In the 1850s, the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association saved Mount Vernon from ruin and laid the foundation for historic preservation in the United States. The Daughters of the American Revolution, founded in 1890, also works to preserve historical assets.
Working under the same umbrella and perhaps not receiving the credit they deserve is the NSCDA, National Society of Colonial Dames.
We learned a bit more about them on a visit to the Dumbarton Historic Home in Georgetown, which serves as the Society’s National Headquarters.
Nevertheless, Dumbarton makes for a rewarding experience. After a nine-month period of closure for interior improvements, this historic home reopened last weekend. Interpretive panels not only touch on the home’s interior and history, but also interpret Georgetown as the mansion’s setting.
Dumbarton also boasts “The Exchange,” a room showing a first printing of the Articles of Confederation (1777) along with a copy of The Federalist papers. The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America also get their due with some panels of information.
Like Tudor Place, Dumbarton sits high on the hill in the northwest corner of Georgetown (2715 Q Street).
A fortress within an enclave is a stretch to describe Dumbarton’s setting, but the mansion certainly is protected by its natural surroundings. To the east lies Rock Creek and Rock Creek Parkway. To the north, woodland and parks.
Dumbarton’s main facade resembles Woodlawn, with a Federal style. As a marker in the house points out, the builder incorporated Adamesque touches. This is a reference to Scottish born Robert Adam. Features include arches, fluted or receded columns and elaborate plasterwork. Other houses in this group include Woodlawn, the Octagon House, and Oatlands.
Dumbarton’s story begins in earnest in 1799 when Samuel Jackson built a large two-story brick house with four rooms. In 1805, Joseph Nourse (1754-1841), an immigrant from England, bought the property from the US Government at auction. Raised in Virginia, he served as aide-de-camp to General Charles Lee during the Rev War.
Nourse also served as the Register of the Treasury during the Federal government's infant stages. He held the key position through six presidential administrations. Nourse and his wife Maria attended formal events in Washington including the White House. After his Federal service, Nourse served as an officer for the National Monument Society. He was laid to rest in Rock Creek Cemetery.
When cities expand, a property can get in the way of progress (This happened to the New York Giants' original ballpark, the Polo Grounds, which was torn down in the 1880s).
Dumbarton got in the way of Washington's expansion after the turn of the century. Matthew B. Gilmore tells us the mansion’s owner, John L. Newbold, received a demolition notice from the District of Columbia. The house stood in their right of way to extend Q Street between 27 and 28th westward and over Rock Creek.
In 1914, the owner paid to have the home moved 60 feet northward. Ten years later, Congressman Ogden L. Mills arrived as a tenant. In 1928, Mrs. Cresson Newbold sold Dumbarton to the National Society of Colonial Dames.
Admission is $10. Guided or self-guided tours are available. We didn't see anyone from the NSCDA, which seemed appropriate. They do their good work without a lot of fanfare.