Dumbarton House

Historic Site

Editorial Review

Historical importance: Dumbarton House is considered a particularly fine example of early Federal architecture and furnishings. Built on the Georgetown Heights, it had an unimpeded view south to the Potomac River and east to the President's House (the White House) and of the burning of the city in 1814. The house got its name from a homesick Scot who dubbed the land the "Rock of Dumbarton," after the promontory on which the ancient Dumbarton Castle stands.

On Aug. 24, 1814, as the British army advanced on the city, first lady Dolley Madison was evacuated from the White House to Dumbarton -- after saving the famous Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington.

Tour highlights: The collection includes a copy of the first printing of the 1777 Articles of Confederation, one of only five known to survive; a 100-piece dinner service belonging to Martha Washington's granddaughter Eliza; and one of George Washington's crested silver cups. The George III mahogany sofa with chairs in the music room is said to have come from the Monroe White House. In 1791, Charles Willson Peale painted a portrait of Navy Secretary Benjamin Stoddard's three children with an early view of the Port of Georgetown and Mason's Island (Roosevelt Island) in the background; another Peale portrait depicts Phoebe Morris, one of Dolley Madison's proteges and the woman she hoped would be her daughter-in-law. The gentleman's wash stand with shaving mirror and bowl hides a bidet and chamber pot in its lower drawers. The silver tea urn has a central tube where a heated rod fit.

Bring the kids? Strollers are not allowed. The staff considers the house best for age 6 and older.

Tour information: Open for guided tours (about 45 minutes) Tuesday-Saturday at 10:15, 11:15, 12:15 and 1:15. Museum doors open 15 minutes before tours. $5, students with IDs free. Groups of 10 or more require reservations.

Wheelchair access: Good.

While in the neighborhood: The 1765 Old Stone House (3051 M St. NW) is one of the oldest structures in Washington (open Wednesday-Sunday from noon to 5; free). George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were among presidents who frequented the (now private) City Tavern (3206 M St. NW).

Fun fact: Dumbarton House originally stood in the middle of what is now Q Street. In 1915, the two-story main building and basement were hauled 100 feet north to allow a bridge to be built over Rock Creek.

--Eve Zibart (Feb. 15, 2008)