Georgetown’s Decatur house — not to be confused with the Decatur House on Lafayette Square, which is home to the White House Historical Association — is on the market for $7.9 million.
The earliest known owner was James Sewall Morsell, a judge of the U.S. Circuit Court of the District of Columbia. Before he was appointed to the court in 1815, Morsell was a lawyer in private practice in Georgetown. He represented a number of enslaved families that petitioned the U.S. Circuit Court for their freedom.
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The six-bedroom, seven-bathroom, 7,400-square-foot house takes its name from Susan Decatur. She was the widow of Commodore Stephen Decatur Jr. The Decaturs moved to Washington in 1816, bought land near the White House and built the first and last private residence on Lafayette Square. They lived there only 14 months before Stephen was killed in a duel. After his death, Susan is said to have moved to this house in Georgetown.
Deering Davis, Stephen P. Dorsey and Ralph Cole Hall, who wrote the book “Georgetown Houses of the Federal Period 1780-1830,” are skeptical of the story.
“This house has persistently been associated with the name of Decatur, although no authentic sources for the legend are known,” they wrote. “It is said to have been erected in 1779 and is known to have been the home of Judge Morsell at one time. According to legend, Mrs. Susan Wheeler Decatur came here to live after the death of the Commodore in his duel with Captain James Barron at Bladensburgh [sic] March 22, 1820.”
Davis, Dorsey and Hall were much more complimentary of the house’s architecture, writing that it is “well known for its fine doorway.”
In the past 90 years, the house has been sold only twice. In 1932, Franklin Mott Gunther and his wife, Louisa Bronson Hunnewell Gunther, became its owners. Franklin was the last American minister to Romania before diplomatic relations were severed in World War II. He died in Bucharest of an illness in 1941, 10 days after Romania, allied with Germany, declared war on the United States. His diplomatic postings included Nicaragua, Portugal, Brazil, Norway, Holland, Italy, Egypt and Ecuador.
Because the Gunthers were often abroad, they frequently rented the house to tenants. Stanley Woodward, assistant chief of protocol at the State Department, lived in the house in 1937. He was followed by John Wesley Hanes, who had left the Securities and Exchange Commission to become an undersecretary in the Treasury Department.
Rodman Wanamaker II, heir to the Wanamaker department store fortune, moved into the house in 1940, and Hanes. J. Averell Clark, a World War II fighter pilot, lived there in 1943.
The Countess de Martino rented the house in 1945. Born Asta Berwind von Kleist, the countess was the daughter of Baron and Baroness Frederick von Kleist. She had come to the United States in 1941, and she served as a volunteer ambulance driver with the American Field Service in World War II.
After her husband died, Louisa Gunther returned to live in the house. In 1963, she married Mihail Farcasanu, a Romanian exile and the former editor in chief of Viitorul, a Romanian periodical. Following her death in 1974, Farcasanu remained in the house until 1987.
The next owners were Frederick H. Prince IV and his wife, Diana C. Prince. Frederick, who died in 2017, was co-trustee of the Frederick Henry Prince 1932 Trust, chairman of CMD Corp. and co-managing partner of F.H. Prince & Co. He was a member of the Orange County Hunt and a founder of Prince’s Court in McLean, Va., which is said to be the first court tennis court to be built in the United States in 74 years.
The entrance to the house is reached by a small set of stairs leading up from the brick sidewalk. The entry door is framed by a fan light and sidelights. A library with a wood-burning fireplace is to the right of the center hall. The ceilings on the main level are 12½ feet tall.
The 21-by-34-foot living room spans the back of the house. Four sets of French doors open to a porch. There is a wood-burning fireplace at each end of the room. The 17-by-29-foot dining room has a wood-burning fireplace and two triple-sash windows.
The kitchen is on the lower level. A family room, a wine cellar and a bedroom with en suite bathroom are also on this floor.
The owner’s suite is on the second floor. The bedroom has doors that open to a balcony. The bedroom and the dressing room each have a fireplace. This floor also has two additional bedrooms and bathrooms. The top level has two bedrooms and two bathrooms. An elevator runs to three of the four floors, but not the top level.
A brick path in the gardens leads to a large, circular fountain. Off-street parking for two cars is a half a block away.
- Bedrooms/bathrooms: 6/7
- Approximate square-footage: 7,400
- Lot size: 0.16 acre
- Features: The Federal-style house is known as the Decatur house in Georgetown, not to be confused with the Decatur House on Lafayette Square. Some date the house to 1779, others to 1813. The house has been sold only twice in 90 years. It has a 21-by-34-foot living room that spans the back of the house and a 17-by-29-foot dining room. An elevator runs to three of the four house’s levels. Off-street parking for two cars is a half a block away.
- Listing agent: Jamie Peva, Washington Fine Properties
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