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The Anderson House–One of Washington's Hidden Gems

When people think of museums and sights to see in Washington, D.C., they often consider the stretch of buildings that dominate Constitution Avenue: The Natural History Museum, The Air and Space Museum and The White House.

One of the wonderful aspects of this city, though, is that there are smaller treats throughout. Although the traditional museums are fantastic to see, it’s the plethora of wonderful unknowns that make it fun to be a local tourist in Washington, D.C.

One such place, which might be the most striking and ornate building in the city, is probably not even known by some of the most knowledgeable locals out there.

The Anderson House sits on the south side of Massachusetts Avenue, between 21st and 22nd Streets NW, right in the middle of one of Washington, D.C.’s most gorgeous stretches of road. Even among the numerous opulent homes, the Anderson House is in a class all by itself. The house is named after its former residents, the Anderson’s. The husband, Larz Anderson was U.S. Ambassador to Japan, while his wife was heir to a shipping fortune. The mansion was built in the first decade of the 1900s, costing $800,000, which in 2012 numbers is around $20 million.

The exterior is a sight to behold, with its perfectly manicured lawn, meticulous landscaping and large Corinthian columns.

A visit to the interior consists of a free guided tour of rooms that look more at home in a European castle than in downtown D.C.

Floors are set in marble and stone. Walls are covered with intricate wood carvings and stunning portraits. Murals hang throughout.  The third room visitors are taken to, the ballroom, is breathtaking, with 30 foot high ceilings and twisting stone columns.

But the beautiful architecture is just part of what makes a trip to the Anderson House so special. The House itself is also home to the Society of the Cincinnati. The Society of the Cincinnati is one of the oldest foundations in all of America. It was established in 1783, after the end of the Revolutionary War. Its founding members are some of the most famous in American history, including Alexander Hamilton, Nathaniel Greene and George Washington.

The Society’s mission is to preserve “the patriotic sacrifices that made American liberty a reality.” The Anderson House stays true to that missive, housing an impressive collection of relics from the Revolutionary War.

In the library, where the Robert Charles Lawrence Fergusson Collection is housed, are some of the oldest documents regarding the war, from drill manuals to medical journals. The pride of the collection is a first edition of the French philosopher Denis Diderot’s Encyclopédie.

Among the rest of Society’s collections is an exhibit on armaments during the Revolutionary War, with muskets, long rifles and pistols that were all used in America’s struggle for independence.

Right now, the highlight is their rotating exhibit, which is The American Revolution at Sea. A good deal of the Revolutionary War was fought on the water, and this details America’s struggles and eventual triumphs on the high seas. You’ll learn a tremendous amount from the exhibit, fascinating facts you never even imagined, such as, America sent ships halfway around the world to India and the Bay of Bengal as part of their naval strategy.

Lastly, a trip to the Anderson House would not be complete without seeing the Key Room, which has one of the most elaborate and ornate ceilings in this entire city. The ceiling, which has been called one of the best murals in America, was painstakingly restored in 2007, and can be viewed in all its glory.

The exhibits in the Anderson House are open from Tuesday to Saturday, 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., and admission is free. All trips through the house take place with a guide.

This summer, when the Mall museums are overrun with tourists, take a stroll off the beating path, see something stunning and brush up on your Revolutionary history as well.

– David


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