District of Columbia: Other Historic Sites Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

A list of important historic sites in District of Columbia.

Abbe House

Location: Washington, D.C.

Relevant issues: Science and technology

Statement of significance: A handsome example of early nineteenth century Federal residential architecture, from 1877 to 1909 this was the home of Cleveland Abbe (1838-1916), a prominent meteorologist known as the father of the U.S. Weather Service. The house is also associated with James Monroe and Charles Francis Adams.

American Federation of Labor Building

Location: Washington, D.C.

Relevant issues: Political history, social reform

Statement of significance: On July 4, 1916, at a site where a fine old mansion with a slave pen in the rear had once stood, the American Federation of Labor dedicated its new international headquarters (1916-1956). President Woodrow Wilson delivered the chief address. The imposing seven-story brick and limestone building served to symbolize the federation’s growth from, in the words of its founder, Samuel Gompers, “a weakling into the strongest, best organized labor movement of all the world.”

American Peace Society

Location: Washington, D.C.

Relevant issues: Political history, social reform

Statement of significance: From 1911 to 1948, this large Victorian town house served as the headquarters of the oldest organization in America dedicated solely to promoting international peace. The society was founded in 1828 by William Ladd (1778-1841), who sought to foster popular sentiment against war and attempted to persuade legislatures and individual leaders to organize an international court of arbitration as a logical alternative to war.

Ashburton House

Location: Washington, D.C.

Relevant issues: Political history

Statement of significance: For ten months in 1842, this was the scene of negotiations which resolved “one of the gravest and most inveterate diplomatic issues of the United States in the generation following the War of 1812”: the long-standing dispute with Great Britain over major segments of the boundary with Canada. In addition, the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842 saw the United States government protect and respect the rights of the states in international affairs and stand firm against British impressment of sailors aboard American ships.

Baker House

Location: Washington, D.C.

Relevant issues: Political history

Statement of significance: From 1916 to 1920, this was the residence of Newton Diehl Baker (1871-1937), one of the most notable secretaries of war. Baker presided over the nation’s World War I mobilization. He continued to be a proponent of President Woodrow Wilson’s concept of world involvement during the 1920’s.

Blair House

Location: Washington, D.C.

Relevant issues: Political history

Statement of significance: Since 1942 the federal government’s official guest residence, this house is significant for the great number of dignitaries who have resided or been received there. Previous residents have included Francis P. Blair, Sr., a member of Andrew Jackson’s “Kitchen Cabinet,” and George Bancroft.

Bruce House

Location: Washington, D.C.

Relevant issues: African American history, political history

Statement of significance: This was the residence of Blanche Kelso Bruce (1841-1898), the first black man to serve a full term in the U.S. Senate (1875-1881, representing Mississippi). Prior to serving in the Senate, Bruce had held various local elective and appointed offices; afterward, he remained in Washington and continued to serve both the district and the nation.

Cary House

Location: Washington, D.C.

Relevant issues: African American history, legal history, political history, women’s history

Statement of significance: From 1881 to 1885, this was the residence of Mary Ann Shadd Cary (1823-1893), writer, journalist, educator, and abolitionist. Cary lectured widely in the cause of abolition and after the Civil War became one of the first black female lawyers.

Constitution Hall

Location: Washington, D.C.

Relevant issues: Art and architecture, cultural history

Statement of significance: Designed by John Russell Pope and begun in August, 1928, this great hall was built to accommodate the annual congresses of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, which are held during the week of April 19 (the anniversary of the Battle of Lexington and Concord). It has become a nationally known center for the performing arts.

Corcoran Gallery and School of Art

Location: Washington, D.C.

Relevant issues: Art and architecture, cultural history

Statement of significance: Chartered by Congress in 1870, this is one of the oldest museums in America. It was founded by merchant, businessman, and philanthropist William Wilson Corcoran (1798-1888), who contributed both his art collection and the building to house it; when the collection outgrew its first home, Corcoran gave funds for a new building and a school of design in connection with the museum. This new structure (1893), designed by Ernest Flagg in the the Beaux-Arts style, is identified as an early and integral part of the City Beautiful plan.

Coues House

Location: Washington, D.C.

Relevant issues: Science and technology

Statement of significance: From 1887 until his death, this was the residence of Elliot Coues (1842-1899), a leading nineteenth century ornithologist whose studies greatly expanded the knowledge of North American bird life. In 1883, Coues helped found the American Ornithologists Union. In addition, Coues edited approximately fifteen volumes of journals, memoirs, and diaries by famous Western explorers and fur traders.

Decatur House

Location: Washington, D.C.

Relevant issues: Art and architecture

Statement of significance: This house was designed by one of America’s first professional architects for Commodore Stephen Decatur, suppressor of the Barbary pirates. Later residents included Henry Clay, Martin Van Buren, and Judah P. Benjamin.

Frances Perkins House

Location: Washington, D.C.

Relevant issues: Political history, women’s history

Statement of significance: From 1937 to 1940, this was the residence of Frances Perkins (1882-1965), who was the nation’s first female cabinet member. She served as secretary of labor (1932-1945) during the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. During her long tenure, particularly in the prewar New Deal years, Perkins was the prime mover on several pieces of legislation that are among the Democratic Party’s most lasting achievements: the Social Security Act (Perkins chaired the committee which drafted the legislation) and the Fair Labor Standards Act, which created a minimum wage and restricted child labor nationwide.

Franklin School

Location: Washington, D.C.

Relevant issues: Education

Statement of significance: The Franklin School was the flagship building of a group of seven, modern urban public school buildings constructed between 1862 and 1875 to house, for the first time, a comprehensive system of free universal public education in the capital of the republic. It was hoped that this new public school system would serve as a model for the nation as the need to provide equal educational opportunities for all Americans was finally recognized as essential to the survival of a democratic society.

Gompers House

Location: Washington, D.C.

Relevant issues: Political history, social reform

Statement of significance: From 1902 to 1917, this narrow, three-story brick rowhouse was the home of Samuel Gompers (1850-1924), who from 1886 until his death served as president of the American Federation of Labor, an organization he had helped found. As president, Gompers directed all of his energies toward a realization of three goals for American workers: more wages, shorter hours, better working conditions.

Grimké House

Location: Washington, D.C.

Relevant issues: African American history, education, social reform, women’s history

Statement of significance: From 1881 to 1886, this was the residence of Charlotte Forten Grimké (1838-1914), pioneer black female educator, early supporter of women’s rights, writer, and active abolitionist. She was with the first group of Northern educators to enter the war-torn areas of the South, providing instruction to those slaves residing in Union-occupied territory. The journal she kept while at Port Royal, South Carolina, provides a vivid picture of her students’ progress and growth; her activities encouraged other Northern African Americans to lend their skills in support of the newly freed black population throughout the South.

Howard House

Location: Washington, D.C.

Relevant issues: African American history, education, military history, social reform

Statement of significance: Completed in 1867, this was the private residence of Oliver Otis Howard (1830-1909), Union general, commissioner of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, and the third president (1869-1874) of Howard University. Founded in 1866 by the church of which General Howard was a member, the university was dedicated to providing black men and women with an education that would prepare them for careers in the fields of law, medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, engineering, social work, teaching, the ministry, and the armed services.

Hughes House

Location: Washington, D.C.

Relevant issues: Legal history, political history

Statement of significance: From 1930 until his death, this was the residence of Charles Evans Hughes (1862-1948), a leader in the Progressive movement, the holder of important offices under several presidents, justice and chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and Republican candidate for president in 1916.

Johnson House

Location: Washington, D.C.

Relevant issues: Political history

Statement of significance: From 1929 to 1945, this was the residence of Senator Hiram W. Johnson (1866-1945), a leading voice of the Progressive movement. Johnson called for the formation of the Progressive Party in 1912.

Lafayette Square Historic District

Location: Washington, D.C.

Relevant issues: Cultural history

Statement of significance: Lafayette Park, designated as the President’s Park when Washington, D.C., became the capital in 1791, was renamed in 1824 to honor the visit of Marquis de Lafayette. Houses fronting the park have been residences of Washington’s elite society.

Library of Congress

Location: Washington, D.C.

Web site: lcweb.loc.gov/homepage/about.html

Relevant issues: Education, literary history

Statement of significance: Established in 1800, the Library of Congress ranks as one of the largest and finest in the world. Although founded primarily to serve the Congress, its field of service gradually expanded to serve all government agencies, serious scholars, other libraries, and the general public. The library was originally located in the Capitol, but by 1881 it was apparent that a separate building was needed to house its expanding collections and activities. The Jefferson Building was constructed between 1888 and 1897.

Mellon Building

Location: Washington, D.C.

Relevant issues: Business and industry, political history

Statement of significance: From 1922 to 1937, this was the residence of Andrew Mellon (1855-1937), the millionaire industrialist who was secretary of the Treasury from 1921 to 1932, the longest tenure since Albert Gallatin. He authored the Mellon Plan, which stimulated the economic boom of the 1920’s. It is now the headquarters of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Memorial Continental Hall

Location: Washington, D.C.

Relevant issues: Political history

Statement of significance: From November 12, 1921, to February 6, 1922, this was the site of the Washington Conference, a remarkable and significant attempt to reduce global tension. Delegates from nine nations, including Great Britain, France, Italy, the United States, and Japan, engaged in negotiation which resulted in three treaties. Though the results of this effort were fully discredited by the 1930’s and 1940’s, for a decade these pacts did stabilize the armaments race and establish an embryonic security system in the Pacific.

National War College

Location: Washington, D.C.

Relevant issues: Military history

Statement of significance: An adjunct to the General Staff established in 1903, the Army War College (at this site from 1907) was an expression of the “New Army” created by Elihu Root (1845-1937) and President Theodore Roosevelt at the turn of the twentieth century. Patterned after European prototypes, especially the Prussian system, the college offered a military graduate education in all phases of war-making: strategy, tactics, logistics, as well as training in the political economic, and social ramifications of the conduct of war. Since 1946, the college has been used as an interservice facility.

Octagon House

Location: 1799 New York Avenue NW, Washington, D.C.

Relevant issues: Political history

Statement of significance: Constructed in 1799-1800, this octagonal Federal-style town house, built by the architect who designed the U.S. Capitol, was occupied temporarily in 1814-1815 by President James Madison after the burning of the White House. The Treaty of Ghent, ending the War of 1812, was signed here.

Old Naval Observatory

Location: Washington, D.C.

Relevant issues: Naval history, science and technology

Statement of significance: Between 1844 and 1861, under the leadership of Matthew Fontaine Maury (1806-1873), the Naval Observatory became widely known as a world center for advances in oceanography and navigational information. Maury, considered the founder of modern oceanography, made his greatest contributions to science during these years.

Old Patent Office

Location: Washington, D.C.

Relevant issues: Art and architecture

Statement of significance: Constructed in four sections over a thirty-one-year period beginning in 1836, this is one of the largest Greek Revival buildings built by the U.S. government in the nineteenth century. Born of confused architectural parentage, this building nevertheless achieved a unity of design and boldly simple monumentality unsurpassed in American civil architecture. It now houses the National Portrait Gallery and National Museum of American Art.

Red Cross Headquarters

Location: Washington, D.C.

Web site: www.redcross.org/hec/1980-present/visi tors.html

Relevant issues: Social reform

Statement of significance: Constructed between 1915 and 1917, this building houses the administration of the nation’s official relief organization. The Red Cross was accepted in the United States about 1884, due largely to the efforts of Clara Barton (1821-1912).

Richards House

Location: Washington, D.C.

Relevant issues: Education

Statement of significance: From 1882 until his death, this was the home of Zalmon Richards (1811-1899), the founder and first president of the National Educational Association. Richards promoted the passage in 1867 of the bill establishing the Federal Office of Education.

St. Elizabeths Hospital

Location: Washington, D.C.

Relevant issues: Health and medicine, social reform

Statement of significance: Founded in 1852, St. Elizabeths Hospital was the federal government’s first mental hospital designed to care for the nation’s mentally ill military personnel. The first medical superintendent was Charles H. Nichols (1820-1889), who collaborated with the social reformer Dorothea Dix (1802-1887) to establish a model institution in the capital city.

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church

Location: Washington, D.C.

Relevant issues: African American history, religion

Statement of significance: On Thanksgiving Day, 1879, the first services were held in this church, founded and led by the Reverend Dr. Alexander Crummell (1819-1898), founder of the American Negro Academy and one of the most talented and articulate black scholars of the nineteenth century. This edifice was a physical creation and embodiment of Crummell’s belief in the role the church has played, historically, in the lives of African Americans as an advocate for social change, education, and self-help.

Supreme Court Building

Location: Washington, D.C.

Relevant issues: Legal history

Statement of significance: Although the Constitution provided, in Article III, for the creation of a national judiciary, it took 145 years for the Court to find a permanent residence devoted to its needs. The construction of a building exclusively for the use of the Supreme Court in 1935 was a reaffirmation of the nation’s faith in the doctrine of judicial independence and separation of powers.

Terrell House

Location: Washington, D.C.

Relevant issues: African American history, education, social reform, women’s history

Statement of significance: This was the residence of Mary Church Terrell (1863-1954), educator and civil rights leader. Terrell was the first president of the National Association of Colored Women (1896) and the first black woman to serve on an American school board (1895).

Tudor Place

Location: Washington, D.C.

Relevant issues: Art and architecture, cultural history

Statement of significance: Designed by Dr. William Thornton, architect of the Capitol, and completed about 1815, the house is a highly rational and sophisticated example of early nineteenth century domestic architecture. For many years, it was one of the centers of Georgetown society; guests at this fine early Federal house have included Robert E. Lee and the Marquis de Lafayette.

Volta Bureau

Location: Washington, D.C.

Relevant issues: Education, health and medicine

Statement of significance: In 1887, Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922) founded the Volta Bureau as an instrument “for the increase and diffusion of knowledge relating to the Deaf.” The bureau merged with the American Association for the Promotion and Teaching of Speech to the Deaf in 1908. The Volta Bureau continues its work in aiding the deaf.

Wilson House

Location: Washington, D.C.

Web site: sunsite.unc.edu/lia/president/pressites/wilson/WilsonH-brochure.html

Relevant issues: Political history

Statement of significance: Thomas Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924), the twenty-eighth president of the United States, spent his last years (1921-1924) here as a semi-invalid, weakened by a stroke and his fight for the League of Nations. The house contains memorabilia associated with the lives of the Wilsons.

Woodson House

Location: Washington, D.C.

Relevant issues: African American history, education

Statement of significance: From 1915 until his death, this was the home of Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson (1875-1950), the founder of black history studies in the United States. In an effort to correct the widespread ignorance and lack of information concerning black life and history in the country, Woodson established the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (1915), the Associated Publishers (1920), The Journal of Negro History (1916), and The Negro History Bulletin (1937).

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