Artifacts

Added a few artifacts from White House History collection 1, including a recreation of the second floor around 1801 that I based on the 1801 inventory detailed in the Adams article.

UPDATE: Link to the photo Patrick mentioned regarding the remnants of the original and later grand staircases.

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11 thoughts on “Artifacts

  1. It’s facinating to see – on plan – the big 2nd floor North Bedroom undivided by the little hallway to the center window over the North Portico. Lord, that was a big room! I wonder what Hoban’s intention for that room was – a State bedroom? A mother-in-law apartment?

    According to Latrobe’s plan of the way the house was in 1803, the “Grand Stair” (where the West Sitting Hall is today) wasn’t yet built at that time. Really interesting to see this plan!

  2. Oh, I forgot about that. I should note it on the plan. I imagine there was just a big hole there.

    And the big bedroom was used as a guest room for, among others, General Lafayette, as I recall reading somewhere. What a time that must have been. “Bon matin, General. Mind the construction. French toast again?”

  3. About that 1803 floor plan: So folks in the big bedroom could sleepwalk right out the east door and into the stairwell? Perhaps that floorplan can be recreated, the master bedroom relocated here, and the door nailed shut–or not nailed, depending on the tenant at the time.

  4. I can’t speak for the 1801 arrangement, but I know that later 19th century floor plans show that the way the stair was arranged it would have worked. The stairway was in two flights. The entrance to the stairway on the first floor was through the door to the left of the fireplace on the east wall of the entrance hall. The first flight went up along the west wall of the stairwell to a landing, then crossed over and continued on up along the east wall, landing in front of the window on the second floor. Then the visitor would have to double back on the landing to the door into the center hall. The arrangement is most clearly shown in the second floor plan dated “1863” on the White House Museum website.
    Chris

  5. Didn’t Hoban’s orginal staircase plan have a center flight of stairs to the landing and then twin flights along each side wall the rest of the way to the second floor?
    Wes

  6. Hoban’s Grand Staircase at the west end of the center hall was designed exactly as you say, but what was later called the “office stair” next to the entrance hall (where the current grand stair is), was just a simple switchback stair. There is at least one late 19th century photo that shows it. I’ll see if I can track it down.
    Chris

  7. I guess Latrobe preferred the switchback stair in lieu of Hoban’s grand staircase since he was Jefferson’s architect when the stairs were finished. Also, the orginal plan shows the width of the staircase space wider than the crosshall, something that apparently was changed in the reconstruction?
    Wes

  8. Actually I think the change in the width of the cross hall was one of the many changes ordered by Washington before construction began. Latrobe’s floor plan of 1803, which shows the house as constructed, shows the Stair Hall with the same width as the Cross Hall.

    Latrobe’s Grand Stair was almost the exact reverse of Hoban’s. It started in twin flights along the side walls and then finished with a central flight in front of the Venetian window in the West Sitting Hall on the second floor. This was done so that the access from the main floor onto Jefferson’s West Terrace would not be blocked. It was rebuilt in this form by Hoban after the fire. Much later, Grant had Hoban’s stair torn out and replaced with a much simpler arrangement — basically a switchback.

    It’s important not to confuse the current Grand Stair with the original. The current Grand Stair is in the space Hoban designated as the “back stair” while the Grand Stair took up space in what is now the northern third or so of the State Dining Room. The old Grand Stair was replaced by Grant in about 1870, but it occupied the same space. Teddy Roosevelt removed it completely in 1901 to enlarge the State Dining Room. In the 19th century Hoban’s “back stair” was referred to as the “office stair,” since it led directly to the executive offices at the east end of the second floor. Teddy Roosevelt replaced this with a new Grand Stair opening into the Cross Hall in 1901. In the Truman rebuilding the Grand Stair was redesigned so that it occupied the same space, but opened into the Entrance Hall instead of the Cross Hall.

    As I read this over it all sounds very confusing. Sorry!
    Chris

  9. If you go to the Truman Library site and look up White House Restoration pictures, take a look at #71-203 on page 24 showing the north wall of the State Dining Room in 1950, with all the paneling removed and the load bearing brick wall of 1816-17 revealed. You can clearly see the trace of Grant’s 1869 stair treads going up the wall from right to left…but then you can also see the ghost of the 1817 Grand Stair running up the wall in the OPPOSITE direction. To me this presents an awkward termination on the Second Floor. Why would the stairs begin at the WESTERN end of the Stair well instead of facing east into the Cross Hall? Any thoughts? The Butler’s Pantry on the left and the Family Dining Room on the right clearly mark this as the north wall of the room.

  10. Very wierd. To my eyes the 1817(?) stair ghost is more prominent than the Grant stairway ghost. I was assuming Seale et. al. knew what they were talking about when they described the old Grand Stair. Perhaps they didn’t.

    Does anyone know if this masonry wall survived the fire of 1814? If so, the scar we’re seeing may actually be the original stair installed by Latrobe during the Jefferson administration.

    As for why the stair would be arranged thus, Michael W. Fazio and Patrick A. Snadon in their book on The Domestic Architecture of Benjamin Henry Latrobe, speculate that Latrobe might have arranged the stair in this way to improve the privacy of the second floor. In his proposed remodeling of the house in 1807 (never executed) Latrobe proposed a stairway arranged in this way.

  11. I took another look at Latrobe’s floor plans, both the existing conditions plan he did in 1803 and the proposed remodeling of 1807. Although he indicates in the 1803 plan that the main stair is not completed, the staircase is shown with reversed flights as described by Patrick. The 1807 plan is somewhat more ambiguous, but I think Latrobe probably intended the flights to be reversed in that one as well.

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