I think the best way to start a tour is with a pastry and some coffee. Here at the Fresh Baguette you will find all the pastries and breads that your carb-craving body needs. Fuel up and let’s get touring! We are going to be heading east on S Street Northwest, away from Wisonsin Avenue and toward the Dumbarton Oaks Museum.
Look to your left. That park on the other side of the fence is Dumbarton Oaks Park. We aren’t going in there at this point, but I will be taking you to Lover’s Lane, which will lead you into the park if you want to check it out later. So what’s so special about Dumbarton Oaks Park? Well, it was designed in 1920 by America’s very first professional female landscape architect, Beatrix Ferrand. It is 27 acres of formal gardens and naturalistic gardens, paths, streams and bridges.
When you get to the end of S Street, please cross over 32nd Street.
I need you to turn right here. The Dumbarton Oaks Museum is only a half block away and I want to start telling you about it now.
Ok, so you know the phrase, “it’s all in a name”? Well in the 1920’s, this was about two names combined into one. First, I’ll tell you about where the name Dumbarton came from. This is the part where a prisoner of war and a rock in Scotland come into the picture. It was 1650, when Ninian Beall (Bell) ended up on the losing side of a war and was shipped to America as a prisoner of war.
Eventually he would rise from being an indentured servant to a Member of the House of Burgesses, and a Commander and Chief for the Maryland and Virginia military. Not too shabby for Ninian. And if that wasn’t enough, in 1702, Lord Baltimore granted him thousands of acres of land as a thank you. I guess that’s what you do when you run out of thank you cards and nice bottles of wine, you give away thousands of acres of land. Totally makes sense.
Ninian Beall went ahead and named the place after his favorite giant rock in Scotland, “The Rock of Dumbarton.” Hmmm… I don’t think I have a favorite giant rock. Oh well.
Anyway, the name “Dumbarton” lasted about 160 years, before the residence began referring to it as “The Oaks,” because...you guessed it, the land was filled with huge, beautiful white oaks. Clearly, the residents put a lot of thought into that nickname. But whether you happen to be the first owner, or a resident over the years, what REALLY counts is being the last private owner of the estate, that way you get to name it whatever you want.
Which brings us to Robert and Mildred Bliss, who decided to combine the two long-standing names, and called their estate “Dumbarton Oaks.” In 1940, after all their hard work, in restoring the manor and gardens, the Bliss’s donated the property to Harvard University to become a research institute. It’s dedicated to the study of Byzantine and pre-columbian art. Who knew Dumbarton Oaks would eventually become a research institute for Harvard! Nothing DUMB about that. Get it? Nothing dumb, DUM-barton. See what I did there? If Harvard had a scholarship for funny, I’d be at the top of the list.
Now that you’re caught up on how this place was named, it’s time to discover the incredible collections of artifacts, rare books, and exhibits that will amaze you, inside the museum. If you don’t have time to explore the museum right now, keep the building on your left and head straight to the next intersection, R st NW, as we make our way to the Gardens . But definitely come back when you can. This place is awesome.
For those who do have time, go on in and explore at your leisure. Make sure you find the Tlazolteotl (tw-oz-all-tatle) sculpture, you’ll recognize it from the golden idle Indiana Jones stole in the beginning of the “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” While you probably won’t have thousands of wooden darts flying at you, or a giant stone intent on rolling over you crushing every bone in your body, I still wouldn’t recommend trying to steal this Aztec Goddess. But that’s just me. It’s your vacation and I say carpe diem, baby.
When you’re done, come back to this spot, and with the museum on your left, head to the next street, R st NW, and we’ll go from there.
You’re now at R St NW. Take a left, and soon you’ll pass the first gated entrance to the garden, but don’t stop there, what we’re looking for is the second gated entrance. Originally these gates were massive thick paneled wood, until 1956, when Mildred Bliss commissioned Ruth Harvey to replace them with the wrought-iron gates you see now. Good call, Mildred Bliss! These gates are BLISSful to look at. Did you catch that? BLISSful.
May I present the beautiful, meticulously planned garden of the one and only Dumbarton Oaks. Besides expanding the home we just left, the Bliss’s also hired a landscape gardener, Beatrix Ferrand, whose designing and landscaping abilities are almost magical. Every detail thought out. I’m talking fountains, benches, each terrace, crypts, urns, yes, you heard me right, urns, I get wanting a beautiful and unique garden, but come on Bliss’s, urns? While slightly disturbing, or cool, depending on what you’re into, don’t let it deter you from finding the Orangery. It’s one of the oldest structures still standing on the grounds. The fig vine you’ll see there, that is still continuing to grow, was planted over 150 years ago. I can barely keep a plant alive for a month, let alone years. Now normally you’d have to grow orange trees in order to get away with calling it an orangery, but hey, I’m not going to argue with someone who decorates their gardens with urns.
While there are 29 different sections of the garden to explore, I’m only going to highlight a few of them, but feel free to spend the time seeing all of them for yourself.
When you see the rose garden, be warned, it might just ruin every future rose garden you see, because nothing compares to this one. There are approximately 900 roses, from pink, red, white, orange, and yellows. The terrace in the rose garden is the largest one in the garden and goes from the Orangery to Lover’s Lane Pool. The rose garden became a special place for the Bliss’s, so much so, their ashes are buried in the crypt, beneath a lead canopy, set into the western wall. Rumors have it that the Bliss’s have been seen wandering the garden at night. Witnesses say Mildren has been seen wearing a hat and carrying her parasol, while Robert often appears as a distinguished-looking man wearing a white pinstripe suit. Who doesn’t love a well dressed ghost?
Another favorite is the “Terrier Column and Enclosure”. During the Napoleonic Wars, a French Admiral fell in love with a Neapolitan girl. But because they didn’t speak the same language, the Admiral won the girl’s affections by bringing gifts. Apparently her love language wasn’t as much words as it was gifts. Smart girl. Too bad she didn’t know Lord Baltimore, if he gave over thousands of acres of land as a thank you to Bell, can you imagine what he’d have given a girlfriend? While the Admiral wasn’t quite as generous as Baltimore, he did give her a little pet terrier. In her broken English, she referred to the dog as her “little terror.” When the dog died, she built a monument over its grave, which the Neapolitans called the Terror’s Tomb. Mildred Bliss must have loved this little love story, or maybe she just loved terrier’s, either way, she replicated the pillar and pedestal after the one from the Terror’s tomb.
The last spot I’ll give you a little tidbit on is Lovers Lane Pool. When you find the pool, you’ll see a statue that’s part man, part goat, called Pan - the God of the wild...not as in wild teenagers, as in nature as a whole, mountain land, wild animals, stuff like that. The story is, Pan fell in love with the daughter of the river-god. She wanted nothing to do with this man-goat God and pleaded with Zeus to help her. Just as Pan caught her, Zeus changed her into reeds. Really, Zeus? Reeds? Not sure the logic behind that one. Needless to say, Pan was furious and smashed the reeds into pieces, which he instantly regretted. Unfortunately, “my bad” doesn’t quite cut it this time. Pan picked up a broken reed piece and began kissing it. Um, ok. As he kissed the reeds, he discovered his breath made a sound with them, which is how the first wind instruments came to be.
Those are just a few examples of the incredible parts of the garden. Hopefully you have time to go in and really explore it all.
When you’re done, meet me back here and we’re going to continue making our way down R St NW to Lover’s Lane. Not to be confused with Lover’s Lane Pool, we’re going to the actual Lover’s Lane. That’s alotta love going on here today.
Here we are, at the entrance of Lover’s Lane. Now, I’m going to shoot you straight, we’re not actually going to go down the lane with this tour, because it’s 3.5 miles long and we have a lot of other things to see. But definitely come back some time and hike the trail. Eventually it leads to Wisconsin Avenue and back around. It’s a beautiful trail, lined with trees and glimpses of Dumbarton Oaks garden on your left and Montrose park on your right. I can see why lover’s would be drawn here. For now, you would be lovers, let’s continue down R st NW to Montrose Park.
On your left is Montrose Park and here’s some history for ya. Back in the early 1800’s there was a really cool guy named Robert Parrott, he was a rope-making tycoon and would open his 26 acres of land to the public so they could come and enjoy picnics on sunny afternoons, or sledding on snow-filled days in the winter. In 1911 Congress officially purchased this land making it a national park, protecting it from ever becoming commercialized.
Surrounded by the beautiful 19th century oak trees, it’s the perfect place to come alone with a cup of coffee and a good book, or a picnic with friends - I’m thinking a basket of different cheeses, grapes, breads, and a good bottle of wine...or two or three. It’s also a perfect place to come with the family, as there are playgrounds for kids of all ages, tennis courts, and best of all - public bathrooms.
As I’ve said before, take your time exploring this beautiful area, and when you’re ready to continue, come back to this spot, and we’ll keep heading down R St NW until you get to the gated entrance of the cemetery, it will be on your left at 30th St.
The Oak Hill Cemetery on your left is no ordinary cemetery, besides the obvious beauty you will see here, you will also find graves belonging to some pretty historical people. And who knows, maybe, just maybe, you’ll find their spirits lingering as they have been waiting to pass on to the other side until they had a chance to meet you. Don’t be stressed, I’m sure you’ll make a great first impression, maybe start out with a joke? Something like, “So...have you enjoyed Oak Hill? I hear people are just dying to get in here.” It might also help if you had a little background on the cemetery, that way you are funny AND educated. Stick with me, my friend, I’ve got your back. Go ahead and pause here for a few minutes while I tell you who is in this cemetery and how it came to be.
The Oak Hill Cemetery was founded in 1848. The chapel herel is the only known example of James Renwick’s Gothic Revival design’s in Washington DC. Who’s James Renwick you ask? Only one of the most prestigious architects of the 19th century. The chapel was built in 1850 and sits on the highest ridge of the cemetery. Even though other architects were used for other landmarks in the cemetery, it only seems fair that the best spot should go to the best architect. That, or they flipped a coin, and James picked tails. Who knows.
Now let’s talk about whose ghost you may or may not possibly run into. The first person to be buried here was Eleanor Washinton. Yes, I pronounced it right, Washinton, not Washington. Besides Eleanor, you’ll find graves belonging to generals, admirals, not to mention more than a few Confederate spies, and just about everyone involved in the planning of Lincoln’s assassination, except for Booth. He was originally buried in the Old Penitentiary.
You can also look for Edwin Stanton, Lincoln’s Secretary of War, Edward Douglass White, who was a Chief Justice in the late 1800’s, and Bettie Duval, who was a Confederate spy, and a member of Rose O’Neal Greenhow’s spy ring. For you Washington Post fans, Katharine Graham is also buried here. How awesome would that be to ask her what it was like covering the Watergate scandal, which eventually led to President Nixon’s resignation.
To date, the only president buried here was Confederate President, Jefferson Davis. Although his family eventually moved him in 1893.
Some would say the most notable figure to have been buried here was President Lincoln’s son, William Wallace Lincoln. Willie died at age 11 from typhoid fever, less than a year after the Civil War started. Can you even imagine what President Lincoln must have been going through, the overwhelming stress of dealing with the first stages of war, and now grieving the death of his son? William Carroll, who was a clerk of the Supreme Court, and a close family friend, offered for Willie’s body to be placed in one of the crypts in the Carroll family tomb, here at Oak Hill Cemetery. Lincoln accepted the offer and reportedly visited the mausoleum after Willie’s funeral, even opening the casket and holding his boy in his arms. Eventually, Willie’s body was moved and he is buried with his father in Springfield, Illinois.
When George Saunders, author of ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’, wrote about visiting the Carroll Mausoleum he said, “Here is the very spot where the president came to mourn his beloved son. We’re all going to be dead for a lot longer than we were ever alive. It’s best to appreciate each hour spent above ground as opposed to below it.”
I couldn’t agree more. As you continue on this tour, I hope you can live in the moment, appreciate the history and beauty around you, and just soak it all up.
You can go inside the cemetery and explore if it’s open. Just make sure you exit the cemetery, where you entered at the main gate, and then keep heading down R St. NW.
So down that private driveway on your left is the historic Federal-architecture style house known as the Everymay. The house was built in 1801 for $2,302.82. It has gone through numerous owners since then and currently belongs to the same people who own Halcyon House. By the way, Halcyon House is featured in the UCPlaces tour “Ghosts of Georgetown.” Yup, it’s haunted. Put that tour next on your list since it’s nearby!
As you’re heading down 28th St. NW, you’ll pass a red brick building where the iron fence turns into a red brick wall. The first house on your left, just after the brick wall ends, is a really cool old house that gets covered in thick green ivy in the summer. Just thought I’d point that out because I like it.
While Dumbarton Oaks is a fabulous museum of Byzantine collections and pre-columbian art, Dumbarton House, on your left, gives you an idea of what it was like living in a home during the early 1800’s. While I’m not sure how well I’d handle living back then without the basic necessities to survive, such as the internet, iphone, and a microwave - walking through this home does take my breath away. I can see why people rent it out for private events. Makes me want to come up with an event just so I can have it here.
It was back in 1804 when Joseph Nourse (Nurse), the first United States Register of the U.S. Treasury, resided in this home with his family. His career spanned 40 years and six presidential administrations. Now if that isn’t impressive, I don’t know what is. It would be hard enough working for one presidential administration, let alone six of them!
In 1813, the Nurse’s sold it to Charles Carroll of Belle Vue, who was the cousin of Charles Carroll of Carrollton - who happened to be one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. While one cousin did get to sign the Declaration of Independence, the other one, who bought Dumbarton House, had his own claim to fame. He was good friends with President James Madison and his wife, Dolley. In fact, it is this “Mr. Carroll” to whom Dolley refers to in her famous letter describing the day the British burned the “President’s House” down in the War of 1812. She wrote “Our kind friend, Mr. Carroll, has come to hasten my departure, and is in a very bad humor with me because I insist on waiting until the large picture of Gen. Washington is secured, and it requires to be unscrewed from the wall.” When Dolley was finally satisfied that the portrait was safe, she then and only then, went with Mr. Carroll to the Dumbarton House to wait further word from the President.
Another fact, is in 1915 a bridge needed to be constructed over Rock Creek in order to connect Georgetown and Washington. The problem, was that the Dumbarton House was positioned about 50 feet to the south of you, right in the middle of what is now Q Street. The current owners had two choices, move the house or demolish it. Spoiler alert - they decided to move it. That’s tricky enough in this day and age, can you imagine working that out in 1915? Because the center portion of the house had a full basement, it was jacked up - I have no idea how they did that - hoisted onto rollers. Then with one mule, because using two mules would have been overboard, insert eye roll, they attached the mule to a windlass, and slowly moved it to where it stands today. Crazy, right?
Now my favorite part, how it became a museum house. In 1928, The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America decided they needed a headquarters and fell in love with this home. One strong minded women is a force in and of itself, you get a whole society of them, and it’s best to just stand back and watch them do their thing. Because not only was this house NOT for sale, they convinced the owners to sell it AND negotiated a lower price.
Over the years that followed, they worked to restore the home and the grounds to what it was like when the Nurse family owned it over 200 years ago. It’s like being transported back in time, except you still have your iphone for selfies. What more could you want?
When you make your way back to the 21st century, keep walking along Q St. NW, so Dumbarton house is on your left, and I’ll meet you at the next corner.
This historic brick building across the street is home to the Jerusalem Baptist Church. Their congregation began in 1870 as the 7th Baptist Church and held worship services in different buildings in Washington, DC. In 1906 The reverend George H. Harris bought the property you see there for ten dollars. The church building was built about 12 years later and the name was changed to Jerusalem Baptist Church.
Go ahead and turn right. I’m taking you to a deli so you can grab a snack! It’s at the corner of P Street and 28th.
A little background on Stachowski Market. It is definitely the place to go if you’re feeling hungry. There’s a reason this is a local favorite. Stachowski and his family bring over 60 years of culinary experience in restaurants, charcuterie, (shar-COO-tare-ree) and butchering. They’re specialties - are handcrafted gourmet sausages and legendary sandwiches.
If you want to give their legendary sandwiches a try or even get something for later - go for it. When you’re done, just come back to this side of P Street and then take the crosswalk over 28th so that you are at the corner that is diagonal to Stachowski’s.
And now it’s time to look at a fence. Yes, a fence. But, a special fence. What looks like dozens of regular wrought iron rods in this magnificent fence in front of you, are actually the barrels from Hall breech-loading rifles used in the War of 1812.
The rumor is that Reuben Daw, the historic resident, was one of several Georgetowners who lent the government emergency cash during the war. Eventually, when the smoke settled around 1816, the War Department didn’t have the ability to repay their loans. I know, it’s hard to imagine the government unable to repay a loan. Thankfully we don’t have that problem nowadays... er...anywho, the government proposed that instead of paying him in cash, they would repay him with surplus military gear. Um, ok. Daw said yes, took the surplus rifles, removed the stocks, and used the barrels to build the fence you see now. If you look closely, you can find the corroded remains of the sights at the ends of the gun barrels on some of the rods.
While the definition of a rumor is to relay solid, concrete, factual information - I’m going to have to point out a small flaw with this one. Yes, Rueben Daw was the owner of the homes you see, and did build the fence you’re looking at, however, in 1816, Daw would have been 8-years-old. You see the problem?
The more probable story is Daw actually bought the guns, and made the fence closer to 1859. He eventually had grown to be a gunsmith, and at that time there was a military auction selling a large quantity of Hall breech-loading rifles. So it makes more sense that this is how he got the barrels for his fence. But hey, who am I to say the government didn’t borrow money from an 8-year-old boy and then give him hundreds of rifles as payment.
Maybe we can ask the continental ghost who appears around midnight, seen making careful inspection of the gun barrels, as if he’s looking for his lost gun. The problem is whenever an effort has been made to approach him, the ghost disappears into nothingness. Maybe you’ll have better luck. Now go be the ghost whisperer I’ve made you into.
So we’ve got a couple of blocks to walk before we get to our next destination, so I’m thinking it’s time for a quiz. Who’s been listening to me ramble on and on about this and that for the last 45 minutes? Well, we shall see.
1 - In the Dumbarton Oaks museum, there’s an Aztec Goddess sculpture, what famous movie was it replicated in?
2 - What University did the Bliss’s donate their estate to and as a bonus question, for those who were really paying attention, what are the two main things they research there?
3 - What was the original name of the Jerusalem Baptist Church? Bonus points if you can remember what year that church began.
So discuss the questions amongst yourselves as we make our way to 30th street.
Let’s see how you did. I say for every answer you get right, you get an extra dessert at Thomas’s. And if I remember correctly, when desserts are eaten as a reward, the calories don’t count.
1 - The Aztec Goddess sculpture in the Dumbarton Oaks Museum was replicated in the movie... “Raiders of the Lost Ark”
2 - The Bliss’s donated their estate to... Harvard University for the research of Byzantine and Pre-Columbian art.
3 - The original name of the Jerusalem Baptist Church was the 7th Baptist Church. It was established in 1870
Keep heading straight on P St. and when you get to 30th St. we’ll see how you do with the next two questions.
1 - What kind of dog did the Admiral give the Neopolitan girl that inspired a section of the garden?
3 - At Lover’s Lane Pool, there’s a Pan sculpture blowing in broken reeds. According to Greek mythology, what is Pan the God of?
If you look to your left, you’re going to see the only two townhomes on this block that have balconies. To the right of them is the most adorable red brick townhome with blue shutters. This is where Emma Brown lived. Emma was an accomplished poet and in 1864, the first African American teacher to be employed by the DC Public Schools. She believed deeply in the importance of education. In 1861 she used this home to teach girls from the neighborhood, which she called The School For Colored Girls. She was quoted once saying, “With education we can no longer be oppressed.”
It was just over 10 years later she became the principal of the District’s prestigious Charles Sumner School. I don’t know about you, but Emma sounds like an amazingly awesome person. Can you imagine the kind of difference she made in the girl’s lives she taught from her home? Well done, Emma Brown. Well done.
1 - The Admiral gave the Neopolitan girl a... Terrier, which she called her little terror. Which is also what I sometimes call toddlers.
2 - As for the sculpture of Pan - according to Greek mythology he was the God of ...the wild.
Keep walking. There’s another old church I want you to see. It is the Georgetown Presbyterian Church and it will be on your right. This church began as a small group of worshipers in 1760. In 1782 this church building was erected as the first Protestant church building in Washington, DC.
This church building has seen many baptisms, weddings and funerals of notable American figures, long before Washington DC was even established. People of all denominations worshipped here in the 1800’s and the building was even used as a hospital for both Union and Conferate soldiers during the United States Civil War.
So much history in this church on the corner. Keep following P Street and I’ll take you to a famous ice cream shop!
To get to our next historical site we need to turn right here. BUT, Thomas Sweet is at the end of this block on your left and if you don’t take the opportunity to go get something sweet, you will regret it.
Thomas Sweet actually got its start in New Jersey - but we won’t hold that against them. Just kidding, we love people from New Jersey, especially those who know how to bake. And oh my, can they bake, I’m talking cookies, flourless chocolate cakes, and mini cheesecakes. Everything is homemade in small batches, using the freshest ingredients, which is one of the reasons this place has the most loyal customers. But don’t get full on the baked goods, I haven’t even mentioned what their specialty is yet.
Thomas Sweet’s chocolates are to die for, so much so you’d think this was their specialty, but it’s not, it’s the ice cream. I’m talking 40 ice cream flavors!! And it doesn’t stop there, you can mix different ice cream flavors and blend-ins together to design your own flavor, which is what former Vice President Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama did, along with many other famous DC politicians. Go inside and try something new!
Then come back here and head up 32nd Street.
Please turn right here and let’s enjoy this beautiful walk to our final destination - Tudor Place. It’s a historic House and garden inside the grounds to your left. Let me give you some background on what happens to be one of America’s first National Historic Landmarks. We’re actually coming full circle from what you first learned when this tour began. Remember how we first learned that in 1702 all of this land belonged to Colonel Ninian Bell? Eventually, Ninian Bell’s son, George, began turning the lower portion of Dumbarton into sections of Georgetown. One section, Georgetown Heights, was divided and sold into what the affluent families (who were the only ones who could afford that land) called “Urban Villas”. In 1794 a prominent family bought one of these Urban Villas, approximately 8 ½ acres, and in 1805, sold it to Thomas and Martha Peter for $8,000. Which might have been a lot of money back then, but to put it in perspective, the row townhomes you see on your right are around 1500 sq feet, and sell for 1.3 million dollars. The free standing homes (not including the giant mansion that sits between the townhomes and free standing homes) are around 4500 sq feet, sell for over 6.5 million. Crazy, right??
Wanna hear more? Ok, meet me at the corner up ahead.
Whew, I caught up to you! Anyway, back to Thomas and Martha who bought the land in 1805, because frankly, they’re the reason we even have this historical landmark.
Martha, the granddaughter of Martha Washington and Thomas, the son of Georgetown’s first mayor, Robert Peter, were married in 1795. When they bought the Urban Villa in 1805, for reasons unknown, they changed the name from Urban Villa to Tudor Place. Thomas and Martha proceeded to build their estate, which was finished in 1816, where they and seven of their eight children would live.
Now there are a lot of cool things about this historical place, but what fascinates me the most is the fact that this home stayed in the family, generation after generation, six to be precise, spanning 178 years. That’s amazing to me as I can’t imagine that happening in this day and age. To think of the stories each generation grew up hearing and the memories they made as they ran throughout the home and the gardens outside. So why is it no longer being handed down, generation to generation, you ask? Because in 1983, Armistead Peter the 3rd, the founders’ great-great-grandson, passed away and according to the wishes in his will, the site was opened up to the public. Tudor Place is now an operating museum devoted to public education. It’s definitely worth checking out and if you have time, wander around the gardens and enjoy the rich-filled history that surrounds you.
You made it! I give you, Tudor Place. While it is the end of this tour, it’s a place we can trace back to the beginning, where it all started, with an indentured servant from Scotland who loved the name Dumbarton.
I hope you enjoyed learning more about our history. I sure had fun telling you the stories that live in this section of Georgetown! If you parked near where we started, just keep heading up 31st street till it dead ends, then take a left and then your first right, which will lead you back to the Dumbarton Museum. Follow that street around to S Street and you will get right back to Fresh Baguette. If you took any awesome post worthy pics or selfies, be sure to send them to us for our social media pages. Just know it might cause some jealousy in your friends who weren’t able to come with you. But it’s oh so worth it. Hashtag wish you were here.
If you’re looking for more amazing places to see, I’d love to show you around. Just check out the rest of our tours on the UCPlaces app, pick the next one you want, and I’ll meet you there! I can’t wait to hang out with all of you again real soon, but until then, so long and happy touring!