Restoration of the Gazebo and Arbors

As part of its Master Preservation Plan, Tudor Place recently completed restoration of the wooden gazebo and arbors to the west of the main house. The service yard and its significant structures have served a variety of uses since the late 1700s. And the Asian-inspired gazebo built in the 1960s has provided a serene garden retreat for residents, and now the public, ever since. The October 2017 restoration and archaeological investigations that preceded it not only preserve them for a third century but enrich interpretation and scholarship surrounding them.

For more than a century, the area was a domestic service yard, hosting a kitchen, well and smokehouse. The kitchen and well were replaced in 1876 by construction of the attached kitchen a few paces away. The smokehouse — one of the District’s oldest known dependencies, or outbuildings — remained in place but was turned to contemporary uses that illustrate the changing nature of urban life over time. As Georgetown’s rural surroundings retreated, the Peters likewise migrated away from farm activities like smoking their own meat, leaving the smokehouse available for new ends. In 1927, when Armistead Peter Jr. converted it into a coop to raise squab, or culinary pigeons, he had an adjoining arbor built as an outdoor pigeon fly. In 1953, the smokehouse and attached arbor became a kennel for the family’s beloved English Spring Spaniels.

The west garden’s arbors also met decorative and recreational purposes. Rose arbors have graced that side of the main house since the earliest known photographs of the house were taken, in the 1860s. In the mid-20th century, Armistead Peter 3rd extended the structure, adding a graceful archway connecting the arbor to the pigeon fly.  Around 1962, he designed the gazebo as a place to host luncheons and cocktail parties with his wife, Caroline.

The restoration replaced wooden elements of the gazebo damaged over the years by weather and the activity of carpenter bees and squirrels. The smokehouse arbor has been restored to its appearance during the pigeon fly era, with opportunities for new interpretive themes to share with visitors.

Before disturbing the soil for the restoration, Tudor Place engaged long-time partner Dovetail Cultural Resources for archaeological exploration of the area beneath. The findings yield a better understanding of the changing uses of this area over time, uncovering a range of artifacts including an 1898 Indian Head penny, clay marbles, fragments of a clay smoking pipe from about 1820, and a mid-19th century glass button. Part of a glass syringe was a reminder of the medical practice run from the west wing by Armistead Peter, Britannia Kennon’s son-in-law (and husband of Markie).

A generous financial commitment from a Tudor Place Board member underwrote the Smokehouse Arbor Restoration. Named gift opportunities remain available to support other aspects of the restoration work.

View vintage film footage of the pigeon fly:

Bee-Gone Bygone: Farewell to a Long-Serving Poplar

After nearly four years, the 20-foot stump of a tulip poplar that has stood sentinel at the southeast corner of Tudor Place’s South Lawn for nearly two centuries, was removed this week. Arborists in 2013 deemed the tree irredeemably weakened by age and structural damage from the June 2012 Derecho. But they also made a surprising discovery in the tree’s lower trunk.

Wild honeybees had been living in the tree, a Liriodendron tulipifera, for more than 10 years, it was estimated, pollinating flowering plants and trees of Tudor Place and its neighbors. After removal of hazardous overhanging limbs, therefore, the tree’s lower part remained as a bee-friendly “snag,” an ungainly-looking length of trunk reaching about 40 feet in the air.

Arborists had first examined the tree after the June 2012 derecho windstorm. The following year, they found a 20-foot “torsion” crack in the main trunk inflicted by the derecho. With a bus stop and busy intersection below, Tudor Place couldn’t risk dropping limbs or, worse, the XXX-foot tree’s collapse. In 2014, a 70-ton crane was brought in to accomplish the task. To maximize education potential, the museum posted signs explaining the odd snag’s purpose. Separately, plans were laid to cultivate (domesticated) honeybees elsewhere on site. In the winter of 2016-2017, however, for reasons unknown, the feral bee colony decamped. At that point, Tudor Place decided to finish removing the tree.

When the snag came down in January, its decayed interior proved to be, as expected, almost completely hollow. The tree will be replaced with a similar, albeit younger and smaller, specimen. With assistance from expert arborists, Tudor Place continues caring for the many old and younger trees on its five and one half acres, including the (still thriving!) South Lawn tulip poplar, more than 200 years old, known as D.C.’s “Millennium Tree.”