Octagon House

Octagon HouseThe Octagon house is one of the oldest houses in downtown Washington, D.C. The often and easily overlooked house is a beautifully maintained example of an 18th Century house.

The Octagon House, at 1799 New York Avenue NW, is actually 6-sided and was designed by William Thornton who also designed the Capital Building, and built for John Tayloe III.

The house was completed in 1801 to serve as a winter house for the very wealthy Tayloe family of Richmond County, Virginia. However, from 1818-1855 the Tayloe family lived in the house year-round. John Tayloe III died in 1828, and his wife Ann Ogle Tayloe died in 1855. After that the house was rented out to various parties and people, and in 1902 was purchased by the American Institute of Architects as their headquarters. The current AIA headquarters building was completed in the 1960s and the Octagon was renovated and opened as a museum in the 1970s.

The first thing you notice when you walk in the house is the curved door. The door is made from two pieces of wood that are curved and locked together. The entrance is an oval room with several large South-facing windows.

From the entrance hall there are two large formal public rooms. As you enter the house and turn right there is a large living space, called the Drawing Room. The current furnishings include a sofa, some chairs, and two tables. The room itself is large and comfortable and you can easily imagine the room filled with guests.

On the other side of the main floor is an equally large dining room. In it is a set table with seating for eight, two fireplaces, a sideboard with serving china and a row of Western-facing windows. There are two doors into the room – the one nearer the front for the guests and the door in the back of the room for the servants. The door in the back of the room leads to a back staircase that runs from the basement to the upper floors.

Heading downstairs, by either staircase, leads you to a large open area with several storage areas including a wine cellar and one large room – probably for the housekeeper. In the basement there is also a kitchen – something that usually, during this period, wasn’t part of the main house. This large kitchen was well-appointed and included a stew stove and a bakery oven, both rarities during the early 19th Century.

I head upstairs using the main stairway, which is painted yellow and has display niches, to the second floor. This floor has some private family space as well as an office located above the entrance hall. This study, now referred to as the Treaty Room, was used as the family parlor.

During the war of 1812, when the British in August 1814 burned Washington, D.C., President James Madison and his wife Dolley, stayed in the Octagon house for six months. It is in the Octagon house, in the Treaty Room, that the Treaty of Ghent was signed on February 17, 1815 that ended the war. A replica of the table used when signing the Treaty is on display.

200th Anniversary of the Battle of Ft. McHenry

After burning the Nation’s capital, the British head north to Baltimore and stay there from Sept 11-17, 1814. From Sept 13-14, 1814, Fort McHenry was under attack. It was during that time that F.S. Key wrote the Star Spanglaed Banner. There are many activities taking place this year throughout Maryland in remembrance of this (second) War of Independence from Britain.


Washington Monument Opening Stairs for Walkdown Tours this Fall


The Washington Monument reopened in May 2014 after a 33-month long renovation following the August 2011 earthquake that damaged the memorial. Now, the NPS is also going to open the stairs!

The NPS announced that starting this month, September, tickets will be available for purchase through Recreation.gov for $15 ($12 with a $3 handling fee) for adults. The Staircase tours will be led each day at 10am and 2pm for a limited time this Fall.

The tour begins on the 500′ level and then you begin your walk down the 896 steps to see the 197 stones.

There are fewer stones above the 300′ level, and the highest stone in the Monument is Alaska’s. Installed in 1982 and made from green jade with an outline of the state and the name Alaska in gold leaf lettering. At the 340′ level you see the (in)famous Vatican stone (actually a replica) made from carrera marble that reads ‘A Roma Americae’ — ‘From Rome to America’. There are many stories about the stone, but essentially the original stone was stolen and never found. The replacement stone was installed in 1982.

At the 280′ level there are stones from Masons of Florida and the Hibernian Society of Baltimore, and the next level down there’s a stone form the Odd Fellows of Kentucky. The State stones generally follow the order in which they were admitted into the Union, and on 330′ is New Mexico, 320′ is Arizona, and Washington is at 310′.

Other interesting stones include the City of Washington stone at 250′, which was dedicated in 1850 by President Zachary Taylor. There is a stone at 220′ from the Cherokee Nation, a stone at the 240′ level “From Braddock’s Field” — a reference to the beginning of the French and Indian war and the death of Major General Braddock.

There are lots of stories that are a part of the tour, which takes about an hour and half. It gives you a great sense of the early history of the newly-formed nation. I think one of the most touching parts about the memorial is that all the stones are gifted to George Washington or are they are there to memorialize and honor George Washington.

Highlights from the tour are below: