Historic Structures

Timothy Caldwell House, Washington DC

Date added: October 1, 2010 Categories: House

The Timothy Caldwell house is located at 2017 Eye Street, N. W., in Washington, D. C. The large red brick structure was built in the early 19th century and is the present home of the Washington Arts Club. It is a Georgian town mansion with a main block to the street and a kitchen wing and garden to the rear. The building is flanked on the west by a large apartment building and on the east by late 19th century row houses. The structure is in an excellent state of repair, and most of the original house is in tact.

The property on which the Timothy Caldwell house stands was originally part of a tract known as the "Widow's Mite" in Montgomery County, Maryland. The land had been patented to the Englishman, Anthony Holmead, and just before this area was changed over to the District of Columbia, the plot was owned by James MacCubbin Lingan, a Maryland officer in the Revolution. When the District was formed, the land was allotted on October 17, 1791 to Lingan, Uriah Forrest and Benjamin Stoddert. Between 1791 and 1800 the property passed through the ownerships of James Greenleaf, Robert Morris, John Nicholson, William-Wayne Duncanson and William Deakins. On September 27, 1802 the property was conveyed to Timothy Caldwell by Lingan and his wife, Janet, for $492.18. The property thus bought was 25 feet wide to the west and rear of 2017 Eye Street, Caldwell built a house on this property, which still stands as the kitchen wing of the present house. This was common in the area. On June 13, 1805, Caldwell paid $432.50 for 32 feet of land adjacent to his house and added the main portion of the house which now fronts on Eye Street.

Gideon Granger of Connecticut for $10,000. Granger was U. S. Postmaster from 1801 to 1814. On the 10th of February in 1813 Granger and his wife, Mindwell, sold the property back to Caldwell at the same price. On February 7, 1840 Caldwell sold the property to Clement Cox, who was trustee for Francis Markoe, Jr. of Eennsylvania. Markoe and his heir owned the property until June 20, 1877 when it was sold to Professor Cleveland Abbee, who owned it until his death in 1916 on the 28th of October. After the death of Professor Abbee the ownership was transferred to the Washington Arts Club, which still owns the building and uses it as a clubhouse.

The building has been occupied by a series of interesting people. The most significant is James Monroe,who occupied the house while he was Secretary of State and later the Secretary of War, during President Madison's term. The house was actually the Executive Mansion for a few months affer Monroe's inauguration as fifth President on March 5, 1817. In connection with Monroe there is a tradition that during the war in 1813 the rapid approach of the British surprised President Madison at a meeting in the house, and it was necessary for Madison to gallop through the house on horseback to escape. Tradition also includes the ride of an English officer on horseback through the halls of the Timothy Caldwell house.

The District of Columbia Daughters of the American Revolution placed a bronze tablet on the front of the house in 1923. It has a bas-relief portrait of President Monroe, made by Henry K. Bush-Brown, who was the first president of the Washington Arts Club.

Timothy Caldwell built the original portion of the house in or shortly after 1802. This Is the present kitchen wing, but was the entire house at the beginning. There is some evidence that there was a kitchen to the north of this portion, but all that remains is a chimney about 12 feet to the north of the existing structure. The original portion of the house was probably two floors high. Between 1805 and 1808 the main front portion of the house was constructed. The original portion of this area was two floors with an attic. Maude Burr Morris presented the following statement to the Columbia Historical Society on March 20, 1917: "in 1881 Professor Abbee changed the former top or third floor, with dormers into a full story and added the present attic or fourth floor with the same kind of windows, to preserve the original style of architecture. He also built additional rooms in the rear on the upper floors and removed a stable and other outbuildings in the backyard."

The additional rooms he built to the rear appear to be the third floor of the kitchen wing, and by surface evidence they seem to have been added shortly after the third and fourth floors of the main house were put in their present condition. The house is described as being two floors in other sources.

On August 14, 1963, a fire started in the evening on the floor of the pantry near some paint cans and aged wires. The fire spread through the first floor and into the second before it was brought under control by the District of Columbia Fire Department, which classed it as a two alarm blaze.

The fire began in the oldest, or 1802, portion which was probably the original parlor. The fire destroyed most of the woodwork in this room and the modern kitchen to its north. The door from this wing to the garden, the original front door of the first house, was very much damaged. The doors from the pantry, or parlor, to the dining room and the main hall were destroyed. Trim and plaster were damaged in the two main rooms of the first floor. The stair well had minor damage with scorching to the stairs. On the second floor the rooms of the rear wing were damaged.

The fire caused little serious damage to the basic structure of the house. The prime losses were in trim and plaster. Several of the windows on the front of the building were destroyed, but there was no damage to the roof or floors.

The Arts Club repaired the damage by February 24, 1964. In the interest of expediting repairs and getting the kitchen back into operation the club installed modern kitchen facilities in place of those destroyed by the fire. The kitchen was expanded into the former enclosed porch at the extreme rear of the house, and the 1802 parlor was retained as a pantry.

In these repairs much original trim was lost to similar trim around doors and windows. The door from the 1802 wing to the exterior was replaced with a wood panel door which is only similar to the original.

The interior of the Caldwell house has plaster walls and ceilings with wood board floors. There are some molded plaster cornice moldings and much decorative woodwork, consisting of moldings, chair rails, wainscoting and paneling. The fixtures on the doors of the main house are of brass and many of the nobs, etc. are oval. The house is heated by modern radiators and lighted by electric fixtures.

The basement of the main house has been remodeled into a modern cocktail lounge with a plaster ceiling and brick and concrete floor. The walls are varied but, for the most part, the stone foundation and side walls have been used in the decorative theme. Modern additions to the basement include a pair of bathrooms and a new furnace room. The rear of the basement under the kitchen ell is relatively unaltered. This section consists of two rooms, directly under the two rooms of the kitchen above. Here can be seen the stone foundation walls and some of the floor framing for the first floor. These timbers have been altered a bit but there are some hewn and some sawn with much of the original construction in tact. Among the original members is the framing for a now removed hearth above the first floor. The construction is mortise and tenon with pegs and wedges.

There is one old winding stair up from the rear basement to the kitchen. A recent concrete stair goes up to the first floor from the basement of the main house. There is also an old outdoor entrance from the street front of the house. This has shed or sloped doors which open up. The basement windows are small and open into areaways.

The first floor has a hall running the entire west portion of the main house flanked on the east by a pair of main rooms. The front portion of the hall has been enclosed by a pair of swinging glass doors into a square vestibule. This appears to have been altered, but from surface evidence there is little clue as to what happened. There is a stone floor in this area which is not original. The remainder of the hall is broken in half, the front portion is the entrance to one of the principal rooms. The rear portion is the stair hall. This one and only stair and hall runs up for the entire four floors of the house.

The main stairway is of mahogany in part and of softer wood in some finish portions. The major portion is painted now as is most of the woodwork in the house. From surface evidence it seems as if the stairway had been finished in a dark color at one time. The stair has a continuous runup to the fourth floor turning on itself at landings set half way between the floors. There is a small open well in the center of the stairway from roof to first floor. At the origin of the stair on the first floor, there is a newel with an agate in the top which is surrounded by a winding banister with balusters and a curving step. The banister is finished in dark natural wood as are the treads. There is wainscoting along the stair and in the hall, similar to that used in the first floor front room. On the sides or ends of the steps is a carved wood scroll covered with bas-relief garlands.

The halls on the first floor have molded plaster cornice moldings. The glass partition forming an entry out of the front end of the hall has an arch above and a fanlight vaguely similar to that in the front door. At the base of the stairway, dividing the remaining hall in half is another arch. This is a good sized affair picking up the theme of the front door and vestibule fanlights. This archway is completely open and is quite attractive. The arch has a simple corrugated pattern with a scroll keystone and rests on like corrugated pilasters, with simple bases and caps.

The front room of the main house was the reception room. It is square and formal with three windows overlooking the street and a wide doorway leading into the rear room or the dining room. The reception room has wainscoting of white painted wood, with recessed panels and molded trim. There is a fireplace in the east wall. This fireplace is black marble with neutral veining, and is rather simple with side pilasters and a shelf. The ceiling of the reception room, as in the dining room, has been lowered to accommodate added structural steel. There was a cornice molding put on the lowered ceiling but it is probably much smaller than the original. The only illumination in the room comes from an electric crystal chandelier.

The dining room is finished much in the same manner as the reception room. This room has a pair of openings looking out over the rear garden. There is no wainscoting, but the fireplace and the trim are similar. There is a door from the dining room to the garden which is not original. This is made from a double hung window with a swinging panel beneath.

To the rear of the first floor is the kitchen wing, which has been altered considerably. It is broken Into two rooms, the butler's pantry and the kitchen. These rooms have plaster ceilings and walls with wood board floors and modern cabinets. Both rooms have had their fireplaces removed. The butler's pantry is commonly believed to have been the parlor of the original house on the site. To the rear of the kitchen wing is a wooden porch, primarily constructed of lattice.

Across the front of the second floor is the largest room of the house, the Drawing Room. This room has white painted wooden trim and four front windows, much the same as the first floor. There is a wood mantel in the Adams-Wedgwood manner which is reputed to have come from the parlor in the rear wing, now the butler's pantry. This mantel was moved when the main portion of the house was built. The chandeliers in this room and the adjacent library are reputed to have come from a house in Baltimore. These rooms are connected by a wide doorway and are similar in trim. The fireplace in the library is similar to those on the first floor. The hearths throughout the house are of dark red brick. The doors in this portion of the house match those in the main portion of the first floor. They are quite large 6-panel painted wood doors. The rear wing of the second floor is broken into two rooms and a bath. The trim here is later than the rest of the house. To the rear of the main house, from the library, is a recent balcony which is approached by a stairway from the garden.

The third floor, much changed in all respects, carries a good deal of late 19th century trim. The stair hall matches the remainder of the house, however. Across the front of the main house there is a pair of small rooms and across the rear there are a bedroom and a bathroom. The room in the southwest corner is dedicated as the James Monroe Room. This room is finished in tongue-and-groove wainscoting and trim, which appears to have been painted woodgrain at one time. The fireplace is of wood with simple pilasters and shelf. The same mantelpiece was used in the other two rooms on the third floor. The rear wing of the building is possibly the most recently done section of the building and has similar, but more ornate, trim to the front third floor. It uses a more complex tongue-and-groove pattern. At the time that this wing was either built or remodeled a window in the stair well had to be partially covered over on its lower portion to conceal the juncture of the main house and the roof of the ell. The window was covered over in the same multi-reeded tongue-and groove board that was used in the third floor of the kitchen wing.

The fourth floor is a dormered space over the main house. There are two rooms across the front and one and a bath across the rear. The finish here is plaster with simple trim, similar to that used on the third floor. There are simple wooden mantels in the front two rooms. The dormers on the front two rooms have casement windows with three lights to a side. The ceilings above these dormers are plaster, the one on the east is a barrel vault and the one on the west is a very flat arch. The barrel vault dormer is probably a latter innovation.

The attic of the Timothy Caldwell house has brick end walls. It is entered from a hatch in the northeast room of the fourth floor. The roof boards run parallel to the ridge and are spaced apart in such a manner that a second layer of boards can be seen. The roof has no ridge pole, and the rafters meet at the ridge and are there fitted together and pegged. These rafters are patched and vary a good deal in spacing, size and finish.