Tucked away in plain view, the Heurich House is the most intact late-Victorian home in the country. Right in the middle of the action in Dupont Circle – on a corner you have probably walked by at least a dozen times – you are absolutely transported back in time – easily envisioning the family who lived there enjoying a meal in the German beer tavern-styled breakfast room and needle pointing doll clothes and tapestries in the ladies’ retreat room. The furniture, furnishings, wall and ceiling canvas paintings, and even the gas and electric lighting are all original to the house.
The Heurich House museum was home to Christian Heurich, who was regarded as the patriarch of the American brewing industry. After moving to America from Germany in 1872 at the age of 30, he purchased an old, declining brewery and within 10 years, became the largest and most successful brewer in the nation’s capital.
Nicknamed the “Brewmaster’s Castle,” the Heurich House sounds more like a Brickskellar’s with a spiral tower, but the initial disappointment you’ll have to get over first is: they don’t serve any beer. A more fitting nickname for the mansion might be “Fireproof Fortress.”
The Heurich House was built in 1892 and almost the entire house still has its formal furniture and interior decorations. During an hour long tour with one of the extremely knowledgeable docents, you’ll learn about the 18th century technological innovations that Heurich integrated into his home, and how a wealthy businessman with an irrational fear of fire altered parts of his home to keep it fireproof – while maintaining traditional fireplaces as the focal point of each room.
The home has 31 rooms, each for a very specific purpose, and 15 never-used fireplaces each with individually hand-crafted mantles. The incredible detail and craftsmanship that went into each of the 15 fireplaces – and the entire house for that matter – is superfluous, opulent, and lavish. The walls are painted with trompe l’oeil details, some to make the 13 foot ceilings appear higher and others to create the illusion of curtains.
The home was ahead of its time in technology. It has an original house alarm to protect from intruders, communication “tubes” from the kitchen to each of the floors for servant orders, a central vacuuming system, and other top-of-the-line technological innovations of the time, which are still relevant today. Some of the technology helps to give insight into the secret world of the home’s dozen servants.
The home is ornate, but immediately upon entering, you want to move in. The 13 foot ceilings draw you in, the heavily decorated wood detail makes you want to stay for dinner, and the master bedroom makes you want to spend a weekend away from the busy streets down below.
Now, all we need is a special beer tasting room and I’d be a regular. And if it turns out that 13 of us show up for dinner, little “Michael” here will have to join us at the table.
You can stop by for a scheduled tour on Thursdays, Fridays or Saturdays at 11:30 a.m., 1:00 p.m., and on Saturday only at 2:30 p.m. The tour is an hour long and covers the house from floor to ceiling with plenty of time for questioning the docent (each of whom seems to have their own wild stories about the mansion – so it can’t hurt to go back a second time!). A reasonable $5 donation is requested.