The Decatur House's War of 1812 Exhibit Covers D.C. Lore

23 Aug
August 23, 2013

Washington, D.C. is a city rich in history. But with so many momentous occasion having occurred here, it is easy to forget some of this town’s biggest moments. And with all the wonderful monuments and museums, it’s sometime easy to miss other buildings steeped in significance.

This weekend, right downtown, there is an opportunity to engage history and a historic building, by visiting one of Washington, D.C.’s most impressive, but less-well known houses that’s hosting an exhibit on an most infamous moment in this city’s history.

One hundred and ninety-nine years ago, almost to the day, British soldiers burned Washington, D.C. to the ground. It happened the last week of August in 1813, during the middle of the War of 1812. The war was fought between the British and Americans, and it marks the only time in United States history this country was invaded.

The U.S. won the war, and among the soldiers leading the victory was a naval commander, Stephen Decatur. After the war was over, he built a home right next to the White House, at what is now the corner of H Street and Connecticut Avenue.

The Decatur House is one of the oldest homes remaining in the city, and it is one of only three houses in the country still standing that was designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe. Latrobe is known as the father of American Architecture, and his other famous design sits just a mile away, instantly recognizable by anyone in the world: The U.S. Capitol.

The house is an integral part of American history, with famous citizens such as Henry Clay, Martin Van Buren and Edward Beale all taking up residence there after Decatur sold it. The Decatur house is now a historical landmark, and it contains the official White House Museum.

This Saturday, August 24th, the White House Historical Association is hosting an open house that will teach visitors about both the house and the war its owner helped win.

Starting at 10:00 a.m., visitors can take themselves on self-guided tours of the Decatur House, with collections from the various owners of the house on display. All throughout the day, guests will have the chance to hear original music from the War of 1812, including marches, performed on a variety of authentic instruments. There will also be an all-ages art class, where an instructor will teach participants how to draw famous artifacts from White House history.

At the White House during the War of 1812 were James and Dolley Madison. Much like Michelle Obama today, Dolley was known for her fashion. At the Carriage House, a class will be held on hers and other fashions from the time. Costumes from the period will be available for kids to try on. Also for young ones, a make-your-own-spyglass course will be held. Kids can use their creations to peer into the distance, just like spies watching the British army did during the war.

The War of 1812 event runs until 3:00 p.m. and is completely free to attend. If you never have been to the Decatur House, now is the chance to experience a place well-steeped in some of the less-known lore of this city.

- David

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