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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.

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.

Tudor Place Friends and Collaborators Celebrate National Preservation Award

Current and past staff members, consultants, conservators, and other supporters gathered June 18 to celebrate the bestowal on Tudor Place of the coveted Ross Merrill Award for Outstanding Commitment to the Preservation and Care of Collections. Cool wine and beverages offered relief from the heat for the 64 guests gathered for the awards ceremony, catered reception, and socializing in the Dower House administration building.  In recognition of a conservation focus that permeates all aspects of the house, collection, and grounds, select museum areas were open for viewing, with the spotlight on collection pieces that have received special conservation care.

“Tudor Place excels in telling its story,” enthused Eryl Wentworth, executive director of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC) as she presented the award jointly with her counterpart from Heritage Preservation. The Merrill Award confirms Tudor Place’s reputation for a level of collections stewardship more often found in far larger institutions. Past recipients include the National Archives and Records Administration, Shelburne Museum, and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, among others. So selective is the awards committee, according to the AIC director, that in some years, since it was first presented in 1999, the prize was not awarded at all.

Since Leslie Buhler became executive director of Tudor Place 14 years ago, Ms. Wentworth said, “[I] have watched and applauded her stewardship of this remarkable site… There is no question in anyone’s mind–Tudor Place well deserves the honor of receiving this special award.”

In his remarks, Heritage Preservation President Larry Reger praised the long-term focus on preservation concerns that recommended Tudor Place to the committee. “Even in the early years of its transition from private ownership to a public institution, the Tudor Place Foundation made it a priority to ensure there was a sustained review its collections and archives,” he noted. The award recognizes, the comprehensiveness and systematic nature of the museum’s collections care, the daily attention devoted to it from an expanding collections staff, cultivation of strong board support, and the engagement of conservators, preservation architects, architectural historians, archivists, engineers and others with necessary skills.

In accepting the award, Ms. Buhler alluded to the capital campaign and Master Preservation Plan that will undergird the museum’s future. “What we collectively have achieved in the past is truly remarkable, but it is what we must achieve in the future that will secure Tudor Place,” she said, noting, “we are not celebrating in the main house tonight because of the heat. Not only is the heat dangerous for visitors and staff, but heat extremes cause fluctuations in humidity that damage the collection and archive.”

The proposed master plan includes HVAC modernization and other practical improvements crucial to conservation and preservation of valuable objects and structures, she noted, adding, “This is the future of Tudor Place, one that is imperative to secure if we are to continue to exist as a public museum.”

All images © AVANTphotoDC.

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