Diverse Women of Tudor Place

October 11th was declared the International Day of the Girl by the United Nations in 2011. The day serves a dual purpose: highlighting the challenges girls in today’s world face and simultaneously promoting girls’ empowerment. In 2018, the day focuses on expanding learning opportunities by encouraging girls to think outside the box as they develop their skillsets. Tudor Place is filled with the stories of incredible women and, in particular, the stories of women who had to be creative and innovative throughout their lives. In telling these stories, we hope to inspire girls to discover their own stories while exploring those of the women who lived and worked here at Tudor Place.

The first woman on our list is Britannia Kennon. Born in 1815 as the youngest daughter of Thomas and Martha Peter, she married at age 27 in 1842. She had one daughter, Martha called Markie, before her husband was killed in a shipboard accident in 1844. She never remarried, choosing instead to live as sole mistress of Tudor Place until she passed away on the eve of her 96th birthday in 1911. During her 56-year period of ownership, she took in four of her sister’s orphaned children, rented out rooms during the Civil War to avoid governmental seizure of the house, sold land at the northern end of the property to support the family, and assisted in raising her grandchildren following her daughter’s early death in 1886. We at Tudor Place are particularly fond of Britannia because she provided us with a treasure trove of knowledge about the objects in her care—including our extensive collection of objects from Mount Vernon. These handwritten notes detail the ownership and use of these objects and are invaluable resources for our curator and collections team. Because of this, we consider Britannia to be the house’s first ‘curator.’

Agnes Peter, Britannia’s only granddaughter, is another intriguing woman who lived at Tudor Place. In 1918, Agnes enrolled in a specialized summer course designed to prepare women for war work that included classes in wireless telegraphy, electrical repair, Red Cross work, the French language, and automobile repair. Following the course, Agnes prepared to go overseas with the Red Cross for war work. Though her trip was cancelled when the Armistice was signed in November of 1918, she did go to work in France with the YMCA and operated shelters for soldiers and children throughout France. In 1921 she received two medals from the French government for her humanitarian work there. Agnes did not marry until age 73; she married Dr. John Mott, an 88-year-old widower. He passed away in 1955 and she in 1957; she is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery near her parents, several of her siblings, and her beloved grandmother.

Caroline Peter, wife of Tudor Place’s last private owner Armistead Peter 3rd, was born in Paris in 1894 while her American parents were living abroad. Also a Red Cross volunteer during both world wars, Caroline served at the U.S. Debarkation Hospital and Georgetown University Hospital. At her Georgetown station she was a captain of the Red Cross Nurse’s Aides and completed over 4,000 hours of service. Having taken nursing courses at Johns Hopkins prior to World War I, she continued to volunteer in the medical field at the Mount Alto Veterans Hospital following World War II. Caroline was an active member of numerous local organizations, including the Literary Society, the Junior League, the Alliance-Française, The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America, and the Georgetown Garden Club.

But Tudor Place’s story is not just limited to the members of the Peter family. Numerous people, both enslaved and free, worked here on the property and we have the opportunity and responsibility to tell their stories too. The Peter family did own enslaved people and they represent a significant component of Tudor Place’s history. For example, the Peters owned a cook named Patty Allen prior to 1831. Though only fragments of information can be found about Patty, we do know that an enslaved woman named Patty was included in Thomas Peter’s Day Book listing of enslaved people received in 1796—Patty is noted to be 25 at this time. Patty was actually married to a free man who lived here in Georgetown and our records tell us she went home each evening, which was unusual as most enslaved people lived on their owners’ estates. Because of this, we see Patty as someone who was able to negotiate with the Peters and advocate for herself in a way that differed from the norm.

Another enslaved woman at Tudor Place, Stacia, did live at Tudor Place and worked in the household; her duties included caring for the Peter family’s children and occasionally acting as a nurse. Stacia was given major responsibilities by the family, including nursing a nephew through a bout of typhoid fever (which she did successfully) and caring for the house and grounds while Britannia, then-owner, was travelling. Stacia was roughly the same age as Britannia and they maintained a lifelong relationship, keeping in touch following emancipation in the District of Columbia in 1862. Stacia continued to live in Georgetown and her last recorded contact with Britannia was in 1892, only 19 years before Britannia’s death.

Like Stacia, Hannah Pope straddles the line between enslaved and free. Born in 1828 to Barbara, daughter of one of the Custis dower slaves, Hannah was raised at Tudor Place and her primary duties were as a lady’s maid to Britannia. Britannia noted that Hannah had mixed racial ancestry and, though her father is unknown, her descendants believe that he was a member of the Peter family. Hannah was sold to a nearby Georgetown family, the Carters, in 1845 to marry one of the Carters’ enslaved workers—a man named Alfred Pope. Both Hannah and Alfred were manumitted, or freed, in Colonel Carter’s will and proceeded to become prominent members of Georgetown’s African-American community. Alfred, with support from Hannah, became a successful business man and, at the time of his death, owned a significant amount of land in Georgetown.

Following emancipation, the Peter family turned to the immigrant population in addition to the newly-freed African-American population as a source of paid labor. Margaret “Maggie” Carraher, who had immigrated to the United States from Ireland in 1868 at the age of 19, lived and worked at Tudor Place between 1880 and 1888, then again from 1904 and 1911. Armistead Peter 3rd, Tudor Place’s last private owner, remembers watching her make bread when he was a young boy, which she did “expertly.” Following her retirement in 1911, Maggie received cash gifts from the Peter family for several years. She passed away in December of 1932 and is buried nearby in Holy Rood Cemetery.

Each of these women demonstrate the resourcefulness, determination, ingenuity, and dedication that the International Day of the Girl hopes to inspire in new generations of girls. From negotiating to live offsite, as Patty Allen did, to utilizing nursing skills during the world wars, as Caroline Peter did, every one of these women were able to achieve remarkable things with the circumstances they were in. We can learn important things from all of these stories; determination from Britannia, adventurousness from Agnes, dedication from Caroline, ingenuity from Patty, capability from Stacia, resourcefulness from Hannah, and tenacity from Maggie. Perhaps we can even see a little of ourselves in these women and, in turn, learn something about ourselves from the girls of the past.

South Lawn Cistern Project

Tudor Place, in pursuing sustainability and responsible stewardship of the historic house and grounds, is currently working to actively conserve water and regulate the stormwater flow on and from our site.

The stormwater management project, starting in February 2019 on the South Lawn, will reduce silt and water runoff, mitigate destructive erosion, and diminish our consumption of fresh water.

In collaboration with our architect, civil engineer, preservation consultant, and other experts, we designed a system that will meet our needs and our sustainable practice standards. Two underground cisterns will be fed by existing stormwater lines that gather rainwater from the Main House downspouts and gutters. These two cisterns can hold nearly 20,000 gallons of water, which we will use for irrigation after a short treatment process. Altogether, this project will involve excavating and placing the cisterns, installing the irrigation pump and water treatment system, and connecting the irrigation lines to the new water supply.

This project is a component of our Master Preservation Plan, developed in collaboration with stakeholders to reach the goal of enhancing Tudor Place’s interpretive capabilities while advancing the site’s overall sustainability. Other sustainability initiatives include implementing LED lighting throughout the property, and building an HVAC system based on geothermal energy.

Visit our Smokehouse

Modern “locavores” will appreciate the urban-agrarian mix of Peter family sourcing.

With 8½ (now 5½) acres of land that once supported hay crops and livestock, early generations of Peters fed their large household with a mix of home-grown provisions and foods secured from nearby merchants and outlying farms, including their own.

Because pork was not merely favored in the early 19th century but a staple, the Smokehouse stood at the center of a food chain supported by Oakland, the Peter family’s plantation in rural Seneca, Maryland, some 20 miles away. (Georgetown, until the late 1700s, was part of Maryland.)

Hogs raised at Oakland were delivered each fall to Tudor Place to be slowly cured over weeks by an enslaved servant.  As Martha Peter’s daughter Britannia recalled, “The hogs were cut up, salted and packed in barrels for six weeks, after which they were hung up with white oak splits in the meat house and smoked.”

The Smokehouse was integral in both processing the meat and, in the months that followed, storing it securely from animals, thieves, and vermin.

New research shows that the building likely stood here as early as 10 years before Martha and Thomas Peter purchased the property in 1805 from Francis Lowndes, formerly of Bladensburg, Maryland. This would make it one of the only surviving 18th-century outbuildings (or “dependencies”) in the District.

The researchers used dendrochronology, a method of dating wood by its inherent patterns of tree (or “growth”) rings. Samples of Smokehouse lumber were compared to databases of the region’s trees from various eras to arrive at a construction date of 1795. To corroborate the results, we know only that the property contained two dwellings and five other structures of unnamed type when Lowndes sold it to the Peters. We will continue to seek descriptions of what those buildings consisted of, to help us confirm the dendro results, so expect more news in the future about this exciting find.

Fire Protection Study

One of the most essential priorities of the Master Preservation Plan is updating fire detection, notification, and suppression systems to protect the main house and collections. While many systems are available on the market, Tudor Place’s unique requirements necessitated a comprehensive study to find the solution that meets fire protection demands while posing the least risk to the building and its contents in the event of a system activation.

Tudor Place engaged Heritage Protection Group, a leading fire protection engineering firm specializing in historic site protection, for a nine-month study, funded in part by a grant from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Completed in completed in September 2017, the report prescribes installing a high-pressure water mist sprinkler system in accordance with the U.S. Secretary of the Interior Preservation Standards. The system will allow for color matching of the sprinkler heads to blend in with their surroundings, and installation entailing minimal intrusion into the house’s walls and ceiling.

High pressure water mist systems are preferred over standard sprinkler systems for their ability to extinguish small fires effectively while discharging less water, minimzing damage to building fabric and collections.  The estimated cost to install the system and related fire protection measures in the main house is $650,000, for which Tudor Places is actively seeking grants and major gifts.

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.”

An Illuminated Christmas, 1914

New Holiday Installation Recalls the Mansion’s First Electrified Winter

In December 1914, the Peters of Tudor Place and their servants returned after a long absence to a newly renovated mansion, just in time for Christmas. For the museum’s 2017 holiday installation, Curator Grant Quertermous has recreated that moment when family traditions met the novelties of electric lights, state-of-the-art appliances, and other changes in an ancestral home.

All through December, Tudor Place visitors can take in artifacts, vignettes, and stories showing how the family observed the holiday that year. They can also see how the estate’s servants prepared for the season’s numerous meals and celebrations even as they adjusted to new and unfamiliar technology. The installation covers every room of National Historic Landmark, from the formal Drawing Room tree covered in period and historic ornaments, to teenaged Armistead’s bedroom with its “high-tech” radio, to the sparkling new kitchen where longtime Cook Annie O’Connor was mastering a new combination gas-and-coal stove from DuParquet on the fly. In some rooms, later furnishings have been removed and rarely displayed objects set out to recreate the home’s 1914-era appearance.

Such detailed interpretation took months of detailed research and planning within and beyond the Tudor Place collection and archive. To learn what types of food would have appeared on the family’s tables and in its larders, for example, Grant consulted grocery and dry goods receipts in the archive. Diaries and letters provided information about dining, gifts exchanged, and the season’s social events. Ledgers revealed names and roles of servants in the family’s employ, their pay, and the end-of-year gifts they received from the Peters.

Artistically and technically inclined, young Armistead Peter 3rd enabled a detailed recreation of his ham radio set-up through detailed drawings and photos he made of it. Relying on those and consultations with vintage radio specialists, the curator has precisely recreated “the boy’s” arrangement of radio equipment in the same location and on the same table where he used it over 100 years ago.

The full installation can be seen on all house tours and public programs in the historic house, including daily public tours, evening Candlelight Tours, a Saturday, December 2, family program of house explorations and holiday crafts, and Tudor Lights, the December 7 cocktail party featuring Christmas décor indoors and festive holiday lights in the garden, newly added this year. Most holiday programs sell out, so reserve soon for your chance to experience An Illuminated Christmas, 1914.

Holiday Programs

BBQ in the Smokehouse – Great Day Washington

Hearkening back two centuries on this estate, pork butt was on the menu and the Brews, Booze & Bites heritage food fest on our minds as we showed the 1794 Smoke House WUSA-9’s Andi Hauser (and told her about our unusual Elopement Package).

The Smoke House can be seen on any garden visit. There is no suggested donation for self-guided visits to the Garden; illustrated garden maps and smartphone audio tour information are available in the Visitor Center.



Visit the Garden

A “Revealing” Project in the Office

From a stuffed bird under a dome to manual typewriters to crystal and silver desk sets, the Office at Tudor Place is so densely stuffed with fascinating objects that it can be hard to know where to look first. The room appears almost exactly as it did in the 1920s, when Armistead Peter, Jr., the estate’s third owner, made it his headquarters for correspondence, estate business, and numerous hobbies and collections, reflected in its furnishings today.

Visitors on a second tour or given the chance, as at Tudor Nights or another event, to linger a while, may notice a more recent oddity, however. In the room’s southwest corner, the forest green plaster has been removed, revealing exposed brick wall beneath.

This seeming flaw is there on purpose. The open corner serves as a reveal, letting visitors see the wall’s basic structure, covered on the house exterior by stucco and, indoors, by plaster. It also enables preservation staff to monitor for deterioration of bricks or plaster.

Recently, that’s precisely what our Director of Buildings, Gardens and Grounds found — bricks at risk of disintegration from water damage, threatening the integrity of the entire wall. Tudor Place staff carefully removed furniture, collections objects, and books from the area, and commissioned Federal Masonry to make repairs. They replaced the weakened bricks with ‘new’ ones from our cache of old and original bricks conserved from prior projects. They also removed unstable mortar, and repointed the fresh bricks with historically-based lime mortar.

Last, the green plaster lines were neatened to maintain the reveal as an educational feature in the otherwise pristinely finished room. Now you will know to take a closer look at the corner when you next come through the Office.

Peter Waddell: Artistic Visions of Tudor Place

Tudor Place Artist-in-Residence Peter Waddell is a history and architectural painter who has created major works with the White House Historical Association, Mount Vernon, the U.S. Capitol and other sites. For Tudor Place, he has created images that depict the house, gardens, and history of the site. This post — and its slideshow — will be updated as Peter makes further changes to his painting of the original Tudor Place wings.

My work frequently starts with someone needing an image of a place in history, usually where no images exist. Sometimes I am asked to record an existing building or interior because of a need for a permanent and minutely detailed record that also reveals the deeper meaning of the subject. Others start with an interest in painting an interesting place at a specific time in the past.

Whether because of an impulse, or with detailed instruction, all the works begin with a visionary moment that defines what I want to say and how the image will be composed. I am usually drawing at the time, but also may be showering or swimming, as I find water is conducive to creative activity. I try to hold the vision until I can get it down on paper or canvas, as it can be fleeting. The initial vision is then informed, and often inspired, by subsequent research. This research is essential to my work.

Tudor Place is unique because so much detailed information is available about one house. The Peter family, who lived here for 178 years, were proud of their lineage and never threw anything away. Once it became a museum, a professional staff of curators and archivists have continued the family tradition, digging and discovering, preserving and recording, the Tudor Place story. Despite this, there is much to be discovered about the early history of Tudor Place. Images of the house in its earliest period do not exist except William Thornton’s original designs for the house. His “as-built” drawings are not known to exist, perhaps worn out and never copied in those pre-Kinko’s days.

My painting of the original entrance to the property was based on historic maps and other sources, but also on educated guesses. From these sources we know that visitors arrived at Tudor Place from Road Street (R Street today), at the northern end of the property. During the mid-nineteenth century, in accordance with Martha Peter’s will, northern sections of the Peter family’s estate were sold and the main entrance moved to the east side of the property along Congress Street (31st Street today). Information passed down through the family says that slave quarters were located beside the original drive near the entrance, a common arrangement on Southern plantations. The gate posts are conjectural but of a type common in the South at the beginning of the 19th Century. Opportunities for exploring for further evidence of these structures have passed since our neighbors probably would not appreciate major archaeological excavation beneath their properties.

With a house undergoing such close examination as Tudor Place, discoveries are being made constantly. I created a painting depicting the site when it was first purchased by Thomas and Martha Peter in 1805. It was based upon the site’s interpretation at that time. According to the Peter family the previous owners, the Lowndes family, had already constructed the wings of a grand house on the site but got no further. My painting shows the two wings, the east used as stables the west as a dwelling. It also expresses the openness of the site and the distant prospect from Georgetown Heights in those times

Recent scholarship and dendrochronological evidence (the examination of tree rings) indicate that the west hyphen, the section joining the wing to the central part of the house) was built around the same time as the wings, and the east hyphen at a later time. With the results of this examination and the assistance of Curator Grant Quertermous, I am adding the west hyphen to the painting and showing the East Hyphen under construction to take account of the new information. If more information turns up I will change it again, much like a book undergoing revision.

Much of what is important about Tudor Place is subtle. In my painting of the Entry Hall I have tried to convey not just the minute details of the architecture but also the feeling of the space and of the sense of time stood still, and time passed. The artist J.W.M. Turner’s last words were “God is light.” Light is the common subject of all my work. The beauty of the light in Tudor Place is a testimony to the quality of William Thornton’s designs. Being frequently in the house has allowed me the deep examination of the pattern of light and shadow in this space.

Because Tudor Place was lived in by the same family for many generations, the rooms convey layers of history. They tell us a great deal about the taste of the last owner Armistead Peter III (1896-1983). His final iteration of the house was a sort of mid-century modern interpretation of an English country house.

My paintings are constructed realities. I try to find out everything that is known about the subject I am painting. I dread the thought that there is some important detail I have not found. Washington is full of historians, professional and amateur. If I miss something I am sure to hear about it.

The evidence I love most are firsthand accounts from people who were there and saw it as it was. For nineteenth century Washington, Margaret Bayard Smith, wife of Samuel Harrison Smith, editor of the National Intelligencer, is an indispensable source. She seems to have known everyone from President Jefferson on down. She was everywhere and saw everything and recorded the details in her diary. Likewise, we are fortunate that the Peter family recorded the details of their lives, like the arrival of Lafayette at Tudor Place in his yellow carriage in 1824. Britannia W, Kennon Peter in 1895 recorded her remembrances of this event — remembrances I included in my allegorical screen about Tudor Place. [seen in slide show above]:

He drove to Tudor Place in a private carriage. I can see the grand old man now as he entered the door of the parlor, his general manner and dignified appearance making an impression on my mind which time cannot efface. Advancing to my mother, he tenderly embraced her, the meeting with whom no doubt bringing to his mind recollections of former days when he had known her as a child, roving over the lawns of Mt. Vernon, the guest of his everlasting friend George Washington.

—“A Page from the Life of Lafayette: His Visit to the Tudor Place in 1824 Related by the GreatGranddaughter of Mrs. Washington” The Washington Times, July 4, 1895.

Newspapers from the nineteenth century contained masses of detailed description. I had a good technical education and learned architectural drafting.  Often buildings are changed over time and I can restore them to the original plans when I need to.  From the Tudor Place collection, we can discern the evolution of the architect’s ideas for the house.

The puzzlement of what was here, what it looked like, and how it felt was a constant companion of my childhood, one which has stayed with me and become an integral part of my work as an artist. In my native home in New Zealand such recreations were easy, as European settlement didn’t take place until the middle of the nineteenth century and was much in evidence as were the primeval forests and sites of Maori settlement.

One of the unique things about Tudor Place is that much of it remains as it was from its earliest days. With the exception of the 1876 kitchen addition, the house is little changed architecturally from its completion in 1816. Although many of the contents are still there from Thomas and Martha Peter’s time, other furnishings and the garden are greatly changed. So Tudor Place offers distinct challenges to the history painter— challenges that intrigue me.