TwHP Lessons

Decatur House:
A Home of the Rich and Powerful

[Cover photo] Decatur House
(Decatur House Collection)

From its beginnings in 1819 as the home of a wealthy naval hero, Decatur House—on Lafayette Park across from the White House in Washington, D.C.—has served as an elegant setting for social gatherings. Presidents, ambassadors, senators, congressmen, and other influential people gathered to listen to the gentle sound of their hostess playing the harp, gossiped about those who were not present, or engaged in hushed conversations about the rise or fall of the fortunes of other guests. Ambitious guests often used social events at Decatur House as a means to affirm their own power and influence in Washington.

Stephen Decatur's mansion reflected the importance that the politically ambitious once placed on being in close proximity to a site of authority—in this case the president's house. For more than 130 years, Decatur House was the coveted residence of individuals seeking political or social influence. Today, the National Trust for Historic Preservation operates Decatur House as a museum.


About This Lesson

Getting Started: Inquiry Question

Setting the Stage: Historical Context

Locating the Site: Maps
 1. Lafayette Park and its surroundings, 1891
 2. Drawing of President's Park, 1816

Determining the Facts: Readings
 1. Stephen Decatur, A Nation's Hero
 2. A Conflict of Honor
 3. To Duel or Not to Duel
 4. Decatur House Lives On

Visual Evidence: Images
 1. Watercolor of Decatur House, 1822
 2. Decatur House, 1967
 3. Decatur House floor plans

Putting It All Together: Activities
 1. What Makes a Hero?
 2. Conflict Resolution
 3. Access to Power

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The Decatur House

This lesson is based on the Decatur House, one of the thousands of properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places.




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