Where to goThe Old Stone House is located at 3051 M Street NW in Georgetown.
SignificanceThe Old Stone House is the oldest house on its original foundation in Washington, DC. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
George Washington’s Headquarters?
Since the days when Great Britain ruled the colony of Maryland, Old Stone House has withstood the forces of development and commercial growth that made Georgetown one of the nation's busiest ports by around 1800. Ironically, local folklore is responsible for saving this historical landmark from destruction. In 1791, when President George Washington and Pierre Charles L'Enfant arrived to carve out the federal district from the surrounding "wilderness", they stayed at the Fountain Inn, operated by John Suter and his family. Commonly called Suter's Tavern, the inn was where the president held negotiations with local landowners. Suter's son, John Suter, Jr., would operate a clock shop in Old Stone House around 1810.
Simple and Effcient: Early Days at Old Stone HouseAlthough few detailed records survive from the families who owned the Old Stone House, we can learn much about their lives from the architecture of the house and the personal possessions listed in wills and bills of sales.
In 1764, Christopher and Rachael Layman traveled from Pennyslvania with their two sons to begin a new life in the growing port of Georgetown along the Potomac River. For one pound, ten shillings, they bought Lot Three, a property facing Bridge Street (now named M Street NW).
The Laymans financed the construction of this one-room house and used local blue fieldstone, quarried about two miles upriver, and solid oak boards, hewn with a pit saw. The backbreaking labor and skill of the builders is evident in the well-placed stones and evenly-laid ceiling beams. The marks left by the massive saw used to cut the ceiling beams can be seen in the room that housed the Layman family (the bookstore).
The Laymans' simple house was functional: stone wall two to three feet thick and packed dirt floors protected the family from harsh weather, while low ceilings conserved heat from the hearth fire.
Outside, house residents planted herbs, vegetables, and fruit trees. A small number of milk cows, hogs, and hens produced the family's meat, milk, cheese, eggs, and butter. A small amount of tobacco was also grown on the property. This labor intensive and land degrading crop was often farmed by African American slaves.
Female Owners and Slave WorkersThe Laymans owned the basic essentials: Christopher’s tools, a stove, a bible, and some furniture. These items were detailed in Layman’s will when he died unexpectedly. In 1767, Rachael Layman remarried and sold Old Stone House to another widow and self-suffcient woman, Mrs. Cassandra Chew.
Mrs. Chew was a member of the uppermiddle class. Her wealth included other property in and around Georgetown, as well as slaves. Tax records indicate that Mrs. Chew owned six enslaved African Americans in 1800.
Mrs. Chew’s wealth enabled her to make signifcant additions to the house. She fnanced construction of the rear kitchen and second and third foors by 1775.
Upon her death in 1807, Mrs. Chew bequethed Old Stone House to her oldest daughter, Mary Smith Brumley. Like her mother, Mrs. Brumley was fnancially comfortable. She was the frst in a succession of propreiters who leased out the front room (today’s bookstore) for business.
An 1826 inventory of her posessions indicates that she owned 15 slaves. One of them, Tabitha, purchased freedom from Mrs. Brumley for herself and her child. Tabitha paid Mrs. Brumley 201 dollars.
By the middle of the 1800s, Georgetown’s African American population, both free and slave, made up around one third of the city’s total inhabitants. Their labor before emancipation contributed substantially to the commercial development and prosperity of the town.
Recent History of Old Stone HouseOld Stone House continued to be privately owned until 1953, when the federal government purchased the property for $90,000 in response to local residents who had come to regard the house as one of historical signifcance. At that time, the house accomodated offices and the Parkway Motor Company, a used car dealership whose paved lot sat in what is now the location of the English-style garden.
Before the National Park Service (NPS) opened the house to the public in 1960, signifcant historical preservation work was completed to get the interior of the house looking like it did before 1800. 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.
Today, Rock Creek Park administers Old Stone House as well as other Georgetown sites including Georgetown Waterfront Park, Dumbarton Oaks Park, Montrose Park, and Francis Scott Key Memorial Park.
More informationThe Old Stone House is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Explore more places at Rock Creek Park.
Last updated: December 30, 2020