I had four days to hang out in Georgetown, District of Columbia while Jim worked on a project, so I had to decide, out of the many choices available, where I would spend my time. I decided immediately that I would stay in Georgetown and not take the metro or a taxi into downtown Washington, DC.
Georgetown is one of the most historic areas of the capital and I think as a testament to its character, it remains charming even while undergoing extensive and annoying road and construction renovations on almost every street. It is also situated right on the beautiful Potomac River.
I wanted to try to get a sense of this history of Georgetown while I was there, so my first stop was the Old Stone House on M Street. Walking inside the oldest standing house in DC, (built in 1765) is an experience you shouldn’t miss. It was like walking back in time. I was there early in the morning, so I was alone in the tiny downstairs living area with its brick floor leading to a giant stone hearth almost big enough to walk inside, where iron cooking pots hung and twig brooms leaned. It seemed as if the occupants had just left to tend their garden.
Unfortunately he died soon after completing his house. The second owner, a woman, added the wing on the back of the tiny original structure in 1767 making it look the way you see it now. The house was used throughout its history as a home or home/shop, becoming the location of local legend such as being George Washington’s Headquarters, which is probably why it survived so many years. None of the legends has ever been proven to be true. In 1953, the U.S. Government bought the house preserving it for us today.
When you walk up the narrow stairs to the second floor parlor and bedrooms, again there is the feeling that the family will be returning at any moment. It looked like the parlor served as music room, dining room and sitting room. In one bedroom, the bed was stuffed with ticking and a white cotton nightgown lay waiting for its owner. In the other, across from the bed, sat a large spinning wheel by the hearth where the lady of the house would spin her wool. The children’s room on the third floor up under the eaves had a tiny fireplace in the corner and the bed, chest and chairs were all in miniature size for the absent children.
The house wasn’t built until 1800, by a merchant named Samuel Jackson and is a beautiful example of Federal Architecture with its hipped roof, brick façade dressed stonework arches and lintels, fan lights over the doors and a symmetrical layout.
Once inside, you can either self guide or join a group. I joined a group in progress and was pleased to find the guide very knowledgeable and a really good story teller. There is nothing worse than a boring guide! The downstairs of the house is a perfect restoration of federal style rooms, filled with furniture from that period, and important details like the locked tea caddy (important for keeping out tea thieves!). Only the lady of the house would carry the key to this expensive product.
Also important is the sideboard cabinet, a completely new type of furniture invented during the Georgian period to show off the tiny liquor cabinet called a “cellarette” and of course the family silver and china. I’m sure that Dolly Madison would have been perfectly comfortable while she took refuge in this house, August of 1814, as she fled the White House and the invading British soldiers.
Tudor Place is a beautiful example of Neo-classical architecture and is surrounded by gardens. It was built in fits and starts over a period of about twenty years. The wings were built first in 1795 by Francis Lowndes and were rented out as separate lodgings. In 1805, he sold the property to Marta Parke Custis, the grand-daughter of Martha Washington (wife of President George Washington) and her husband Thomas Peter. Unfortunately, the War of1812 delayed further construction until 1816 when the center and largest section of the house was completed. The tour takes you through the family rooms and one of the formal parlors that have been beautifully restored. Also, the kitchen and servants area is really interesting. Unfortunately, the tour is too long and has no clear focus and the house interpretation is all over the place. There are items in the rooms from the 18th century through modern times and many MANY people lived there. It’s just too much to take in at one time and the one hour tour gets a little boring. I have a background in Museum Education and have rarely seen a more confused interpretation in a museum house. Even so… the house is definitely worth visiting just for its historical importance and beauty and the gardens are lovely.
We finally decided upon a restaurant called Mie N Yu. It has a romantic Asian, Middle Eastern ambiance decorated with flowing curtains, pillows and intricate screened lanterns. Everywhere you turn there is something interesting to hold your gaze and the food turned out to be amazing. The bartender was super friendly and told us about the many floor levels that made up the restaurant, chatting with us as we drank a cocktail at the bar before dinner.
We ordered a “house salad” which had a mixture of spring greens, chick peas, artichokes, cucumbers, carrots, golden raisins, Persian “Ranch” dressing and shallots. I know it sounds like a strange combination, but it was the best salad I have had in years.
We also ordered the Afghan Lamb Chops which were grilled New Zealand lamb, golden quinoa “risotto” with goat cheese and baby spinach, artichokes, maple-pomegranate lamb reduction and crispy basil. I still remember the taste of the juicy lamb and creamy risotto. Again, I don’t think I have had such an amazing meal in a long time. This place was fantastic.
Even full of delicious food, we had to make one more stop before heading back to the hotel. The Sea Catch Restaurant & Raw Bar is a special place. The bar and restaurant is located inside an old brick warehouse built in 1842 which originally stored goods for barge traffic along the bustling C&O Canal. The outside balcony seating has a great view overlooking the canal, but is reserved for eating so you can’t sit there to have drinks only. This should be no problem, because I was eyeing the raw bar while we were there and it looked tempting with its sections of shellfish piled on mountains of ice. I made a mental note to come back to try the seafood with a view.