Dumbarton Oaks, located at 1703 32nd Street, NW, is a 19th century Federal-style mansion in upper Georgetown, noted for its history and gardens and as an academic center (It is the home of the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, a center for scholarship in Byzantine studies, Pre-Columbian studies and the history of landscape architecture)
The original property was part of a 795-acre tract in Georgetown once own by Colonel Ninian Beall, a member of the Maryland House of Burgesses and Commander-in-Chief of Maryland’s Provincial Forces from 1625 to 1717.
Beall was an immigrant from Scotland who started his life in America as an indentured servant and ended up as a major landowner and merchant. In 1675, he took part in Bacon's Rebellion.
Beall was one of the first settlers in the Georgetown area and called his estate “The Rock of Dumbarton” in honor of the land of his birth in Scotland. (Dumbarton and Dumbarton Castle is in the west central lowlands of Scotland and functioned as the capital of the ancient Kingdom of Strathclyde) The property extended to the Potomac River and included a tobacco warehouse, a gristmill, and an iron foundry.
The part of the land on which the mansion now stands remained in the Beall family until 1796, when the four and ½-acre lot on which Dumbarton House was eventually erected was sold in 1798 to developer Samuel Jackson.
Jackson bought 4.5 acres of "Rock of Dumbarton" and began to construct the property that eventually became known as "Cedar Hill." Although construction began in approximately 1799, work was halted when Jackson went bankrupt. Not having an intended owner for the house, it went up for public auction, and eventually was acquired by Joseph Nourse, the First Register of the United States Treasury, who lived in the home from 1804-1814.
Nourse (London, England, 16 July 1754 - Washington 1841) career in the federal government spanned forty years and six presidential administrations. He played a key role in administering the finances of the new Republic. He served as military secretary to General Charles Lee during the American Revolution and then returned for a short time to his family's farm in Berkeley County, Virginia (now West Virginia). He settled in Philadelphia in 1779, where he served as Assistant Auditor General for the Board of Treasury.
He was elected Register in 1781, where he assumed responsibility for keeping the financial records and accounts of the new government. He also authenticated each piece of Continental currency by personally signing it. In 1800, he moved with the federal government from Philadelphia to the City of Washington.
He purchased a residence in the Georgetown area, first at 3101 P Street and later acquired Cedar Hill (as Dumbarton House was named then) in 1804. As Register of the Treasury, he worked closely with four administrations and early political leaders of the new nations. When Andrew Jackson was elected President in 1829, Joseph Nourse was forced from office and died at his Mount St. Alban home in northwest Washington in 1841.
Charles Carroll, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, bought the property in 1813, and renamed it "Belle Vue" which hosted Dolley Madison as she fled the White House on August 24, 1814, during the British invasion of DC. (She then made her way to present day McLean using the road that would one day bear her name, Dolly Madison Boulevard)
Another resident (possibly owner) was U.S. Senator, official, and Vice President John C. Calhoun.
In 1915, when the Dumbarton (" Que Street ") Bridge was built over Rock Creek, the house was moved 100 feet to its present site, to allow for the extension of Que Street into Georgetown
The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America (The NSCDA) purchased the house in 1928 and restored it to its early 19th century character, changing the house’s name to "Dumbarton House."
The NSCDA declared Dumbarton House its national headquarters and opened it as a museum to the public in 1932.
Robert Woods Bliss
In 1920, Robert Woods Bliss (Aug. 5, 1875 - Apr. 19, 1962), and his wife, Mildred (1875-1969), purchased the property. Mildred, a prominent art collector, was the daughter of Demas Barnes, who was an investor in Charles Henry Fletcher's 'Fletcher's Castoria’ now known as Fletcher's Laxative.
issThere are about ten acres of gardens on the grounds of Dumbarton Oaks, designed from 1922 to 1947 by noted landscape architect Beatrix Jones Farrand (June 19, 1872 – February 28, 1959) in collaboration with Mrs. Robert Woods Bliss.
The Blisses in the drawing room at Dumbarton
Farrand was a landscape gardener and landscape architect in the United States. Her career included commissions to design the gardens for private residences, estates and country homes, public parks, botanic gardens, college campuses, and the White House.
Beatrix Jones Farrand
With the help of her mother and her aunt's (writer Edith Wharton) social connections she was introduced to many prominent people which led to working on a variety of significant projects on America's East Coast, Midwest, and California, and England.
Farrand did the initial site and planting planning for the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. in 1899. For the White House the first Mrs. Wilson, Ellen Loise Axson Wilson, had commissioned Beatrix Farrand to design the East Colonial Garden (now the redesigned Jacqueline Kennedy Garden) and the West Garden (now the redesigned White House Rose Garden) in 1913.
The Dumbarton gardens comprise a series of terraces built on a hill behind the house, with the remaining areas laid out informally. They include the Star Garden, Green Garden, Beech Terrace, Urn Terrace, formal Rose Garden, Arbor Terrace, Fountain Terrace, Lover's Lane Pool, and Pebble Terrace, as well as a Camellia Circle, Prunus Walk, Cherry Hill, Crabapple Hill, Forsythia Hill, and Fairview Hill. All are open to the public for a fee.
In 1940, the Blisses donated Dumbarton Oaks, their Georgian estate in Washington, D.C., together with a specialized art research library of 50,000 volumes and a collection of medieval and Byzantine art, to Harvard University. They later established endowments for the maintenance of the estate as a museum of Byzantine art and library. Bliss was cofounder of the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection.
In 1944, the estate was the scene of an international conference that worked out details for the creation of the United Nations.
Called the Dumbarton Oaks Conference or, more formally, the Washington Conversations on International Peace and Security Organization, it was an international conference at which the United Nations was formulated and negotiated among international leaders.
The conference was held at Dumbarton Oaks from August 21, 1944 through October 7, 1944.