oak Hill Cemetery is known as much for its beautiful 1848 layered design, including the James Renwick Chapel, as it is for being a who’s who of final resting places, including that of Edwin Stanton, Lincoln’s acerbic secretary of war; John Nicolay, secretary to Lincoln; and the austere Dean Acheson, secretary of state under President Truman. His stone, clean and almost brusquely marked, is not far from the grave of Katharine Graham, The Washington Post publisher who lived across the street from the cemetery.

The building and grounds now known as Dumbarton House were part of the land tract once called the “Rock of Dumbarton,” after a Scottish ancestral site belonging to an early purchaser. First developed as “Cedar Hill” in 1798, the land and its uncompleted house were acquired by Joseph Nourse, the first register of the U.S. Treasury, who finished the construction and lived there with his family from 1804 to 1813. At that time it was bought and renamed “Belle Vue” by Charles Carroll, a cousin of the signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Dumbarton would be bought in 1928 by the NSCDA. The Society opened it as Dumbarton House in 1932; the museum also serves as its headquarters.

Here, in the house’s manuscript and document collection, you can find one of five original known copies of the Articles of Confederation. Yet it’s the Nourse family that gives the records their bulk: Here is a Bible willed by Joseph Nourse to his daughter, and here are papers, journals, account books, ledgers and letters that reflect nearly 300 years of Nourse family life.

Today, Dumbarton House is firmly planted in a specific time, the Federal period from 1790 to 1830 — an era that connotes not only a political time frame but an architectural and design style with neoclassical elements.

In Dumbarton House, you are living in the time of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe, time-locked, transported to a house full of paintings, including a portrait of the Stoddard family by Charles Willson Peale, authentic period furniture from Louis IV to the work of American cabinetmakers of the time, a mahogany card table in the formal library decked out for bridge, and a large collection of china.

Famous names crisscross all these sites. Anthony Pitch, historian and walking-tour guide and author of “The Burning of Washington: The British Invasion of 1814,” notes the story of Dolley Madison, the charismatic first lady who fled the city and breathlessly showed up at Dumbarton House with a portrait of George Washington she had managed to save from the British siege.

“As far as I know, it’s a true story,” Mr. Pitch says. “But think of William Thornton. That’s a sad story. He was at Tudor Place, which he had also designed, at the time. He was a family friend of the Peter clan and they could all see the flames and the smoke of the Capitol, of which Thornton was the architect. He must have been in pain.”

• • •

Probably so, but Tudor Place a century later had a different air entirely. On view currently is “At Your Service,” an exhibit that resurrects the dining room in the west wing as it was set for a dinner celebrating the engagement of Armistead Peter III to Caroline Ogden Jones in 1920.

“We don’t know specifically when such a dinner occurred,” Curator of Collections Ann Steuart says. “But we’ve tried to recreate what such a dinner might have entailed.”

It would have entailed “around 12” servants, headed by full-time butler John Taube.

“The table would have been set for six,” Ms. Steuart says. “There would have been Armistead and Caroline, and the two sets of parents. Dinner would have been perfection salad, a gelatin, stewed carrots, savory potatoes, chicken and a chocolate cake from Rauscher’s Bakery.

“Taube would have brought in the dishes, maybe with some help from one of the maids. It would all have been done just so — the table settings, the place cards, the silverware, all according to Emily Post dictums of the time.”

It may be difficult for most people today to imagine such a scene. But Keith Lloyd, who helped Tudor Place with details on the dress, settings and behavior of service staff of the period, has no trouble imagining it. He served 15 years as a butler to the socially prominent Mary Marvin Breckinridge Patterson (Mrs. Jefferson Patterson), who often visited Tudor Place and died just three years ago.

“It is a life that’s fast disappearing,” Mr. Lloyd says. “You have to make adjustments and know your place, but it’s a remarkable way of life. I wore a lot of hats — I was her driver and her butler, and there is an expertise to it.”

If you look at that perfectly set table, or the evening clothes — jewelry, top hat and tails — laid out in the bedrooms upstairs, the place tells its story perfectly.

And it comes alive when Mr. Lloyd recalls himself dressed in full chauffeur’s livery, driving Mrs. Patterson’s 1977 Cadillac, pulling up the Tudor Place driveway and around the pebbled circle and opening the door for the woman he called “my lady.”

“It’s the sound on those pebbles,” he says. “It’s something you don’t forget.”

Stops along the way in Georgetown

Some images come instantly to mind when people think of Georgetown: the spires of Georgetown University, the

Old Stone House on M Street, the house where John F. Kennedy lived, the big mansions, the Federalist style, the remnants of cable car tracks, the hidden gardens, the antique shops, the C&O; Canal and the mules on the towpath.

But if you really want to hear history whispering directly into your ear, come take a walk in the enclave on the west side of the village once known as Georgetown Heights.

Here a short, horseshoe-shaped path can take you from the pebbled drive of the entrance to (1) Tudor Place, at 1644 31st St. NW, straight up to R Street, where at 1703 32nd St. you hit (2) Dumbarton Oaks, a museum housing Byzantine and pre-Columbian art (closed for renovations until 2007) and the gates to its splendid and much-visited gardens.

Walk along on the cobbled sidewalk to the right and you’ll pass Dumbarton Park and Montrose Park and come to the gates of (3) Oak Hill Cemetery at 3001 R St. NW, a vast, landscaped, park-like final resting place for Washington notables (among them poet, author and statesman John Howard Payne, known for the ballad “Home Sweet Home”; Edwin Stanton, Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of war; Dean Acheson, Harry Truman’s secretary of state; news anchor Max Robinson; and Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham).

The street curves to the right and down to 28th Street, where this section of the cemetery heads around and downward. Here on 28th Street, you walk past the entrance to (4) Evermay at 1623 28th St. NW, a private mansion now used for special events, with its renowned gardens.

Turn the corner at 28th and Q Streets, and head left and you will come to (5) Dumbarton House, 2715 Q St. NW, now run by the Colonial Dames of America. It’s a locked-in-time picture of early 19th-century American life full of period artifacts, furniture, china and paintings. At the back of Dumbarton House the last of Oak Hill Cemetery’s grounds make their way to the walls, while from the second floor windows, you can see the gardens of Evermay.

The whole journey, walked at a reasonably brisk pace, shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes without stopping. If you stop, look and visit, that’s another matter. It could take you as long as a day. You will be covering two centuries and parts of another, seeing a story of ordinary — and not so ordinary — lives.

The details:

Tudor Place

• 1644 31 St. NW. 202/965-0400, tudorplace.org

House tours: 10 and 11:30 a.m. and 1, 2 and 3 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; every hour 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday; noon, 1, 2 and 3 p.m. Sunday. Admission $6 adults, $5 seniors, $3 students. Reservations required for groups of more than 10.

Garden tours: Gardens open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Saturday and noon-4 p.m. Sunday. Self-guided garden tour $2. Docent-led tours by appointment.

Exhibitions: “At Your Service: An Early 20th Century Celebration,” through Nov. 27.

Events: “Prepare and Present: Domestic Employees at Tudor Place” 1:30 p.m. Nov. 13. An inside look at domestic service at Tudor Place led by education director Jill Sanderson.

Dumbarton Oaks

• 1703 32 St. NW. 202/339-6401, doaks.org

Exhibits and shops: The Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, the Byzantine Collection and the museum shop are closed for renovations until 2007.

Dumbarton Oaks Gardens

• Entrance at R and 32 Street NW. 202/339-6401, doaks.org

Garden walks: Open 2-5 p.m. daily except Mondays Nov. 1-March 14, with free admission; 2-6 p.m. March 15-Oct. 31, admission $5-$7. Closed during inclement weather and holidays. Docent-led tours available if arranged in advance at 202/339-6409.

Oak Hill Cemetery

• 3001 R St. NW. 202/337-2835 or see www.cr.nps.gov/nr/travel/wash/dc9.htm

Walks: Office and grounds open 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday. Closed Saturdays.

Evermay

• 1623 28 St. NW. 202/338-1118, evermay.org

Availability: This Federal-period home, built in 1801, is a private residence. It is available for private weddings, banquets and other special occasions for a fee.

Dumbarton House

• 2715 Q St. NW. 202/337-2288, dumbartonhouse.org

Tours: 10:15 and 11:15 a.m., 12:15 and 1:15 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. $5. No reservations required. Group tours of 10 or more by appointment. Tours on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, offer free admission to veterans and active duty military personnel.

Events: Holiday Open House 7-9 p.m. Dec. 9. Decorated period rooms, talks on Christmas traditions in Washington during the Federal period. Children are invited to create holiday crafts and decorations. Refreshments available. $10 per person. Children under 12 free. Reservations recommended at 202/337-2288 ext. 450.

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