Historic Structures

Philip T. Berry House, Washington DC

Date added: October 15, 2010 Categories: House

This house, by reputation only, has one of the most unusual and varied histories of any building in Georgetown.

It is generally said that the building was at one time made of brick. It was rented by either a Senator or Congressman from Maine who was also engaged in the shipping business. As the story goes, he was supposed to have said that he could not let his constituents see that he was living in a brick house, so shipped down from New England this Victorian frame dwelling and built it around the brick building. Variations of the story mention that the brick building was one of the oldest in Georgetown, that only the clapboards and woodwork were brought from New England.

Examination of the construction and verification from the the contractor who worked on the remodeling of 1952 reveal that there is no actual brick structure, but that bricks were used between the studs. This type of construction is very unusual for this area; it may have been done for fire prevention purposes.

The daughter of Mary Lee Cropley, Mrs. Eleanor Cropley Speiden, reported that at one time the pantry on O Street was open, but that her father had had it enclosed after someone left a baby there. She also remembers that the porch that covered the front of the house was once two stories high.

There is no record of any Maine or New England Senator renting a house in Georgetown in the period of 1850-1865, nor is there any mention of this in the early Georgetown columns of the Evening Star.

There have been a number of changes to the house. In 1877 the original front porch was removed and a piazza was added; this may have been only one story at first, with the second story being added in 1888. This two-story porch was in turn removed sometime before 1935, and the present Victorian porch was attached. Thus, while it is old, it is not actually original to the house. This feature could have been brought from New England, giving rise to the rumor that the whole house had at one time been imported from the north. In 1925 a garage tucked under the southwest corner of the house was constructed; at this time perhaps, the pantry addition (which is made of 8" hollow, clay tile, clapboarded) was added above it. The garage was remodeled in 1952. In 1953 a number of interior changes were made (repartitioning of the second floor, etc.) and some exterior alterations (the bay window on the south wall of the dining room, new fenestration on the north wall of the pantry and the west wall of the kitchen, and a door from the living room to the west terrace).

This 2-1/2 story house with a three bay facade measures about 40' north-south x 33' east-west, with a two-story ell extending west from the rear. The ell is about 25' north-south x 20' east-west with a one-story pantry about 22' north-south x 10 east-west attached to the south.

The first floor has a central stair hall with a drawing room the full length of the north side and a small library and a dining room to the south. Added to the west side is an ell which contains the kitchen and, along the north side, the laundry room and back stairs. To the south of the ell is a one-story addition for a pantry. It is possible that the door which at present leads to this pantry from the dining room was originally further north, where it would lead into the present kitchen in the ell.

The second floor has two bedrooms on the north side of the central hall: the northeast room has an attached bath over the entrance hall; and the northwest bedroom, a bath in the ell. To the south of the hall is a large bedroom, with a spacious bath and powder room in the southeast corner. In the ell, reached from the stair landing, are a bedroom with bath (to the north) and the rear stairs.

The third floor has four corner rooms off a small central hall, with a bath at the east. The basement is now one open space with a small storage room in the northeast corner, a wood storage room at the east wall, and a garage protruding in at the southwest.