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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.

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:

Garden Lighting Enhancement

Completed in February 2017, Phase One of the Master Preservation Plan’s lighting plan called for restoring historic lighting features across the grounds while installing discreet contemporary lighting for enhanced security and esthetics. Improved illumination at the main entrance, along the walkway to the Visitor Center, and on the path to the Dower House look beautiful in daylight and promote visitor safety at evening events.

Enhancing Water Management

With environmental stewardship a key aim of the Tudor Place Master Preservation Plan, sound water management becomes an essential goal. The museum will take a key step in that direction this summer with the expected installation of a cistern to conserve and control stormwater run-off. The project expands on past efforts to improve drainage around the historic house, with benefits extending as far as the Potomac watershed.

A decade ago, a new perimeter drainage system at the main house connected existing downspouts to drains installed in window areas. While this system successfully carried water away from the house, the resulting discharge on the South Lawn led to erosion and runoff. In 2016, an erosion-control intervention on the lawn’s southwest corner (using jute mesh, jute logs and silt fencing) temporarily mitigated the problem, but it’s a stopgap. The long-term solution is to install an underground cistern to capture the rainwater, treat it, and retain it for irrigation. On the rare occasions when runoff exceeds the cistern’s 21,000-gallon capacity, it will discharge through pipes directly into the city’s storm sewer system on 31st Street.

The full system will reduce erosion and runoff while also cutting our consumption of fresh water.  We expect the work to happen in late summer 2017.

Sustainability at Tudor Place

Recycle symbolIn addition to preserving a National Historic Landmark, Tudor Place strives to be a good neighbor and thoughtful member of the local and global communities. We are proud to advance a Master Preservation Plan that includes sustainability measures such as effective storm water management, the use of geothermal energy, installation of LED lighting, and other energy conservation activities.