History of Tudor Place
Nacotchtank/Anacostin and Piscataway Heritage
Tudor Place respectfully acknowledges the Nacotchtank/Anacostan and Piscataway people on whose ancestral homelands Tudor Place sits. We also celebrate the vibrant Native communities who make their homes in the D.C. area today.
The Nacotchtank/Anacostin and Piscataway people inhabited land along the Potomac River when the English began exploring the area in the early 1600s. Infectious diseases introduced by Europeans and armed conflict that resulted from indigenous people defending their ancestral lands devastated these communities. These events combined with unscrupulous land deals that indigenous people were forced to accept provided the English with the means to claim ownership of land and grant it to colonists.
One of these grants included the original tract of land occupied by Tudor Place, which was part of the “Rock of Dumbarton” (originally, “Dunbarton”) tract in George Beall’s Second Addition to Georgetown, an area also known as Georgetown Heights. In 1794, Beall’s grandson, Thomas Beall, sold a portion of his land to Francis Lowndes, a merchant and importer from Bladensburg, Maryland. Lowndes owned the property for eleven years during which he constructed the two wings of the present historic house. Lowndes intended to complete the house but never did, instead selling the property to Martha and Thomas Peter. Martha Parke Custis was Martha Washington’s granddaughter who married Thomas Peter.
In 1805 when Martha and Thomas Peter purchased the property, the estate was 8 1/2 acres and encompassed the entire block bounded by Congress Street, Valley Street, Stoddert Street and Road Street. The couple paid $8,000 for the plot. “Tudor Place” — a name that first appears in the public record in 1811 — remains a mystery.
Tudor Place was designed to impress and entertain but also, in its classical design references, to pay homage to the nascent American Republic. Its structures began more humbly, however, and tax records show it contained eight buildings and service structures.
Moving from an elegant K Street townhouse, the Peters and their children settled into one of these structures, a two-story Flemish bond brick building that would later become the existing house’s west wing. Measuring 16 x 34 feet, it was two rooms deep; a second two-story brick structure of the same size stood to its east and functioned as a stable and carriage house.
While Tudor Place supported some subsistence uses, including limited grazing of livestock, a smokehouse, and a kitchen garden, substantial provisions for the household came from the Peters’ extensive farm-holdings in what is now Seneca, Maryland. These goods were transported to Georgetown primarily by enslaved African Americans, as until the Civil War or shortly before it, the Peters relied on slave labor to maintain their properties and households.
William Thornton: Architect of Tudor Place
Dr. William Thornton (May 20, 1759 – March 28, 1828) was a British-American physician, inventor, painter and architect and a friend to the Peter family. He designed the house as we know it today and in his plans, Thornton expressed Palladio’s forms in a distinctly Federal, American style, melding French-influenced romantic classicism with traditional English forms. The house’s five-part structure, with two-story central block and low hyphens connecting to higher, two-story wings, followed a form immensely popular in the Chesapeake region during the Federal period. The house’s most architecturally significant feature is the domed, marble-floored Temple Portico.
Moving Into The Future
Tudor Place remained in the Peter family through six generations under the stewardship of four owners. In accordance with the wishes of its last owner, Armistead Peter 3rd, the estate was deeded after his death in 1983 as a private foundation. As he wrote in his 1969 book Tudor Place, “the house was one of the factors that gave me my basic sense of beauty in this world, and somehow or other a conviction developed–a conviction that it was a personal responsibility, something that had been put into my hands that I had to do something about, something that had been waiting for many, many years to find its final fruition, something– that represented the dreams of many people.”
Tudor Place opened to the public as a historic house museum and garden on October 8, 1988.