About This Lesson
This lesson is based on the National Historic Landmark registration form, “The Octagon (Colonel John Tayloe House)” (with photographs), and materials from The Octagon Museum Archives. It was written by Adam Auerbach, American Institute of Architects Foundation intern at The Octagon Museum, and edited by Teaching with Historic Places staff in consultation with Katherine Somerville, the Director of Programs at The Octagon. This lesson is one in a series that brings the important stories of historic places into classrooms across the country.
Where it fits into the curriculum
Topics: The lesson could be used in units in United States history on politics and society in the Early Republic, the War of 1812, and the creation of Washington, D.C.
Time period: Late 18th century to early 19th century
Relevant United States History Standards for Grades 5-12
Relevant Curriculum Standards for Social Studies
Find Your State's History Standards for Grades Pre-K-12
Objectives for students
1) To summarize the challenges to establishing a United States capital and describe how Americans overcame those challenges;
2) To explain the significance of The Octagon in early U.S. history and the ways it contributed to the success of Washington, D.C.;
3) To describe early Washington, D.C., by researching a historical perspective and writing a letter from that perspective;
4) To identify a local historic building and explain how it contributed to your community's growth and identity.
Materials for students
The materials listed below can be used directly on the computer or can be printed out, photocopied, and distributed to students. The maps and images appear twice: in a smaller, low-resolution version with associated questions and alone in a larger version.
1) Two maps of the United States in the late 18th century and of The Octagon’s location in 21st century Washington, D.C.;
2) Four readings about the creation of the U.S. capital, early Washington, D.C., The Octagon, and the Tayloe family, including two primary documents;
3) Four images of one 1813 painting of The Octagon in rural Washington, D.C., a drawing of The Octagon’s first-floor plans, and two photographs of The Octagon dining room and of The Octagon exterior.
Visiting the site
The Octagon Historic House Museum, owned by the American Institute of Architects Foundation, is located at 1799 New York Avenue NW in Washington, D.C. The museum is open Thursday and Friday, from 1pm-4pm year-round, and also on Wednesdays during the summer. The Octagon does not charge an admittance fee. The Octagon is within walking distance of the Farragut West and Farragut North metro stations. Private and group tours may be arranged outside of regular hours by submitting a request through The Octagon website, emailing, or calling 202-626-7439. Click here to go directly to the Octagon House Museum website.