START: Kafe Leopold’s (D.C. Circulator bus; nearest Metro stop Foggy Bottom).
FINISH: Old Stone House (D.C. Circulator bus; nearest Metro stop Foggy Bottom).
TIME: 2 1/2 to 3 hours (not including stops). The distance is about 3 1/2 miles.
BEST TIME: Weekday mornings are best to start out. If you want to do the house and museum tours, go Tuesday to Sunday.
WORST TIME: Saturday, when Georgetown’s crazy social scene sometimes spills over into the back streets.
The Georgetown famous for its shops, restaurants, and bars is not the Georgetown you’ll see on this walking tour. Instead, the circuit will take you along quiet streets lined with charming houses and stately trees that remind you of the town’s age and history. The original George Town, comprising 60 acres and named for the king of England, was officially established in 1751. It assumed new importance in 1790 when President George Washington, with help from his Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, determined that America’s new capital city would be located on a site nearby, on the Potomac River. Georgetown was incorporated into the District of Columbia in 1871.
Strolling Around Georgetown
Get your stroll off to a good start by stopping first for pastries or something more substantial at 3315 Cady’s Alley NW, no. 213, the charming:
1 Kafe Leopold’s
Through a passageway and down a flight of stairs from busy M Street NW lies a cluster of chi-chi shops and Kafe Leopold’s (www.kafeleopolds.com; (tel 202/965-6005), a cute little Austrian coffeehouse that serves breakfast items until 4pm and assorted other delicious dishes all day. Onion tarts, veal schnitzel, tea sandwiches, endive salad, croque-monsieur sandwiches, apple strudel, smoked fish with caperberries, Viennese coffee, and champagne cocktails are all on the menu. Leopold’s opens daily at 8am and stays open until at least 10pm.
Return now to M Street, turn left, and continue to 3350 M St. NW, where you’ll find the:
2 Forrest-Marbury House
No one notices this nondescript building on the edge of Georgetown near Key Bridge. But the plaque on its pink-painted brick facade hints at reasons for giving the 1788 building a once-over. Most significant is the fact that on March 29, 1791, Revolutionary War hero Uriah Forrest hosted a dinner here for his old friend George Washington and landowners who were being asked to sell their land for the purpose of creating the federal city of Washington, District of Columbia. The meeting was a success, and America’s capital was born. Forrest and his wife lived here until Federalist William Marbury bought the building in 1800. Marbury is the man whose landmark case, Marbury v. Madison, resulted in the recognition of the Supreme Court’s power to rule on the constitutionality of laws passed by Congress and in the institutionalization of the fundamental right of judicial review. The building has served as the Ukrainian Embassy since December 31, 1992. The interior is not open to the public.
Walk to the corner of M and 34th streets, cross M Street, and walk up 34th Street one block to Prospect Street, where you’ll cross to the other side of 34th Street to view 3400 Prospect St. NW, the:
3 Halcyon House
Benjamin Stoddert, a Revolutionary War cavalry officer and the first Secretary of the Navy, built the smaller, original version of this house in 1789 and named it for a mythical bird said to be an omen of tranquil seas. (Stoddert was also a shipping merchant.) The Georgian mansion, like its neighbor Prospect House, is situated upon elevated land, the Potomac River viewable beyond. The river lapped right up to Stoddert’s terraced garden—designed by Pierre Charles L’Enfant, no less—220 years ago.
Sometime after 1900, an eccentric named Albert Clemons, a nephew of Mark Twain, bought the property and proceeded to transform it, creating the four-story Palladian facade and a maze of apartments and hallways between the facade and Stoddert’s original structure. Clemons is said to have filled the house with religious paraphernalia, and there are numerous stories about the house involving sightings of shadowy figures and sounds of screams and strange noises in the night. Owners of Halcyon House since Clemons’s death in 1938 have included Georgetown University and a noted local sculptor, John Dreyfuss. In 2011, Japanese pharmaceutical moguls Dr. Sachiko Kuno and Dr. Ryuji Ueno purchased Halcyon House and Evermay .
Continue along Prospect Street to no. 3508, the site of:
4 Prospect House
This privately owned house was built in 1788 by James Maccubbin Lingan, a Revolutionary War hero and wealthy tobacco merchant. He is thought to have designed the house himself. Lingan sold the house in the 1790s to a prosperous banker named John Templeman, whose guests included President John Adams and the Marquis de Lafayette. In the late 1940s, James Forrestal, the Secretary of Defense under President Harry Truman, bought the house and offered it to his boss as a place for entertaining visiting heads of state, because the Trumans were living in temporary digs at Blair House while the White House was being renovated. The restored Georgian-style mansion is named for its view of the Potomac River. Note the gabled roof with dormer window and the sunray fanlight over the front door; at the rear of the property (not visible from the street) is an octagonal watchtower used by 18th-century ship owners for sightings of ships returning to port.
Keep heading west on Prospect Street until you reach 37th Street. Turn right and follow 37th Street to its intersection with O Street, where you’ll see:
5 Georgetown University
Founded in 1789, Georgetown is Washington’s oldest university and the nation’s first Catholic university and first Jesuit-run university. Founder John Carroll, the first Catholic bishop in America and a cousin of a Maryland signer of the Declaration of Independence, opened the university to “students of every religious profession.” His close friends included Benjamin Franklin and George Washington, who, along with the Marquis de Lafayette, addressed students from “Old North,” which is the campus’s oldest building. After the Civil War, students chose the school colors blue (the color used for Union uniforms) and gray (the color used for Confederate uniforms) to celebrate the end of the war and to honor slain students. The 104-acre campus is lovely, beginning with the stunning, spired, Romanesque-style stone building on display beyond the university’s main entrance on 37th Street. That would be Healy Building, which is named for Patrick Healy, university president from 1873 to 1882 and the first African American to head a major, predominantly white university.
Turn right on O Street and walk one block to 36th Street, where you’ll turn right again. Stroll past Holy Trinity Church, built in 1829, and continue to N Street, where you should turn left to view Holy Trinity’s parish chapel (3519 N St.), the city’s oldest standing church. Built in 1794, the chapel has been in continuous use ever since. Continue farther on N Street, strolling several blocks until you reach nos. 3327 to 3339, collectively known as:
6 Cox’s Row
Built in 1817 and named for their owner and builder, John Cox, these five charming houses exemplify Federal-period architecture, with their dormer windows, decorative facades, and handsome doorways. Besides being a master builder, Cox was also Georgetown’s first elected mayor, serving 22 years. He occupied the corner house at no. 3339 and housed the Marquis de Lafayette next door at no. 3337 when he came to town in 1824.
Follow N Street to the end of the block, where you’ll see:
7 3307 N St. NW
John and Jacqueline Kennedy lived in this brick town house while Kennedy served as the U.S. senator from Massachusetts. The Kennedys purchased the house shortly after the birth of their daughter Caroline. Across the street at no. 3302 is a plaque on the side wall of the brick town house inscribed by members of the press in gratitude for kindnesses received there in the days before Kennedy’s presidential inauguration. Another plaque honors Stephen Bloomer Balch (1747–1833), a Revolutionary War officer who once lived here.
Turn left on 33rd Street and walk one block north to O Street. Turn right on O Street and proceed to no. 3240, the site of:
8 St. John’s Episcopal Church, Georgetown
Partially designed by Dr. William Thornton—first architect of the Capitol, who also designed the Octagon, and Tudor Place—the church was begun in 1796 and completed in 1809. Its foundation, walls, roof, and bell tower are all original. Its early congregants were the movers and shakers of their times: President Thomas Jefferson (who contributed $50 toward the building fund), Dolley Madison, Tudor Place’s Thomas and Martha Peter, and Francis Scott Key. To tour the church, stop by the office, just around the corner on Potomac Street, weekdays between 10am and 4pm, or attend a service on Sunday at 9am or 11am. Visit www.stjohnsgeorgetown.org or call tel 202/338-1796 for more info.
Follow O Street to busy Wisconsin Avenue and turn right, walking south to reach this favorite Washington hangout. Too early for a break? Return here or to another choice restaurant later; you’re never far from Wisconsin Avenue wherever you are in Georgetown.
9 Martin’s Tavern
At 1264 Wisconsin Ave. NW (www.martins-tavern.com; tel 202/333-7370) you’ll find this American tavern, run by a string of Billy Martins, the first of whom opened the tavern in 1933. The original Billy’s great-grandson is running the show today. So it’s a bar, but also very much a restaurant (bring the children—everyone does), with glass-topped white tablecloths, paneled walls, wooden booths, and an all-American menu of burgers, crab cakes, Cobb salad, and pot roast. Martin’s is famous as the place where John F. Kennedy proposed to Jacqueline Bouvier in 1953—look for booth no. 3. Open Monday to Thursday 11am to 1:30am, Friday 11am to 2:30am, Saturday 9am to 2:30am, and Sunday 8am to 1:30am.
Back outside, cross Wisconsin Avenue, follow it north to O Street, and turn right. Walk to 31st Street and turn left; follow it until you reach the entrance to the grand estate at 1644 31st St. NW:
10 Tudor Place
Yet another of the architectural gems designed by the first architect of the Capitol, Dr. William Thornton, Tudor Place crowns a hill in Georgetown, set among beautiful gardens first plotted some 200 years ago. The 5 1/2-acre estate belonged to Martha Washington’s granddaughter, Martha Custis Peter, and her husband, Thomas Peter; Martha Custis purchased it in 1805 using an $8,000 legacy left to her by her step-grandfather, George Washington. Custis-Peter descendants lived here until 1983.
Tours of the house ($10) are docent-led only and reveal rooms decorated to reflect various periods of the Peter family tenancy. Exceptional architectural features include a clever floor-to-ceiling windowed wall, whose glass panes appear to curve in the domed portico (an optical illusion: It’s the woodwork frame that curves, not the glass itself). On display throughout the first-floor rooms are more than 100 of George Washington’s furnishings and other family items from Tudor Place’s 8,000-piece collection. Docents reveal the rich history of the estate. From a sitting-room window in this summit location, Martha Custis Peter and Anna Maria Thornton (the architect’s wife) watched the Capitol burn in 1814, during the War of 1812. The Peters hosted a reception for the Marquis de Lafayette in the drawing room in 1824. Friend and family relative Robert E. Lee spent his last night in Washington in one of the upstairs bedrooms.
Tours of the gardens ($3) are self-guided, with or without the use of an audio guide; a bowling green and boxwood ellipse are among the plum features. Tudor Place (www.tudorplace.org; tel 202/965-0400) is open Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 4pm and Sunday noon to 4pm, with tours given every hour on the hour. Note: Tudor Place is closed for the entire month of January.
From 31st Street, retrace your steps as far back as Q Street, where you’ll turn left and walk several blocks to reach 2715 Q St. NW:
11 Dumbarton House
This stately red-brick mansion (www.dumbartonhouse.org; tel 202/337-2288), originally called Bellevue, was built between 1799 and 1805. In 1915, it was moved 100 yards to its current location to accommodate the placement of nearby Dumbarton Bridge over Rock Creek. The house exemplifies Federal-period architecture, which means that its rooms are almost exactly symmetrical on all floors and are centered by a large hall. Federal-period furnishings, decorative arts, and artwork fill the house; admire the dining room’s late-18th-century sideboard, silver and ceramic pieces, and paintings by Charles Willson Peale. One of the original owners of Dumbarton House was Joseph Nourse, first Register of the U.S. Treasury, who lived here with his family from 1805 to 1813. Dumbarton House is most famous as the place where Dolley Madison stopped for a cup of tea on August 24, 1814, while escaping the British, who had just set fire to the White House. It is open year-round Tuesday to Sunday from 11am to 3pm. Admission is $5, and tours are self-guided.
Exit Dumbarton House and turn right, retrace your steps along Q Street, and turn right on 28th Street. Climb the hill to reach 1623 28th St. NW, the estate of:
This is a private residence, purchased in 2011 by Japanese pharmaceutical moguls Dr. Sachiko Kuno and Dr. Ryuji Ueno. And though much of the estate is obscured by brick ramparts and dense foliage, what’s on view is impressive. As the plaque on the estate wall tells you, Evermay was built from 1792 to 1794 by Scottish real estate speculator and merchant Samuel Davidson with the proceeds Davidson made from the sale of lands he owned around the city, including part of the present-day White House and Lafayette Square properties. By all accounts, Davidson was something of an eccentric misanthrope, guarding his privacy by placing menacing advertisements in the daily papers with such headlines as evermay proclaims, take care, enter not here, for punishment is near.
Follow the brick sidewalk and iron fence that run alongside:
13 Oak Hill Cemetery
Founded in 1850 by banker/philanthropist/art collector William Wilson Corcoran, Oak Hill is the final resting place for many of the people you’ve been reading about, within this chapter and in other chapters of this book. Corcoran is buried here, in a Doric temple of a mausoleum, along with the Peters of Tudor Place and the son of William Marbury of the Forrest-Marbury House. Corcoran purchased the property from George Corbin Washington, a great-nephew of President Washington. The cemetery consists of 25 beautifully landscaped acres adjacent to Rock Creek Park, with winding paths shaded by ancient oaks. Look for the Gothic-style stone Renwick Chapel, designed by James Renwick, architect of the Renwick Gallery, the Smithsonian Castle , and New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The Victorian landscaping, in the Romantic tradition of its era, strives for a natural look: Iron benches have a twig motif, and many of the graves are symbolically embellished with inverted torches, draped obelisks, angels, and broken columns. Even the gatehouse is worth noting; designed in 1850 by George de la Roche, it’s a beautiful brick-and-sandstone Italianate structure. Want to go for a stroll here? Download a cemetery map from the website, www.oakhillcemeterydc.org, or stop by the gatehouse (tel 202/337-2835) to pick one up. The grounds and gatehouse are open weekdays from 9am to 4:30pm; the grounds are also open on Sunday from 1 to 4pm.
Exit Oak Hill through the main entrance, and continue on the brick pathway to your right, strolling along R Street past Montrose Park until you reach the garden entrance to Dumbarton Oaks, on 31st Street. Or, if you’d prefer to visit the historic house and museum, continue around the corner to enter at 1703 32nd St. NW.
14 Dumbarton Oaks and Garden
In the mood for love? Head straight to the walled gardens, whose tiered park includes masses of roses, a Mexican tile-bordered pebble garden, a wisteria-covered arbor, cherry-tree groves, overlooks, and lots of romantic winding paths. The oldest part of Dumbarton Oaks mansion dates from 1801; since then the house has undergone considerable change, notably at the hands of a couple named Robert and Mildred Bliss, who purchased the property in 1920. As Robert was in the Foreign Service, the Blisses lived a nomadic life, amassing collections of Byzantine and Pre-Columbian art, books relating to these studies, and volumes on the history of landscape architecture. After purchasing Dumbarton Oaks, the Blisses inaugurated a grand re-landscaping of the grounds and remodeling of the mansion to accommodate their collections and the library, which now occupy the entire building. In 1940, the Blisses conveyed the house, gardens, and art collections to Harvard University, Robert’s alma mater. In the summer of 1944, at the height of World War II, Dumbarton Oaks served as the location for a series of diplomatic meetings that would cement the principles later incorporated into the United Nations charter. The conferences took place in the Music Room, which you should visit to admire the immense 16th-century stone chimney piece, 18th-century parquet floor, and antique Spanish, French, and Italian furniture. Dumbarton Oaks Museum (www.doaks.org; tel 202/339-6401) is open year-round Tuesday to Sunday 2 to 5pm, with free admission. The garden is open Tuesday to Sunday 2 to 6pm from March 15 to October 31, for an admission fee of $8; and Tuesday to Sunday 2 to 5pm from November 1 to March 14, with free admission.
From the intersection of R and 31st streets, follow 31st Street downhill all the way to M Street and turn left to find your final destination at 3051 M St. NW:
15 Old Stone House
Located on one of the busiest streets in Washington, the unobtrusive Old Stone House offers a quiet look back at life in early America, starting in 1765, when the Layman family built this home. Originally, the structure was simply one room made of thick stone walls, oak ceiling beams, and packed dirt floors. In 1800, a man named John Suter bought the building and used it as his clock-maker’s shop. The grandfather clock you see on the second floor is the only original piece remaining in the house. Acquired by the National Park Service in the 1950s, the Old Stone House today shows small rooms furnished as they would have been in the late 18th century, during the period when Georgetown was a significant tobacco and shipping port. Park rangers provide information and sometimes demonstrate cooking in an open hearth, spinning, and making pomander balls. Adjacent to and behind the house is a terraced lawn and 18th-century English garden, a spot long frequented by Georgetown shop and office workers seeking a respite. Old Stone House (www.nps.gov/olst; tel 202/426-6851) is open daily noon to 5pm; the garden is open daily dawn to dusk.
You’re in the middle of Georgetown, surrounded by restaurants, shops, and bars. Go crazy!