Since 1890, the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution has been quietly collecting examples of decorative and fine arts from its members -- women who can prove lineal bloodline descent from an ancestor who helped achieve U.S. independence -- as well as nonmembers. In the process, the DAR has accumulated more than 33,000 artifacts made or used in the United States between 1700 and 1850.
Not every object is on display at once, however, making a visit manageable for the casual tourist. In the main gallery, rotating exhibits showcase pristinely maintained ceramics, silver, textiles and furniture. Sliding racks provide easy viewing of the museum's famous quilt collection.
The real treats are the museum's 31 period rooms, representing a wide range of dates, locations and functions, and often depicting elegant lifestyles. Visitors are accompanied through the rooms by tour guides who point out the painstaking effort DAR conservators have taken to replicate every detail in a gentleman's library in 1790, for instance, right down to the stenciling or paint on the walls, the floor cloths, original furniture, paintings and accessories. Children love the 19th-century New Hampshire attic, replete with baby rockers, toy stoves and cradles -- and a hands-on area for real playtime. Other rooms include an 18th-century Georgia tavern, an 1850s California whaling station and a Texas Hill Country bedroom of only slightly younger vintage. Guides offer tours on the hour and the half hour Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
The DAR is housed in a unique, three-structures-in-one complex designed by John Russell Pope. It spans the entire block of D street between 17th and 18th streets NW. The Beaux-Arts Memorial Continental Hall, which faces the Ellipse, contains the DAR Library and most of the period rooms. The Administration Building consists of the main gallery, the Americana Room (which exhibits early American manuscripts and printed materials) and the organization's headquarters. The third section houses DAR Constitution Hall, a venue for many pop music concerts, where it's not unusual to hear rock bands singing to sons and daughters about revolutions.
-- Margaret Hutton