As you stroll down 31st Street toward Dumbarton Oaks, you might pass another historic Georgetown gem without realizing it. Between Q and R Streets, glance toward 32nd Street and you’ll see an elegant mansion set on five and a half acres of spacious grounds. You’ve just discovered Tudor Place at 1644 31st St. NW, the ancestral home of six generations of the Peter family and a living museum of American history and Georgetown.
Designed by William Thornton, famous architect of the US Capitol, St. John‘s Episcopal Church (3240 O St.) and the Octagon House (17th & New York Avenue)Tudor Square is a classic federal style building fashionable in Georgetown‘s early development. The Peters have made their home for 178 years, from presidencies from Thomas Jefferson to Ronald Reagan. Their lineage included a diversity of professions ranging from mercantilism and medicine to finance, arts and horticulture.
The mansion has a fascinating history. The marriage directly connected the Peters to our nation’s primitive heritage – specifically, George and Martha Washington and the Parke-Custis line – thus making Tudor Place Georgetown’s most direct link with the neighboring estates of Mount Vernon and Arlington. House.
After receiving a fine inheritance from her father-in-law George, the “American Cincinnatus,” Martha Parke Peter (notÉ Custis, Martha Washington‘s granddaughter), married Thomas Peter, a wealthy Georgetown merchant and financier. Martha Parke Peter’s the inheritance enabled the couple to purchase the future Tudor Place property. Chosen for its prominent expanse of land atop the “Dumbarton Rock” (Georgetown Heights), the Peters chose Thornton‘s symmetrical design of a two-storey central block with pre-existing two-wing adjoining connections. Thiss beige stucco facade has been a prominent feature of neoclassical architecture popular throughout the mid-Atlantic region.
One from Tudor‘it’s the most unique characteristics is a circular portico with Romanesque columns which projects — and curves inwards towards — building‘s elegant interior. Tall rectangular windows set along this south-facing facade take advantage of Tudor‘is high panoramic views. One can imagine the story that generations of the Stones family must have been a witness; from Georgetown‘s growth as a thriving river port, to the burgeoning metropolis of a nation‘the capitalrapidly developing the northern Virginia hinterland. Completed in 1816, Tudor Place resembles Thornton‘s central core and adjoining wings design found with some of his other works.
Cataloged throughout the mansion are furnishings and fittings from two centuries of American history. Notable items include two rare letters from Martha Washington to her husband – found in an office inherited by Martha Peter – to Gilded Age furniture, a 1919 Pierce-Arrow automobile and other period possessions up to in the 1980s.
This continuum of Georgetown antiquity offers what Mark Hudson, executive director of Tudor Place, describes as “a collection of legacies reflecting the generational passage of different eras.” These legacies represent preservation and change, signifying a unique distinction for a property that in 1960 would gain National Historic Landmark status.
This prestigious award from the US Department of the Interior led Armistead Peter III, a sixth-generation descendant of Martha Parke and Thomas Peter, to negotiate a “permanent easement” with the National Park Service. A new arrangement for the time, soon to be copied by other historic properties, this easement ensured the preservation and maintenance in perpetuity of Tudor Place as a working museum “for the benefit of the [nation] thanks to the preservation of this site and the inspiration of the people of the United States. (“Tudor Place at 50,” by Mark Hudson, TPF Spring 2016 newsletter.) A welcome moment from Mr. Peter, as this arrangement coincided with the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. This landmark law has ensured Tudor Place’s inclusion in a growing national register of protected sites and provided additional insurance against development on or adjacent to the mansion and grounds.
Armistead [Peter, 3rd], a renowned artist, historian, and horticulturist, also launched the nonprofit Tudor Place Foundation to work with NPS on property maintenance and operations management for visitors, educators, and researchers. When he died in 1983, his widow moved just behind the mansion and gardens of Dower House, another 19th-century Georgetown gem on 31st Street. After his death in 1995, TPF converted Dower House into administrative offices and meeting space.
Aided by a wealth of historical records left by Peters, the Foundation now sponsors programs that educate the public about architectural design, gardening, and property.‘its unique history. This includes stories of enslaved people who worked on site or nearby, and their contributions to Georgetown‘development. Even with many folders, the origin of Tudor‘his name remains a mystery. As Mark Hudson says, “records on our name was not found, but we will continue to search.”
As with other DC-area museums, the pandemic suspended and then rearranged Tudor’s visiting hours. During the initial 2020 closure, the mansion and grounds were closed from March to July.
The gardens reopened from August to November of that year, while the mansion remained closed. Self-guided and socially-distanced audio tours of the First Floor, Conservatory and Tudor Gardens became available to the public from April to December 2021.
Tudor Place will reopen the house and gardens to the public on Thursday, March 3, with guided tours of the first and second floors and self-guided tours of the garden, Thursday through Saturday. Self-guided tours of the house resume on Sunday March 6.
For the latest details of Tudor Place, click here.