The Old Stone House – the oldest structure on its original foundations in Washington D.C

Located in D.C.’s Georgetown neighborhood, the Old Stone House is the oldest unchanged building in Washington. The house is also the last Pre-Revolutionary building with its original foundations. It was built in 1765 by Christopher and Rachel Layman, who purchased a piece of land the previous year.

The house was originally constructed as a simple one-room dwelling. It is an example of vernacular architecture. The exterior of the house is built from blue granite and fieldstone sourced from a location two miles away. The oak used in the house was harvested from forests that were once predominant in Georgetown.

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Following the unexpected death of Christopher Layman in 1765, his widow sold the house to Cassandra Chew two years after remarrying. Chew was able to add a second and a third floor to the house, completing construction by 1790.

Old Stone House, circa 1890

Over the years, the house has been used as a shop for hats, clockmakers, tailors, blacksmiths and house painters. Cassandra Chew’s daughter, Mary Smith Brumley, was the first of the many owners to operate their businesses out of the house.

The main reason the Old Stone House was preserved through the years was local folklore. When the location for the new nation’s capital was chosen, George Washington and city planner Pierre L’Enfant met in Georgetown to plan the new city. It was believed that some of their meetings were held at the house, and for years there was a sign over the front door that said “George Washington’s Headquarters.” After doing some research, The National Park Service discovered that this wasn’t actually true: Washington and L’Enfant met at Suter’s Tavern whose owner was John Suter.

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Suter’s son, John Suter, Jr., had a clock workshop in the Old Stone House. Eventually, locals confused the two different buildings related to the two John Suters. The wish to remember and honor Washington’s visit in 1791 resulted in the preservation of the building through the centuries.

The house was still privately owned in 1953 and was serving as a used car dealership when the Federal Government purchased the property and turned it over to the National Park Service. Between 1953 and 1960, the NPS removed all 19th and 20th-century intrusions from the house and the parking lot was transformed into an English garden. Today the home is about 85% authentic to its 18th-century construction.

None of the objects in the house today are original to the Layman family, but the furnishings are based on the period in the 18th century when the house was built. Among the house’s furnishings is a clock made by John Suter Jr., located in the dining room.

The second-floor dining room of the Old Stone House. Author: Something Original CC BY 3.0

 

The large first-floor kitchen of the Old Stone House. Author: Something Original CC BY 3.0

There are noticeable differences between the original first floor and the second floor that was constructed later, as Chaw was able to afford higher-quality building material. A second doorway and a staircase were constructed for guests and family members, leaving the original entrance for deliveries and workers. The third floor was built from bricks. There are three rooms on this floor believed to be children’s rooms and a storage area.

The Old Stone House. Author: Hu Totya CC BY 3.0

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Segmented panorama of the east side of the Old Stone House. Author: Something Original CC BY 3.0

In 1960, after its renovation, the Old Stone House was opened to the public. Today, the garden is used for small wedding ceremonies or as an area where tourists and locals can enjoy a lunch break or rest while shopping. The building and the garden are open for viewing seven days a week.