Historic Structures

Brickyard Hill House, Washington DC

Date added: October 26, 2010 Categories: House

A well preserved detached frame house of early date (ca. 1800) now very rare in the Waterfront district. Owned and probably built by the Peter family,

No account of Georgetown can omit reference to the Peter family, among the earliest families to settle in the area, and who were--and still are--continually active in the life of the town. Two of the most illustrious members were Robert Peter (Sr.) and Thomas Peter, one of his sons.

Robert Peter, born in Scotland about 1726, at Crossbasket, near Glasgow, came to Georgetown to set up business as a tobacco merchant. In 1752 he was "the agent of the famous firm of John Glassford and Co. of North Britain, which monopolized in large part the Potomac river Tobacco Trade." (Records of the Columbia Historical Society, v. 33-3t, p. 139), This firm had a good market in England and Scotland. "A careful, thrifty Scot, he prospered and soon acquired considerable property in George-Town and also extensive land holdings elsewhere in the neighborhood. He was very much to the fore in public matters and in 1757, became one of the George-Town Commissioners." (Harold Donaldson Eberlein, and Cortland Van Dyke Hubbard, Historic Houses of George-Town & Washington City, Richmond, The Dietz Press, 1958, p. 324.) Other sources say that he was commissioner from 1759 to 1789. He became the first mayor of Georgetown on January 5, 1790, "At the age of forty [i.e. about 1766], he married Elizabeth Scott, daughter of George Scott, High Sheriff of Prince George's County." (Eberlein and Hubbard, p. 342.) Robert Peter, together with Charles Beatty and John Threlkeld made the "Peter, Beatty, and Threlkeld Addition" to the west of Georgetown in 1784.

Robert Peter owned much land around Rock Creek and throughout Georgetown, and was one of the "original proprietors" of land that was taken for the Federal City. He was one of the active participants in encouraging the land opposite Georgetown be chosen as the site of the Capital, He was one of the signers of an influential letter sent to George Washington on October 13, 1790. The leading merchants of Georgetown suggested that the site of the proposed Federal City be on the land opposite Georgetown across Rock Creek, for Georgetown was already an established port, with people and money, and the landscape on the proposed site was varied, with both flat and hilly terrain, and being so close to Georgetown could not help but sell well.

"We the subscribers, do hereby agree...to sell and make over by sufficient Deeds, in any manner which shall be directed by General Washington, or any person acting under him, and on such terms as he shall determine to be reasonable and just; and of the Lands which we possess in the vicinity of Georgetown, for the uses of the Federal City, provided the same shall be erected in the said vicinity."

It was signed by the following: Robert Peter "for one hundred acres should so much of mine be that necessary"; Tho. Beall of Geo,; Benj Stoddert; Uriah Forrest; Will Deakins, Junr; John Threlkeld "any land on the north side of my meadow"; J M Lingan; George Beall; and Anthony Holmead.

A letter from George Washington (in Philadelphia) to Robert Peter on July 24th, 1791 shows his active spirit of commercial progress:

"Sir, I have received your favor of the 20th. Inst. proposing the building of warves at the new City, between Rock Creek and Hamburgh; the proposition certainly is worthy of consideration, and as the transaction of what may concern the public at that place in future is now turned over to the Commissioners, I enclose your letter to them, to do thereon, what they shall think best. To them therefore I take the liberty of referring you for an answer."

Much of this land along Rock Creek belonged to Robert Peter, and included land bounded by the Potomac River, New Hampshire Avenue, H and K Streets. In the colored engraving by T. Cartwright, London, after the drawing by George Beck of Philadelphia entitled "George Town and Federal City, or City of Washington," the buildings at the mouth of Rock Creek, facing the Georgetown shore, are said to be his house and tobacco shed.

About 1795 Robert Peter built a row of 6 houses on K Street, and gave the house now No. 2618 K Street to his eldest son Thomas upon his marriage.

Robert Peter died on November 15, 1806, "aged 80 years".

Thomas Peter, eldest son of Robert Peter, was born in 1768. In 1793 he was one of the incorporators of the Bank of Columbia that was chartered by the Maryland legislature to handle the financial affairs of the Federal City Commissioners, and also of those people buying lots in the new capital.

In 1795 Thomas Peter received the house at 2618 K Street N.W. from his father upon his marriage to Martha Parke Custis. "There the young couple went to housekeeping, and there it was that General Washington often spent the night when he came up from Mount Vernon. In fact, the last time he spent the night in Washington City before his death, he stayed with the Peters." (Eberlein and Hubbard, p. 343.) In 1799 his wife, one of the grand-daughters of Martha Washington inherited a considerable legacy upon the death of George Washington. With the aid of this, in 1805 the Thomas Peters bought "Tudor Place" at 31st and Q Streets in Georgetown, a fine estate begun in 1794 by the wealthy shipping merchant Francis Lowndes. The completion of the estate was entrusted to Dr. Thornton, their friend, who was the first architect of the Capitol.

It was during this period that he was one of the Stewards of the Washington Jockey Club, and he is listed as such in an advertisement in the National Intelligencer of Sept, 17th, 1808 which gave notice of the races to be held on October 28th and the two following days," (Eberlein and Hubbard, p, 55)

In 1815 Tudor Place was completed, and was one of the finest estates of the period.

During the burning of the Capitol, Mrs. Peter and Mrs. Thornton, at whose house (according to Mrs, Thornton's diary) Mr. Thomas Peter often dined when in Washington, watched the conflagration from the windows of Tudor Place.

"Thomas Peter was no less staunch a Federalist than his wife. From time to time his name appears along with others of those, of the same political convictions, who sponsored one or another public undertaking or social duty. He was keenly interested in the Washington Jockey Club, and, under the presidency of Colonel John Tayloe, he acted as one of the stewards at the races on the Meridian Hill Track."

The entire house is rectangular, with 3134 South St. forming the eastern half, under the east slope of the gable roof. Overall dimensions of this half are 14' 6" by 33' 7" not counting the small kitchen addition at the southeast comer. Two stories with a sunken basement exposed at the rear; two bays on the gable ends, three bays on the east-west sides.

The first floor has a front living room with added toilet in a northeast comer closet; the rear living room into which the side door comes also contains the stairs. The second floor has a central stair hall, with bedrooms at each end of the house. The basement contains one room, the size of the main living room above it, and the entrance to the small kitchen wing attached.