Georgetown was formally established in 1751 when the Maryland Assembly authorized a town on the Potomac River on 60 acres of land belonging to George Beall and George Gordon; hence Georgetown. Tobacco was the lifeblood of the community and Georgetown soon prospered as a shipping center with a profitable European and West Indian trade. Commerce and industry developed along the waterfront, where wharves and flour mills were constructed. During the American Revolution, Georgetown served as a great depot for the collection and shipment of military supplies.
The town was finally incorporated in 1789 but only two years later it was included in the new Federal District with the establishment of the nation’s capital to the east. Georgetown retained its own character, however, and rapidly gained a reputation as the fashionable quarter of the new capital, drawing high-profile residents to its leafy streets.
The economic engine for Georgetown was provided by the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal which aimed for western Pennsylvania but petered out in western Maryland. Still, the waterfront prospered until a flood in the 1890s swamped the waterway and the Canal Company went bankrupt. Georgetown spiraled into decline and gained an unsavory reputation as one of Washington’s worst slums. New Deal stimulus money from the 1930s helped break the fall and the cachet returned in the 1950s when a junior senator from Massachusetts named John Fitzgerald Kennedy moved into the neighborhood.
Although there are some pre-Revolutionary buildings in the district, most of the housing stock dates from the period after 1800 when brick replaced stone in construction of both residential and commercial buildings. The mansions of wealthy shipowners, merchants and land speculators were built above the harbor on Prospect and N Streets. Hotels, taverns, banks and other commercial buildings were constructed along M Street and in the waterfront area. There are 58 Georgetown houses that have been recognized as landmarks of pre-Civil War importance.
The Georgetown Historic District is roughly bounded by Reservoir Rd., NW, and Dumbarton Oaks Park on the north; Rock Creek Park on the east; the Potomac River on the south; and Glover-Archbold Parkway on the west. Our walking tour will start on the campus of Georgetown University on the western fringe of the old town...
Georgetown University, founded in 1789, is the oldest Catholic University in America and since 1805 has been administered by the Society of Jesus. The first buildings were constructed around the “old quadrangle,” including Healy Hall, begun in 1877 and completed in stages as monies became available from designs by John Smithmeyer and Paul Pelz, creators of the Library of Congress. Reverend Patrick S. Healy shepherded the project to completion for the school and the building, with a 200-foot-high central clock spire, in 1909.
Construction of Copley Hall, named for Father Thomas Copley, was completed in 1932 and was a popular venue for informal school dances. Today it is does duty as an upperclass residence hall.
White-Gravenor Hall was built atop the White Memorial Quadrangle from 1932-1933 and carries the name of two of the Jesuits who arrived in Maryland in 1634 on the Ark and the Dove - Andrew White and John Altham, also known as Gravenor. The building has been called a “sermon in stone” because of the abundance of Catholic and Jesuit symbolism in its exterior detailing.
WALK OFF CAMPUS EAST ON P STREET.
Convent of the Visitation
11400 34th Street, northwest corner of O Street
Joseph-Pierre Picot de Limoëlan de Clorivière was an officer in the French army and a counter-revolutionary implicated in an assassination plot against Napoleon Bonaparte. It failed and he fled to the United States in 1803 where he became a priest and ministered in Charleston, South Carolina. He ran into trouble with church authorities there and was sent to the Visitation Convent in Georgetown that had started as a girls’ school in 1799. Father de Clorivière oversaw the building of the Federal-style chapel in 1925. When the monastery was built in 1857 it employed the popular ecclesiastical Gothic style of the day. In 1874 when an academy building was needed it was turned out in an ornate Victorian style. All reside happily cheek-by-jowl today.
TURN RIGHT ON 34TH STREET.
John F. Kennedy’s 2nd Georgetown House
1400 34th Street, northwest corner of O Street
When John F. Kennedy came to Washington he decided to make Georgetown, that had been one of the city’s worst slums just a few years before, his home. He eventually lived in five different homes in the neighborhod - this was his second.
TURN LEFT ON O STREET.
3322 O Street, NW
One of Georgetown’s largest brick houses was put up by banker and land speculator Clement Smith. He hooked a buyer with deep pockets - the Czarist government of Russia. The name that has stuck to the grand house is that of Baron Alexander de Bodisco who represented the Kremlin under the Polk Administration in the 1840s. Everyone in the neighborhood knew the 60-year old Baron when he married a 16-year old Georgetown girl, Harriett Beall Williams. Not that it was another Washington scandal - Henry Clay, the most admired man in the Senate, gave away the bride and the wedding was attended by President Martin Van Buren and his full cabinet. By all accounts the union was a happy one.
TURN RIGHT ON 33RD STREET.
John F. Kennedy’s Fifth and Last Georgetown Home
3307 N Street NW, at the corner of 33rd Street
This townhouse was the Senator Kennedy’s fifth, and last, Georgetown home. John and Jackie lived here the longest, from 1957 until they left for the White House in January of 1961. The doorstep became famous as the place where the President-elect announed his cabinet choices.
TURN LEFT ON N STREET.
3255-3263 N Street, NW
These five brick Federal-style houses were erected by developers Walter and Clement Smith in 1815, designed so well they have been little altered in the two centuries since. Contrast this to Cox’s Row in the block to the west at 3327 to 3339 that needed restoration due to remodeling. Cox was a prosperous merchant who married an heiress who brought the land now filled by Georgetown University into the marriage. Cox persuaded officials to jiggle the city boundaries so he could run for mayor and put in 22 years as Georgetown’s top official. No one ever stayed in the post as long.
TURN LEFT ON POTOMAC STREET.
St. John’s Episcopal Church
southeast corner of Potomac and O streets
The congregation organized in 1796 and is Georgetown’s oldest Episcopal parish. The church building dates to 1804 and owes much to William Thornton, a Scotsman trained as a physician who was also a writer, horse-breeder and publisher. He also dabbled in architecture and his design won the competition for the United States Capitol, besting, among others, Thomas Jefferson. St. John’s Episcopal Church has often been tinkered with over the years but the bell tower is believed to be original.
TURN LEFT ON O STREET. TURN RIGHT ON 33RD STREET.
1524 33rd Street
The Yellow Tavern, later known as White Horse Tavern, was in business in 1788. The public house was a favorite stopping place for travelers and tobacco merchants and the odd notable dropped in from time to time. Thomas Jefferson could be found at a table on occasion and when the Marquis de Lafayette visited in 1824, Mayor John Cox entertained him here “with a dinner of reed-birds, followed by dancing to music from the balcony.”
TURN LEFT ON VOLTA PLACE. TURN LEFT INTO POMANDER WALK.
south side of Volta Place, between 33rd and 34th streets
The buildings in this alley went up in the 1880s and were an overlooked slum for much of their life. Spruced up today, the ten tiny houses create a charming Georgetown nook.
RETURN TO VOLTA PLACE AND TURN LEFT. TURN RIGHT ON 35TH STREET.
1537 35th Street, NW
Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, Alexander Graham Bell moved to Canada with his family in 1870 and a year later moved to Boston to teach at a special day school for deaf children. He became a renowned educator by opening a private normal class to train teachers of speech to the deaf and as a professor of vocal physiology and the mechanics of speech at Boston University. In fact, the invention of the telephone in 1876 was almost a speed bump in his work with the deaf. The French government awarded him a $10,000 Volt Prize for the telephone which he plowed into establishing the American Association for the Promotion of the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf, headquartered here in his father’s house on 35th Street. Celebrated Boston architects of Robert Swain Peabody and John Goddard Stearns designed this yellow brick building in 1893 to resemble a Greek temple when viewed from the street but to appear like a more traditional office building when approached from the rear.
TURN RIGHT ON DENT PLACE.
John F. Kennedy’s 3rd Georgetown Home
3321 Dent Place
This was the third of John F. Kennedy’s five Georgetown homes and his first as a married man; he and Jackie moved in as newlyweds.
TURN LEFT ON 33RD STREET AND LEFT ON WISCONSIN AVENUE. TURN RIGHT ON R STREET.
3238 R Street, NW
This classically proportioned house was built by Alabaman A.V. Scott in 1858. During the Civil War he put it out for lease and attracted some famous Union Army officers as tenants. General Ulysses S. Grant rented it one summer and General Henry Walker Halleck moved in, filling the house with soldiers, drilling troops on R Street and bugling reveille each morning.
3259 R Street, NW
Although obscured by hedges a variety of Victorian elements can be seen on this 1854 house, including a Second Empire mansard roof and gingerbread trim around the porch.
3101 R Street, NW
This defining Georgetown estate was created by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, heir to a patent medicine fortune and a diplomat in the United States Foreign Service. In June of 1920, they purchased this much-altered 1801 Federal-style house and 53 acres, ending a lengthy search for a stateside home. Beatrix Farrand, one of the founding eleven members, and the only woman, of the American Society of Landscape Architects, transformed the grounds into a showplace of terraced gardens and grottoes; Dumbarton Oaks is considered her masterwork.
WALK DOWN 31ST STREET.
1644 31st Street, NW
Part-time architect William Thornton was responsible for some of Washington’s best early buildings and this residence was one of them. The wings were already here and Thornton added the central block and connecting elements. Thomas and Martha Custis Peter lived here; she was the granddaughter of George Washington, who left her the $8,000 in his will that was used to purchase the property this block on the crest of Georgetown Heights in 1805.
TURN RIGHT ON Q STREET.
3124 Q Street, NW
At the turn of the 19th century Washington Bowie, a merchant and shipper, owned this entire block. In 1805 he constructed the original five-bay center portion of the now much-expanded Federal-style house. How much has it expanded? In 2007 the mansion sold for $24,000,000, shattering the record for the most expensive home sale in the District by $10 million. Imagine how much Bowie’s entire block would be worth today.
TURN RIGHT ON 31ST STREET.
John F. Kennedy’s 1st Georgetown Home
1528 31st Street
This is the first house John Kennedy moved into when he settled in Georgetown. As a freshman congressman in 1950, this was his bachelor pad.
TURN LEFT ON P STREET.
3019 P Street, NW
Edward Linthicum steadily improved his Georgetown circumstances as a merchant, his success eventually landing him in Dumbarton Oaks. But before that he was able to afford that exquisitely crafted federal home in 1829. Note especially the meticulous detailing on the wide doorway.
TURN LEFT ON 30TH STREET.
Francis Dodge House
1517 30th Street, NW
The Dodge brothers, Francis and Robert, operated the most successful antebellum shipping business in Georgetown. So successful that when Francis went looking for someone to design his new home in 1850 he couldn’t land any bigger names than Andrew Jackson Downing and Calvert Vaux. It was noted by Vaux, in a letter from his client in 1854that Francis complained about the $15,000 cost of building his new Italianate villa, although he was quite satisfied with the comfort the excesses provided. Robert’s villa stands nearby, at the corner of 28th & Q Street.
TURN LEFT ON Q STREET.
3307-3029 Q Street, NW
This spectacular quartet on the north side of Q Street provides a picturesque Victorian island in the Georgetown sea of Federal-style row houses. The two end units are French-inspired Second Empire designs and the middle pair are elaborately bracketed Italianates. The cornice brackets seen on these houses, built in 1868, are the best in the city
RETURN TO 30TH STREET AND TURN LEFT.
Oak Hill Cemetery
30th and R streets, NW
Oak Hill Cemetery was chartered by Congress in 1849 on land donated by banker William Wilson Corcoran. This sacred ground that slopes down to the lively waters of Rock Creek, stands among the finest Victorian garden cemeteries in America. At the entrance stands a handsome, three-story brick Italianate Gatekeeper’s House in contrasting brick and sandstone by George de la Roche. The graves of many high-octane Washingtonians are here, including the cemetery’s founder, Corcoran.
Oak Hill Cemetery Chapel
30th and R streets, NW
The Oak Hill Cemetery Chapel is the only known example of James Renwick’s Gothic Revival ecclesiastical design in Washington, DC. The one story rectangular chapel, measuring 23 by 41 feet, was built in 1850 and sits on the highest ridge of the Oak Hill Cemetery. The beautifully proportioned chapel of local Potomac gneiss and red sandstone trim is considered an excellent example of Gothic Revival Architecture, as evidenced by its steeply pitched roof, buttresses, and its pointed arched windows with tracery. Renwick, one of the pre-eminent architects of the 19th century, designed both the Grace Church and St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York and was the architect for the original Smithsonian Institution.
WALK DOWN 28TH STREET AND TURN LEFT ON Q STREET.
2715 Q Street, NW
Samuel Jackson constructed a stylish Federal-style on this promontory above Rock Creek in 1800. He sold the property to Joseph Nourse, the first Register of the U.S. Treasury, who commissioned Benjamin Henry Latrobe, considered America’s first professional architect, to add balconies, portico and bays. One of the wealthiest men in young America, Charles Carroll, bought the house in 1814 and named it “Belle Vue.” During her famous flight from the White House to escape British invaders during the War of 1812, Dolley Madison would take refuge here. In 1915 when the Dumbarton (“Q Street”) Bridge was built over Rock Creek, the house was moved 100 feet to its present site, to allow the extension of Q Street into Georgetown. When the National Society of The Colonial Dames of America purchased the house for its headquarters in 1928 they changed the name to “Dumbarton House.”
RETURN TO 28TH STREET AND TURN LEFT.
Benjamin Miller House
1524 28th Street, NW
This rare wooden Federal house from 1840 stands in a forest of Georgetown brick as testament to the skills of its builder, master carpenter Benjamin Miller.
John F. Kennedy’s 4th Georgetown Home
2808 P Street, NW
This is the penultimate Georgetown abode of then United States Senator John F. Kennedy.
TURN RIGHT ON N STREET.
2806 N Street, NW
These side-hall Federal brick townhouses from 1817, distinguished by elaborate splayed stone lintels with keystones.
2812 N Street, NW
This fine Federal-style residence from the War of 1812-era features a beautifully articulated doorway. Legend says that the widow Decatur moved here from Lafayette Square after her husband naval war hero Stephen was killed in a duel with another commander in 1820.
2908 N Street, NW
This three-bay home bookended by its hulking three-story neighbors was home to Henry Foxall, who operated a munitions plant on the western fringe of Georgetown when he built this brick dwelling in 1820.
1305 30th Street, northeast corner of N Street
Prior to the Civil War this was the haughty finishing school for young women of means, run by Miss Lydia English. After the disastrous (for the North) First Battle of Bull Run the building was pressed into service as a Union hospital. The building has since morphed into an apartment house.
3014 N Street, NW
The brick window arches designed by William Lovering became a sort of trademark of the self-taught amateur architect. This very early example dates to 1799, built for John Laird, who earned his fortune trading tobacco.
3038 N Street, NW
Romulus Riggs, a local businessman, built a fine Federal house of modest size with a side-hall plan. A later owner, Joseph Riley, built an adjacent wing for his medical practice.
3041-3043 N Street, NW
The cast-iron window heads and prominent cornice stamp were Italianate additions to the standard Georgetown Federal brick townhouse.
TURN LEFT ON 31ST STREET.
Custom House & Post Office
1221 31st Street, NW
Georgetown was established as a port of entry to the United States by an act of Congress approved March 22, 1779. This Italianate Custom House of granite ashlar came from the office of Ammi B. Young, the Supervising Architect of the Treasury from 1852 to 1862. Completed in 1858, the building housed a post office on its first floor and custom house and Georgetown city offices on its second floor. The basement was used for storage of goods awaiting inspection. After 109 years, in 1967, the Custom House moved out of its second floor space; the post office still occupies the first floor.
TURN LEFT ON M STREET.
Old Stone House
3051 M Street, NW
The Old Stone House was built in 1765, making it the oldest one built in Washington still upright. The exterior of the house is constructed of locally quarried blue granite. The house was built by Christopher Layman, a cabinetmaker by trade, as both a residence and a shop; he would die shortly after constructing the house. After nearly two centuries of duty as a residence and shop the United States government bought the pre-Revolutionary vernacular structure in 1953.
TURN AROUND AND WALK WEST ON M STREET. TURN LEFT ON 31ST STREET. TURN RIGHT IN BLUES ALLEY.
The Blues Alley Jazz Society was founded in 1985 by internationally celebrated jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and its corresponding nightclub namesake located in the nation’s capital. Jazz acts are booked here 360 nights a year.
TURN LEFT ON WISCONSIN AVENUE.
Chesapeake & Ohio Canal
George Washington was one of the early American speculators who dreamed of the riches an inland American waterway could bring that would float goods from the West to Washington down the Potomac River. A canal that could connect the Potomac River to the Ohio River in Pittsburgh would provide a continuous water link from New Orleans to the Chesapeake Bay. The canal, dubbed the “Great National Project” by President John Quincy Adams, was finally started on July 4, 1828. It would take 22 years to complete - actually construction just stopped since the canal route never made it out of Maryland with only 184.5 of the planned 460 miles dug - and was obsolete before it opened. Battling the young and ever-improving railroads, the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal lasted for 75 years floating cargo from Cumberland, Maryland to Georgetown. The ditch survived filling in through the efforts of Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas who championed the canal as “a long stretch of quiet and piece.”
1041 Wisconsin Avenue, NW
Grace Episcopal Church was founded to serve the laborers, craftsmen, shopkeepers, and watermen of the Georgetown waterfront. By 1857 regular services were being held in a wooden chapel that stood in the southwest corner of the churchyard, where the World War I memorial cross now stands. In this poor district congregants pooled their talents to erect this humble granite Gothic revival church in 1866. Even today it is still the only religious institution in lower Georgetown.
CROSS WISCONSIN AVENUE AND WALK DOWN GRACE STREET TO POTOMAC STREET.
Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Warehouses
At the terminus of the waterway warehouses and mills sprung up in the first half of the 19th century. Mills for flour and cotton were especially abundant. Most have long ago disappeared but a few buildings have survived to be adapted to modern use.
RETURN TO WISCONSIN AVENUE AND TURN LEFT. CROSS M STREET.
1264 Wisconsin Avenue, NW
A Georgetown institution since 1933 when it opened the day after Prohibition was repealed. Martin’s was John Kennedy’s hangout. Booth number one, known as “the rumble seat,” was Kennedy’s usual seat when he was a bachelor; number three is supposed to be where he asked Jackie to marry him. Booth number two was the favorite of JFK’s 1960 presidential opponent - Richard Nixon.
TURN AROUND AND RETURN TO M STREET. TURN RIGHT.
3206 M Street, NW
In Colonial days every other building along this busy post road was a tavern. Most are gone but this one, from 1796, lives on. Much was replaced during a painstaking restoration but the top floors are probably original. Today it is a private club.
3222 M Street, NW
This urban shopping center from 1982 is located in a series of buildings built for the Georgetown and Washington Railway Company, a horse-drawn streetcar company, and later by Capitol Traction. During the excavation, archaeologists unearthed thousands of artifacts, some of which can be viewed as a permanent display in the Georgetown Park Museum, which is open daily.
3276 M Street, NW
Public markets have existed on this site since before the American Revolution. In 1795 the ground was deeded to the town “for the use of the market aforesaid, and for no other use, interest or purpose whatsoever.” The Italianate building with round-arched windows and central parapet, splendidly restored, dates to 1866.
3350 M Street, NW
In March 1791 Georgetown mayor Uriah Forrest, at the urging of a weary George Washington, hosted a dinner party at his home here to hammer out an agreement to produce the nation’s new capital city of the District of Columbia. Forrest wanted little to do with the brave new world and sold the house in 1800 to Baltimore attorney William Marbury to reside at Rosedale, his farm that is now Cleveland Park. Marbury landed in the history books as the plaintiff in the case of Marbury vs. Madison that established the principle of judicial review. Marbury added a third story to the original house and built a two-story addition to the east.
TURN RIGHT ON 34TH STREET. TURN LEFT ON PROSPECT AVENUE.
3508 Prospect Street, NW
It’s the fabulous view of the Potomac River that gives this handsome Federal manor house its name. Note the craftsmanship of the brickwork and doorways of this home built for 18th century tobacco merchant, James Lingan. It’s believed that Lingan designed his own residence, using one of the architectural pattern books popular with scholarly, American builders of the period.
Benjamin Stoddert House
3400 Prospect Avenue, NW
This house was built for Benjamin Stoddert, the first Secretary of the Navy, in 1787. Stoddert wanted the house to look like the elegant houses he had admired while serving in Philadelphia. The Secretary would likely not recognize his house today as it was much enlarged and altered during 40 years of bizarre ownership by Albert Adsit Clemons. Clemons lived, it was reported, on money provided by his wife to stay away from her. He built an amusement park of hallways, stairs and rooms inside - most of which were never used.
3425 Prospect Street NW
This fine Federal home was built for attorney John Thomson Mason, a grandchild of Martha Washington, in 1798. Dr. Charles Worthington purchased the mansion in 1810 and named it Quality Hill, presumably for its fabulous interior woodwork.
Prospect and 36th streets, NW
These steep steps next to the Victorian D.C. Transit car barn were used in the seminal horror movie The Exorcist to film the scene where Father Damien takes a fatal head-first plunge down the 97 stairs.
TURN RIGHT ON 36TH STREET. TURN RIGHT ON N STREET.
Old Holy Trinity Church
3515 N Street, NW
A small brick church built here in 1794 was the first place for Catholics to worship in Washington, DC. This Greco-Roman church replaced it in 1849.
TURN AROUND ON N STREET AND WALK TWO BLOCKS WEST BACK TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.