Tourism: The Old Stone House

Photo courtesy of
‘Old Stone House NHS’
courtesy of ‘Ken Lund’

Nestled in along M Street, in the heart of Georgetown, you’ll stumble upon The Old Stone House, one of the oldest homes remaining in Washington, DC. Built in 1765, the house is maintained and operated by the National Park Service, and is part of the National Park System’s Rock Creek Park unit. Since it’s original construction, the house has traded hands many times and has been used as a shop for hats, tailors, locksmiths, clockmakers, house roofing, house painting, and even a used car dealership. Fortunately, the house was purchased by the Federal Government in 1953 for $90,000. At today’s market prices, the house and its garden are thought to be worth close to $6-7 million.

Constructed from local quarry stones and ballast stones from the English sailing vessels that journeyed up the Potomac, the house is a prime example of a typical 18th century dwelling that would have been inhabited by common Americans. Tours and lectures offered by Colonial period-dressed park rangers, highlight the lives of these early Americans and DCers.

Photo courtesy of
‘Old Stone House 1935′
courtesy of ‘NCinDC’

Upon entering the house, even if you’re of average height, you’ll immediately notice the low ceilings. It can feel a bit claustrophobic, but you’ll adjust/stoop quickly. The front room offers an excellent NPS shop filled with wonderful books, photos and collectibles featuring DC history. It’s definitely worth a perusal.

The next room is an 18th century style kitchen with a massive kitchen hearth that was used to heat the entire house. What I found of particular interest in this room was a height chart located just through the door frame.  The chart marks not only the heights of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, but also the average height of Colonial men and women and the average height of current U.S. men and women.  While I was fist pumping, the fact that Americans have grown about 2″ on average since the 18th century, I was surprised to learn that this height differential is not the reason why Colonial ceilings infringe upon our head room.  Low ceilings were, in fact, actually built for the very rational and economical reason of keeping houses warm during the winter. Duh,  heat rises, so lower ceilings mean a warmer room.

The second floor showcases a, minimally decorated, dining room, parlour and bedroom. You won’t find many accessories or admonishments in the Old Stone House. In fact, an inventory of house goods by the house’s first owner, woodwork Christopher Layman, listed only one table, beds, chests, one towel, no chairs, and two Pennsylvania Dutch Bibles.

Photo courtesy of
‘Old Stone House 1890′
courtesy of ‘NCinDC’

The third floor, which is believed to have housed the children’s bedrooms and storage, is partially unfinished and built from brick. The bedrooms are decorated as they would have been in the 18th century, which like the rest of house is  simple and basic and continues to showcase what the daily lives of these ordinary people was like.

Once you’ve toured the house, which is opened Wednesday through Sunday from 12-5pm, take a stroll through the quaint and tranquil English garden. It’s amazing that such a peaceful, green space could be located 10 feet from the busy, shopping streets of Georgetown.  In the garden you’ll find wooden benches, a grassy lawn and the typical shrubberies and perennials found in an English garden. It’s a fantastic place to enjoy some coffee or lunch. The garden is open during daylight hours 7 days a week and is accessible through the gate on M Street.

Should you want a more in-depth tour, on Saturdays at 10:30am, the NPS offers guided tours of the house that highlight colonial life as lived by the various inhabitants of the Old Stone House and feature craft demonstrations.

Rebecca Johnson

A born and bred New Yorker, Rebecca made the big trip “down south” to DC in 2006 and hasn’t looked back. She spends her days strategizing/planning/ideating how interactive products can help her clients and change the world. In her free time, she explores DC’s ever expanding bar, restaurant and small business scene, plays a crap ton of soccer, attends concerts that contribute to her sleep deprivation and embarks on local adventures. Read why Rebecca loves DC or follow her on twitter.

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