Washington, D.C. Sights

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Decatur House on Lafayette Square

Front of Decatur House

Decatur House on Lafayette Square Review

Home to the National Center for White House History, located across from the White House, this was the first and last private residence on Lafayette Square. The distinguished neoclassical house is the work of Benjamin Henry Latrobe, the country's first professional architect and engineer, who is most famous for his construction of the Capitol and the design of many of its beautiful interior spaces. Decatur House is one of the oldest surviving homes in Washington, and one of only three remaining residential buildings designed by Latrobe.

Built in 1819 for naval hero Stephen Decatur and his wife, Susan, the house bore witness to many historic events in the century and a half that followed. Planning to start a political career, Decatur built this home near the White House, but died tragically 14 months later after a famous duel with Commodore James Barron. Later occupants of the house included diplomats and statesmen, Baron de Tuyll, Henry Clay, Martin Van Buren, and the Beales, a prominent Western family whose modifications of the building include a parquet floor with the state seal of California. Wealthy hotel and tavern owner John Gadsby purchased the Decatur House as a retirement home in 1836, adding a large two-story dependency in the rear of the property, used as quarters for numerous enslaved individuals in his household—the only extant slave quarters in Washington.

There are no public tours, but school groups may reserve a field trip focused on Slavery, Emancipation, and the Power of the President. Visitors can stop in The Shop at President's Square, which sells upscale memorabilia on the history of The White House.

Updated: 05-23-2014

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