Decatur House

Decatur House, Washington, DC – © David H. Enzel, 2023

Decatur House is a historic house museum in Washington, DC. It is named after its first owner and occupant, naval officer Stephen Decatur Jr (1779-1820). His father, Stephen Decatur Sr., was a commodore in the United States Navy who served during the American Revolution; he brought the younger Stephen into the world of ships and sailing early on. Shortly after attending college, Decatur followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the U.S. Navy at the age of nineteen as a midshipman. Decatur supervised the construction of several U.S. naval vessels, one of which he later commanded. Decatur’s career came to an early end when he was killed in a duel with Commodore James Barron after he refused to retract remarks he had made about Barron’s conduct in the Chesapeake–Leopard affair in 1807. Barron was also wounded. Decatur emerged as a national hero in his own lifetime, becoming the first post–Revolutionary War hero. His name and legacy, like that of John Paul Jones, became identified with the United States Navy.

The house (built, 1818, just two years before Decatur’s death) is located at the northwest corner of Lafayette Square, at the southwest corner of Jackson Place and H Street, near the White House. In 1836, new owners built an outbuilding on the property at the back which was in part used for slave quarters. Now a museum, the property also serves as the National Center for White House History, managed by the White House Historical Association. The White House Historical Association is a private, nonprofit organization founded in 1961 by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy with a mission to protect, preserve, and provide public access to the history of America’s Executive Mansion.

Decatur House is one of the oldest surviving homes in Washington, DC, and one of only three remaining houses in the country designed by neoclassical architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe (1764-1820). Latrobe was the first professional architect working in the country.

The White House Historical Association offers free public tours of historic Decatur House every Monday, excluding federal holidays and the Monday following Thanksgiving. In addition, you can host events, including weddings, in one of the oldest and most prestigious homes in Washington. There is also a beautiful shop. If you want a memento of a visit to the nation’s capital, this is a great place to go.

Decatur House, Washington, DC – © David H. Enzel, 2023

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