Historic Sites and Buildings
Woodrow Wilson retired to this house at the end of his Presidency and lived in it until his death 3 years later. Late in 1920, as his second term neared an end, Edith Bolling Wilson began searching for a permanent residence in Washington. One day she happened to visit the house at 2340 S Street NW., which was for sale though it had been built only 5 years earlier. Delighted with it, she informed her husband that it would make an ideal retirement home. Not long thereafter, on December 14, he surprised her by presenting her with the deed, though he did not personally see the structure until the next day.
Before moving in, the Wilsons installed an elevator and a billiard room, rearranged some partitions, built stacks for Wilson's 8,000-volume library, constructed a one-story brick garage, and placed iron gates at the driveway entrance. The roof of the garage, just off the second-floor dining room, was converted into a terrace so that Wilson could walk outside without the need to utilize steps. He and his wife occupied the house on inauguration day, March 4, 1921, following President Harding's swearing-in ceremony at the Capitol. On that occasion, as well as on many later ones, particularly Armistice Days and Wilson's birthdays, throngs of people gathered outside the home to greet the ex-President.
Wilson, partly paralyzed from a stroke he had suffered in 1919, spent his few remaining years in partial seclusion under the continuous care of his wife and servants. Except for a daily automobile ride and a weekly visit to the movies, he rarely left home or received guests, who did include Lloyd George of Britain and Georges Clemenceau of France. In the evenings, Mrs. Wilson played cards with or read aloud to him until he fell asleep. On two occasions, he attended state functions: the 1921 Armistice Day ceremony preceding the burial of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, and President Harding's funeral in 1923. In the latter year, on the eve of Armistice Day, he broadcast a radio message to the public from his library. The following day, he spoke to a crowd that had gathered outside, his last public appearance. On February 3, 1924, he died in his upstairs bedroom and was laid to rest in Washington's National Cathedral.
Mrs. Wilson continued to live in the residence until her death in 1961. Prior to that time, she had donated it and many of the furnishings to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which in 1963 opened it to the public.
The residence is a three-story, red-brick structure of neo-Georgian design. The front door opens to a marble-floored hallway, flanked by a small room on each side. From the hallway, steps lead to a main hall, behind which are the kitchen servants' dining room, and billiard room. On the second floor, a front drawing room faces S Street, and a library, dining room, and solarium overlook a rear garden, which is surrounded by a brick wall. The third floor contains five bedrooms.
Among the furnishings Mrs. Wilson bequeathed to the National Trust are portraits, books, autographed photographs of prominent persons, a Gobelin tapestry, commemorative china, and furniture that had been in her family for many years. In the library, which is filled with volumes related to or dating from the Wilson era, is the leather chair he used at Cabinet meetings. The Bible on which he took the oath of office as Governor of New Jersey and twice as President is featured in the drawing room.
Last Updated: 22-Jan-2004