This cheery yellow Colonial-style frame house is both a reminder of Georgetown’s working-class roots and an example of work by two of Washington’s more celebrated architects. Known as the Trunnell-Howes house, the structure started as two early 19th-century dwellings.
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The Howeses were White and lived on a block in Georgetown that had both White and Black residents before and after the Civil War, according to a history of the property written in 1985 by Michael J. Fine of Houstory.
During the Civil War, the Howeses rented a house to two formerly enslaved women — Mary Doynes in 1862 and Charity Butler in 1864. The Georgetown African American Historic Landmark Project and Tour, which lists the house on its website, reports that it is unclear whether the two women were freed by the D.C. Emancipation Act of 1862 or were already free.
The houses passed from the Trunnell-Howes family 72 years after Trunnell bought the land when a grocer named Ernst Dahle purchased them in 1905. Neither he nor druggist William J. O’Donnell, who acquired the houses in 1913, ever occupied them. They rented them to blue-collar workers such as tinsmiths, printers and chauffeurs.
George H. Grove, a doctor, took ownership of the houses in 1925 and hired architect Horace Peaslee to connect them and put on an addition. Peaslee, who designed buildings and landscapes, is perhaps best known for Meridian Hill Park in D.C. He also designed the Korean and Peruvian embassies, the renovation of the Cosmos Club and its gardens, and a restoration of Dumbarton House.
Grove did not remain long. He sold the newly combined house to Frances A. Sortwell in 1928. Sortwell continued the work Grove had began by hiring Rose Greely to design a second addition, at the eastern end of the lot, and redo the grounds.
Greely, who in 1925 became the first woman licensed to practice architecture in D.C., had worked for Peaslee starting in 1923. During her 40-year career, she designed more than 500 landscapes and was known for integrating houses with gardens. Her work on Sortwell’s house and gardens was featured in House Beautiful in 1932 and 1933.
Starting in 1929, the gardens became a regular stop on the Georgetown Garden Tour, appearing no fewer than 15 times.
Sortwell, who came from a wealthy New England family, owned the house for 30 years but rented it out much of that time. William B. Bankhead, speaker of the House of Representatives, rented it in 1937. Edmund R. Purves, executive director of the American Institute of Architects, rented it in the 1950s.
After Sortwell’s death, James A. and Elisabeth Ross, Sortwell’s niece, owned the house from 1958 to 1962 when the current owner bought it.
The four-bedroom, three-bathroom, 2,800-square-foot house is listed at just under $2.6 million.
Listing: 3410 Volta Pl. NW, Washington, D.C.
Listing agent: Kim Gibson, Washington Fine Properties.
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