Historic Sites and Buildings
James Monroe began building this palatial mansion at the height of his career, during his first term as President (1817-21), drafted the Monroe Doctrine in it, and retired there at the end of his public service.
In 1808 Monroe inherited the property on which the mansion stands from an uncle, but lack of funds prevented him from beginning construction of a home for at least a decade. Thomas Jefferson designed the mansion, and James Hoban, architect of the White House and Capitol, provided architectural assistance. Constructed of brick kilned nearby, the structure was completed in 1823. Monroe furnished it with pieces from his Ash Lawn estate, near Charlottesville, Va., which he later sold.
Spending much time at Oak Hill, Monroe made horseback trips to and from the Capital. On the grounds, among numerous locust and poplar trees, he planted an oak for each State in the Union, and thereby gave the estate its name. In 1825 he left the White House and retired at Oak Hill, where he entertained such notables as John Quincy Adams and the Marquis de Lafayette. Financial difficulties eventually forced him to dispose of all his property, including Oak Hill. In 1830, the year his wife died, he moved to New York City to live with his daughter. On July 4, 1831, he died there.
The mansion originally consisted of a two-story central portion with small, one-room wings. In 1923 the owner enlarged the wings to two full stories. The south portico, two stories high and supported by seven Doric pillars, is the most striking feature of the residence. The basement contains the kitchen, servants' dining room, and various storage and service rooms. On the first floor are an entrance hall, two drawing rooms, dining room, sitting room, library, master's room, guestroom, and pantry. Bedrooms, servants' quarters, and four sun decks occupy the second floor. The attic is used for storage. A number of outbuildings remain, including a smokehouse, springhouse, law office, and "Monroe's Cottage." The latter is a small frame structure that served as his residence before he built the present mansion. Privately owned Oak Hill is not open to the public.
Last Updated: 22-Jan-2004