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Decatur House
NPS Photo

Completed in 1819, Decatur House is significant as the first private residence constructed on Lafayette Square and the last of Benjamin Henry Latrobe's city houses in America to be preserved. Latrobe is also known for his architectural work on the Capitol, the White House and Saint John's Church. Like other Latrobe residential designs, Decatur House emphasizes the vestibule, making it the architectural center of the interior. The vestibule's reconciliation of three geometric forms (rectangle, circle, and semicircle) is another of Latrobe's architectural contributions, one first seen in his designs for the Capitol.

The house was designed for Commodore Stephen Decatur who was at the height of his naval career when the house was constructed, and he and his wife, Susan Wheeler Decatur, wished to establish themselves in Washington society. The Decaturs lived on Lafayette Square only 14 months--Commodore Decatur was slain in a gentlemen's duel with Commodore James Barron on March 20, 1820.

The house's second great era was ushered in with its purchase in 1871 and occupancy by General and Mrs. Edward Fitzgerald Beale. Modifications made during the Beale years resulted in a rich Victorization of Latrobe's classical design. Upon Mrs. Beale's death in 1902, Decatur House became the property of their son Truxton and his wife, Marie Beale. Restoration in 1944 and again during the 1960s attempted to return the Decatur house to its original architectural appearance. Overtly threatened with destruction three times in the past, Decatur has served as an anchor in saving remaining historic buildings lining Lafayette Square. In 1956, Mrs. Marie Beale bequeathed Decatur House to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which operates the property as a house museum.

Decatur House is located at 748 Jackson Pl., NW. Beginning January 1, 2011 Scheduled tours of the Decatur House are discontinued in order to allow needed preservation and conservation efforts to proceed on the building. The gift shop will remain open to visitors and the operation of education programs and special event site rentals will not be affected. Metro stop: Farragut West and Farragut North.

The Decatur House is the subject of an online-lesson plan produced by Teaching with Historic Places, a National Register program that offers classroom-ready lesson plans on properties listed in the National Register. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places home page.


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