When it comes to the places where Francis Scott Key laid his head at night, few remain. "Terra Rubra," his childhood home, is a replica, built after strong winds damaged it beyond repair. The folly of man allowed his mansion in Georgetown to be torn down, now just a patch of land lacking even a commemorative marker. The site of his home in Judiciary Square is now a kleenex box for the Department of Labor, and also not marked.
Fortunately, his room and board during his school and college days still stands, the handsome home of his great aunt and uncle in Annapolis.
And then there’s the Maples/Friendship House in SE DC (630 South Carolina/619 D Street). Key purchased the Georgian townhouse in 1815. Some sources say he lived here until 1838, but Jeanne Fogle ("A Neighborhood Guide to Washington, D.C.'s Hidden History") notes he probably just leased it until 1833, and then lived there for a short period of time.
The great news about this historic house is the guardians of preservation have secured its future. True, it won’t be open to the public, but new life comes in the form of rehabilitation. The plans are to convert the property into flats, duplexes and townhomes. The Maples is the oldest privately owned building in Capitol Hill.
The property stands out with its additions and a large front lawn, a rare sight in this urban community of row houses. Of course, "front" and "back" depends on the point of view. Walking along D Street, one gathers the pair of steps that curves up to an iron gate mark the front. A commemorative marker says, The Maples Built in 1797. Originally, the primary entrance looked to South Carolina Ave. The view to and from South Carolina Avenue will be maintained.
During the demolition we did find some pipes in the walls that we were unaware of with wrap that we suspected contained asbestos. We brought in an environmental engineer to survey our findings and submitted that report to the city. Our engineer is in the process of getting the remediation plan done and approved and we hope to complete the interior demolition shortly.
We did submit for our garage permit last year. Issuance of the permit was delayed because of some of confusion by zoning review, despite the fact that we received a reliance letter from the zoning administrator to avoid such confusion. We have subsequently resolved the issue and expect the permit to be issued as soon as our contractor submits their traffic plan to the city. We anticipate starting construction late spring with delivery of the townhouses and carriage house in early 2013.
Unknown to most is the history of the house prior to becoming a Hull House-like community center. Before the turn of the 18th Century, a log cabin and maple grove resided on the tract of land. Anticipating the capital real estate boom Washington promised, a wealthy Englishman, William Mayne Duncanson, bought the land and built the original house in 1796. As Kim Roberts, of DC Writers' Homes notes:
The real estate investments bankrupted him and he died almost a pauper in 1812. The Maples is the only remaining trace of Duncanson in the city.
President George Washington graced the house as a guest. It served as a hospital for the wounded in the Battle of Bladensburg in 1814. A year later, Key bought the house. His personal fortune had increased after Philip Ross Key, his wealthy uncle passed away.
Roberts also said:
Other prominent owners of the house include: Senator John Clayton of Delaware (who purchased it in 1856, and added a ballroom decorated by Constantin Brumidi, the painter of the US Capitol), the journalist Emily Edson Briggs (first woman political correspondent based in DC and first woman admitted to the Congressional press galleries), and a nonprofit group who turned it into a social service center and renamed the property Friendship House (purchased in 1937).