Incongruously located on one of the busiest commercial thoroughfares in Washington, alongside expensive designer shops and cupcakeries, the small stone edifice known locally as the “Old Stone House” claims to be the earliest extant building in the city. The structure’s historic preservation was something of a fluke based on an erroneous connection to George Washington, though nobody complains about the error.
The Old Stone House was built in 1765 when Maryland was still a colony. In addition to its D.C. honorific, it also qualifies as one of the oldest surviving buildings on the East Coast of the United States. For almost a century the legend circulated that the dwelling once housed Suter’s Tavern, and signage indicated its use as “Gen. Geo. Washington’s Headquarters while Surveying the City of Washington, D.C. in 1791.”
The house has been used throughout its history as a residence or residence/shop, until it was purchased in 1953 by the U.S. Government. Georgetown residents donated most of the colonial furnishings that can be seen in the house today. John Suter, Jr.’s grandfather clock, which was built in the house over two hundred years ago, was purchased by the NPS and brought back to the house.
In 1953, Congress appropriated $90,000 to purchase it, “to honor and remember George Washington’s 1791 visit.” At the time the house was being used as a used car dealership, and the plan was to restore the historic appearance and turn it into a children’s museum.
However, it quickly became apparent that the George Washington connection turned out to be a case of mistaken identity. Within two years National Capital Parks historian Cornelius Heine was asked to investigate the history of the Old Stone House. The Washington Evening Star notes that “It did not take him long to find that it was not Suter’s Tavern,” and Heine’s 112 page report dubbed it “a strange lingering tradition of the past.”
The real Suter’s Tavern was located four blocks away, torn down around 1907 to make way for a huge trash incinerator. The incinerator is now used as a movie theater and has a historic plaque noting the historic significance of the site.
The Old Stone House is a museum that showcases pre-Revolutionary housing conditions. It also has a surprisingly large (narrow but deep) garden back yard. The property is a quirky time capsule, and we’re lucky to have it.
Know Before You Go
15 minute walk from the Foggy Bottom Metro.