Friday, September 12, 2014

Dumbarton House. DC

Saturday was another extremely sticky day and this time I was going to DC and wondering whether I'd regret the drive. Just 4 of us were meeting to look around Dumbarton House. Our trip to the mushroom festival in PA had been canceled due to bad weather and I was a little miffed about that. I would have liked to check it out but didn't fancy the long drive on my own.
So DC it was and I was pleased to find the house easily and even a parking space very close by.
I liked this whimsical entrance that I passed,  that was tucked back from the street, and wondered what kind of folks lived there.
Dumbarton House isn't a very big establishment and we discovered it's not very well known either. We were the only ones there apart from 2 other ladies so we had a private tour. Built around 1800, it's one of the better examples of Federal period architecture with historical emphasis placed on the period when Joseph Nourse, first Register of the U.S. Treasury, lived here from 1804 to 1813.
All of the interior doors seemed to be made of pine and then painted to look like wood stain. The floor in the entrance hall was a piece of canvas painted to resemble marble floors and then coated with numerous coats of shellac. I know the door painting used to be favored by those families who couldn't afford hardwood doors but when I suggested this to our docent she was quite adamant that this family had been prosperous enough in those times.
There weren't too many pieces of furniture, art or ornaments. A few pieces were original to the house, like the Egyptian style lamp in the entrance hall. The Charles 3rd chair was popular in that time since many people were afflicted with respiratory diseases. This chair allowed its user to sleep in an upright position.
The dining room restoration has not long been finished and I asked why there were square panels visible under the green paint but couldn't get an answer to that. Mealtimes used to start as early as 3pm to ensure there was daylight during all the courses. A new tablecloth would be laid for each course with the dessert course often having to be eaten off the bare wooden table since the tablecloths would likely all be used up. So our docent told us that this table had in fact been laid incorrectly.
The fireplace mantle came from John Marshall's home on Capitol Hill and features the USS Consitution ship.
A chintzy room. The original fabric is the two pieces on the bed and the rest of the room was decorated using a similar fabric.
There was a room upstairs dedicated to artwork created by the women in the family, landscape paintings, greetings cards, door stops and letter holders. Made from wood and card, these items were sold in their gift shop to help support the family estate.
2014 commemorates the 20th anniversary of the city burning during the 1812 war. When Charles Carroll, co-founder of Rochester NY, lived here, he rushed to the aid of Dolley Madison and brought her back to the house to escape the British fires.
There weren't many rooms in the house so the tour wasn't very long. We braced ourselves to go back out into the humid heat and walked under the shady trees to the small formal garden.
I noticed these fruits hanging from a tree and plucked one to break open and investigate. They were soft and sweet, the color of mango inside and tasting a bit like lychees but a little sweeter. Trevor and I stood and munched contentedly for a while as the others looked at us skeptically. Trevor went back to the house to ask if anyone knew what the trees were but they didn't even have any idea that there was fruit growing in the garden! I later found out that they are Chinese Dogwoods, they were delicious. After we were done with snacking we decided to go our separate ways, none of us having any energy or enthusiasm for further amblings around the city. It had been a long haul for such a short excursion but for me, worth it to learn about the Chinese Dogwoods, more than the house. So I returned back to VA, stopping to visit a friend but otherwise spending the rest of the weekend lazily.

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