Historic Structures

Robert P. Dodge House, Washington DC

Date added: January 12, 2011 Categories: House

Robert Perley Dodge was born in 1817, the son of Francis Dodge, an important merchant and shipper in Georgetown. He attended Princeton University. In only two years he graduated fifth in a class of seventy-six. He then entered the School of Engineering in Kentucky where he completed his major course of study in six months. He was offered a professorship in mathematics, but declined the offer in favor of a position as a civil engineer.

Dodge returned to Washington to become a consulting engineer for the C. and 0. Canal Company. In 1850, along with his brother, he engaged Downing and Vaux to design his house. In July of 1854 Congress granted a charter to David English, Robert P. Dodge, Richard Cruikshank, William M. Fitzhugh, Richard Pettit, W. T. Seymour, Adolpheous Pickerell and William Bucknell to form "a body corporation by name and style of Georgetown Gas Light Company."

The following year, 1855, the Board of Aldermen and the Board of Common Council authorized the mayor of Georgetown to sell or lease to Robert Dodge, Thomas Brown and E. G. Brown all of Lingan Street (now 36th Street) south of the canal and fronting on the river. Here Dodge constructed the Columbia Flour Mill which he operated with Vincent Taylor.

The Dodge family lost a great deal of their money in the shipping business in the panic of 1857; Robert, however, was not harmed. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Dodge shut down his Columbia Flour Mill and accepted a commission in the Union Array as a major and became paymaster. After the war he was employed by the government of the District of Columbia. He was a vestryman of St. John's Church for forty-two years.

Mr. Robbins (1885-1935), the owner of the house between 1920 and 1935, served in the Diplomatic Corps in the Division of Latin American Affairs and was appointed chief of the Division of protocol in the Department of State. Robbins was supposed to have held a special attachment for the Dodge House because his grandfather's house in Newburgh, New York had also been designed by Andrew Jackson Downing.

Notes on the Dodge House from Villas and Cottages:
In the first edition of the book the Dodge House, along with the House at 30th and Q for Francis Dodge, are presented as design no. 17, "A Suburban Villa." Vaux points out the special features of the design: "All principal rooms can be reached, as may be seen on reference to the plans, from the upper floor, without its being necessary to traverse the principal hall," (Vaux, p. 222) because of the arrangement of stairs and doorways.

Originally the kitchen was in the basement. The second floor had one large bedroom with an attached dressing room and three other "roomy chambers." There was one small bedroom, a bath, water closet, and linen-press. A spare room was included in the upper part of the tower.

Concerning the cost of the house, Vaux said: "When these houses were first planned it seemed to be the intention of both proprietors to carry them out in a very simple and economical way; and as the season was a good one for building, it was roughly calculated that they might cost about $8,000 or $9,000."

In a letter from Francis Dodge to Mr. Vaux, dated June 3, 1854 (and in Vaux, p. 223), Dodge reported that the cost had gone beyond Downing's estimates to about $15,000 for each house, "...we have fine houses and very comfortable and satisfactory in every respect. They are much admired. We built them in the very best manner, of the best materials,"

Descriptions:
Alterations to the home have been considerable. On the outside the hood molds, brackets, canopies, and other Italianate features have been removed, the gable end bull's-eye windows filled in, and the original chimney removed. The northeast front porch or "verandah" has been replaced by a two-story porch of large square pillars. The northwest veranda or porch has been glazed. To the south of the original library a single-story wing (with garage under) has been added, extending the library about 25'; there is a modern porch west of this addition. The front entry porch has now been enclosed and the third story has been raised on the west side. On the inside there has been some repartitioning on the second floor. With the exception of the stairs, floors, doors and door moldings, the interior has been entirely redecorated. Apparently these changes were all made about 1936; the library wing was built in 1930.

The house measures about 60' north-south (with the one-floor library addition 20' more) and about 54' east-west. The house is rectangular, with the two-story porch at the northeast corner, and the glazed porch with one story added above it at the northwest. On the east front, two main stories plus a third-floor tower room are visible; on the rear, however, the basement is exposed almost completely at grade, and the third-story roof has been raised about six feet above the former cornice line, so that there are four full stories visible. On the north there is a one-story bay on the drawing room.

The first floor has changed very little from the published plan of 1857. The changes are primarily additions. The entrance porch is now an enclosed entrance vestibule; the northwest veranda has been made into a room by glazing the four openings (it is now entered from the dining room by a doorway about 9' wide, located where a triple window is indicated on the plan); the pantry is now the kitchen, with a modern elevator against the north wall, and the southeast closet has been closed up to make a small water closet, entered from the main stair hall; the windows in the south wall of the kitchen have been made smaller; the library has been extended to the south about 25 feet to make a total length of about 42'; the library fireplace--originally on the west wall, to the right of the door into the main stair hall--has been moved to the south wall; and the door from the drawing room into the dining room has been closed up. All other partitions appear to be the same as on the plan. The measurements of the rooms correspond almost exactly to the figures given on the plan. The hall, for example, measures 14'-6" x 17'-6" taken wall to wall (the baseboard is 2-1/2" thick) which is the same as on the plan. The dining room appears to be a few inches narrower than on the plan, but the length is identical (22 feet). First-floor ceilings are about 13' high.

On the second floor there have been more partition changes. The southeast bedroom has been decreased in size at the north by about eight feet, giving space for a bath and an entry hall with large closet. The tower room has also been made smaller with the addition of a hall and linen closets (which occupy about seven feet of the northern portion) and a bath (which extends about two feet into the north bedroom, thus permitting the insertion of a small window under the present portico). The central hall has also been made smaller by the addition of closets and a built-in bar on either side of a passage about eight feet long, running from the hall into the north bedroom. The latter has been enlarged to 24' x 15' by eliminating the dressing room. The area over the northwest porch is now a spacious bathroom, reached both from the large west bedroom and the enlarged north bedroom. The bedroom in the southwest corner has been enlarged by combining it with the former bathroom, and the adjoining closet has been converted into a small lavatory.

The third floor has five rooms and two baths, and a number of closets. Originally, however, this was "a large open garret space, lighted from the gables," with only the tower room finished. The basement--where the original kitchen was located--now contains a number of finished rooms.

This house is located at the southwest corner of 28th and Q Streets, facing east onto 28th. There is a spacious yard and garden to the west of the house.