Lafayette Statue, Washington, DC

The Major General Marquis Gilbert de Lafayette statue in Lafayette Square, opposite the White House in Washington, D.C., around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The statue in 2018:

Lafayette Square has been parkland since Washington, D.C. was laid out in the 1790s, but it did not receive its current name until 1824, when it was dedicated in honor of the Marquis de Lafayette. It is located directly to the north of the White House, on the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue, and during the 19th century the other streets around the square became one of Washington’s most desirable residential areas.

The first statue in the square was, ironically, not of Lafayette. Instead, it was an equestrian statue of Andrew Jackson, which was dedicated in 1853 in the center of the park. This statue of Lafayette, located in the southeast corner of the square, was not added until 1891. Officially titled Major General Marquis Gilbert de Lafayette, the 36-foot statue was the work of French sculptor Alexandre Falguière. Lafayette stands atop the pedestal, but the monument also includes figures of four other French military leaders of the American Revolution: Comte d’Estaing and Comte de Grasse on the right, and Comte de Rochambeau and the Chevalier Duportail on the left side. In the center, looking up at Lafayette, is a female figure representing America.

The first photo was taken within about 10 to 15 years after the Lafayette statue was dedicated. Around this time, it was joined by three more statues, with one on each of the other three corners of the square. Like the Lafayette statue, these all honored prominent foreign leaders of the American Revolution, starting with Rochambeau in 1902 and followed by statues of Thaddeus Kosciuszko and Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben in 1910.

In more than a century since the first photo was taken, the area surrounding Lafayette Square has undergone significant changes. Many early 19th century townhouses are still standing, but they are no longer used as private residences, and they are now joined by more recent government buildings. However, the square itself is not much different from its early 20th century appearance, and all five statues still stand here, including the Lafayette one that is shown here. These statues are now part of the Lafayette Square Historic District, which was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1970.

Jefferson Memorial, Washington, DC

The Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC, on April 12, 1943. Image taken by Ann Rosener, courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

The Jefferson Memorial is, along with the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, one of the three major monuments to prominent United States presidents here in Washington, D.C. It was built on the south side of the Tidal Basin, nearly in line with the White House and the Washington Monument, and its construction was championed by Franklin D. Roosevelt, who admired Jefferson.

The design of the memorial was the work of noted architect John Russell Pope, who was also responsible for the National Archives building and the West Building of the National Gallery of Art. Like these other two buildings, Pope’s designs for the Jefferson Memorial drew heavily from classical architecture, and it features a large columned portico on the front. It bears a particularly strong resemblance to the Pantheon, with its domed rotunda behind the portico.

However, Pope never lived to see the project completed; he died in 1937, two years before the cornerstone was laid. The construction took four years, but it was completed in 1943, in the midst of World War II. The memorial was formally dedicated on April 13, 1943, just one day after the first photo was taken. This was the 200th anniversary of Jefferson’s birth, and the ceremony was attended by Franklin D. Roosevelt, who gave the dedication address.

Today, more than 75 years after the first photo was taken, essentially nothing has changed in this scene except for the size of the trees on either side of the memorial. During this time, the only significant change to the memorial has been the 19-foot statue of Jefferson in the center of the rotunda. This statue, which is not visible from this particular angle, was delayed because of wartime shortages of bronze, but it was installed in 1947, and it has stood here ever since, facing across the Tidal Basin in the direction of the White House.

Greenhouse and Slave Quarters, Mount Vernon, VA (2)

Another view of the greenhouse and slave quarters from the Upper Garden of Mount Vernon, around 1910-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

As discussed in the previous post, this building was constructed around 1793, as a combination of slave quarters and a greenhouse. The greenhouse was located in the middle, as seen on the left side of these photos, and there were barracks-style slave quarters on either side, with the women in the foreground, and the men in the distance on the other side of the greenhouse. Together, these quarters housed the majority of the slaves who lived on the mansion house farm of George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate.

In December 1835, a fire started in a defective flue in the greenhouse. It destroyed the greenhouse and the slave quarters, and most of the exotic plants in the greenhouse were lost, either from the fire itself or from the cold December temperatures outside. The building would remain in ruins for many years, until it was finally restored in the 1890s, probably about 15 to 20 years before the first photo was taken.

The building underwent a second reconstruction between 1948 and 1951, restoring it to its late 18th century appearance. As a result, the present-day scene is actually more historically accurate than the first photo, showing how the slave quarters and greenhouse would have looked during Washington’s day. Otherwise, though, this scene has not changed dramatically since the first photo was taken. The formal garden now has fewer hedges than in the first photo, but other features remain today, including the boxwood parterre in the foreground.

Greenhouse and Slave Quarters, Mount Vernon, VA

The greenhouse and slave quarters, seen from the Upper Garden at Mount Vernon, around 1910-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

At the time of his death in 1799, George Washington had 317 slaves who lived on the five farms that comprised the Mount Vernon estate. Of these, around 90 slaves lived at the mansion house, and most of them lived in barracks-style quarters here, adjacent to the flower garden. The building, which was completed around 1793, consisted of the women’s quarters on the left, the men’s quarters on the right, and a greenhouse in the center.

The building, which was euphemistically referred to as the servants’ quarters, stood here until 1835, when it was destroyed in a fire. This fire came at a time when the Washington family was struggling to pay the upkeep of the estate, though, and the building was left as a ruin for many years. Even after the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association acquired the property in 1858, it would take more than three decades before it was restored.

Historian Benson J. Lossing, writing in his 1871 book The Home of Washington, provides the following description of the ruins:

The conservatory was never rebuilt nor the ruins removed. These, now overgrown with vines and shrubs, form a picturesque garden wall, but lose some of their attractiveness to the eye of taste, by the presence of two tall, perpendicular chimneys, which are seen above the shrubbery from every point of view in the garden. These broken walls, too, strike the visitor unpleasantly. They are at the modern carriage entrance to Mount Vernon, and are the first objects associated with Washington that meet the eye on approaching the mansion from the public road.

The greenhouse and slave quarters were ultimately rebuilt in the 1890s, as shown in the first photo, which was taken several decades later. The building subsequently underwent a second reconstruction between 1948 and 1951, restoring the greenhouse to its original appearance. This project was occurring during the same time that the White House was undergoing a major renovation of its own, and many of the bricks that were used to rebuild the greenhouse had been salvaged from the White House. Today, the greenhouse and slave quarters are among the many restored and reconstructed historic buildings on the Mount Vernon estate, and they bear a more historically accurate appearance than they did in the first photo a century ago.

Mount Vernon, Virginia (2)

Another view of the Mount Vernon mansion, seen from the bowling green on the west side of the house, around the 1860s or 1870s. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The mansion in 2018:

As discussed in the previous post, the Mount Vernon estate had been in the Washington family since 1674, when John Washington acquired the land. However, it was his grandson, Augustine Washington – the father of the future president – who constructed the original section of the mansion here on this site, in 1734. At the time, it was only one story, with a garret for the second floor, and it was comprised of what is now the four windows in the middle of the house.

George Washington’s older half brother, Lawrence Washington, later received the property from their father, and he lived here until his death in 1752. His widow, Anne, subsequently leased Mount Vernon to George Washington, starting in 1754. Four years later, he began the first expansion of the house, adding a full second floor with a garret above it. He gained ownership of the estate when Anne died in 1761, and in 1774 he embarked on an even more ambitious project, with two-story additions on both sides of the house.

The mid-1770s renovations also included two new outbuildings, which were connected to the house by colonnades, as shown in these photos. The building on the right was the kitchen, and it had three rooms on the first floor, along with a loft on the second floor. Like many kitchens of this period, it was separated from the main house as a fire safety measure. The building on the left was known as Servants Hall, and it had a design that matched that of the kitchen.. Although Washington did have slave quarters nearby, none of his slaves lived here. Instead, this building was used to house the servants – both black and white – of visitors to Mount Vernon.

George Washington lived here until his death in 1799, and Martha Washington died in 1802. They had no biological children together, so the estate went to his nephew, Bushrod Washington, who served for many years as a justice on the U. S. Supreme Court. The property was later inherited by Bushrod’s nephew, John Augustine Washington II, and then by John’s son, John Augustine Washington III.

Over the years, these later generations of the Washington family struggled to maintain the expensive estate, and in 1858 John Augustine Washington III sold it to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association. Under their ownership, the mansion was restored, and in 1860 it was opened to the public as one of the nation’s first historic tourist destinations. The first photo was probably taken within a decade or two after this, and it shows the house as it would have appeared to a Victorian-era visitor.

Today, some 150 years after this photo was taken, the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association continues to operate the property as a museum. The mansion and the two outbuildings that are shown here have been well-maintained throughout this time, and there is hardly any difference between these two photos. Mount Vernon was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1960, becoming one of the first places to be recognized as such, and it remains a popular tourist attraction, drawing around a million visitors each year.

Mount Vernon, Virginia

The Mount Vernon mansion in Virginia, as seen from the west side, around 1910-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

The land that would become the Mount Vernon estate had been in the Washington family since 1674, when John Washington – an English immigrant and great-grandfather of the future president – acquired the property. It was subsequently owned by his son Lawrence, and then Lawrence’s daughter Mildred, before being purchased by Mildred’s brother Augustine Washington in 1726.

Augustine Washington was 31 years old at the time, and had a wife, Jane, and three children. However, Jane died only a few years later, and in 1731 he remarried to Mary Ball, with whom he had six more children. The oldest of these was George Washington, who was born in 1732 at Popes Creek, a plantation further south of here along the Potomac River. The Washington family lived there for several more years, but around 1734 Augustine constructed the earliest portion of the mansion house here at Mount Vernon, which was known as Little Hunting Creek Plantation at the time.

Around 1739, Augustine and his family moved to Fredericksburg, and left Little Hunting Creek to his oldest son, Lawrence. In 1743, Lawrence married Anne Fairfax, and he renamed the plantation Mount Vernon, in honor of his former commanding officer, Admiral Edward Vernon. The couple had four children here, although none of them survived childhood, and both Lawrence and Anne also died young, in 1752 and 1761, respectively.

In his will, Lawrence left Mount Vernon to his wife for the rest of her life, with his brother George to inherit the property upon her death. In 1754, George Washington began leasing Mount Vernon from Anne, and in 1758 he expanded the original house, likely in preparation for his upcoming marriage to Martha Dandridge Custis. The house had been built with only one story, along with a garret above it, but Washington added a full second story, with a garret on the third floor. Following the completion of this project, the house consisted of what is now the central portion of the building.

George Washington acquired the property outright when Anne died in 1761, and in 1774 he began the second major expansion, with two-story additions on either side of the house. The pediment was also added during this time, as was the iconic two-story portico on the east side of the house. The interior work would not be finished until 1787, but the exterior was completed in 1775, the same year that Washington left Mount Vernon to take command of the Continental Army. Washington himself is generally credited with designing the plans for the addition, thus adding architect to his lengthy list of accomplishments.

Although he would spend many years away from Mount Vernon during the American Revolution and during his presidency, the estate would be his home for the rest of his life, until his death here on December 14, 1799. Martha Washington died two and a half years later, and Washington’s nephew, Supreme Court Justice Bushrod Washington, subsequently inherited Mount Vernon. After Bushrod’s death in 1829, his nephew, John Augustine Washington II, inherited it, followed by John’s son, John Augustine Washington III.

Throughout the first half of the 19th century, though, the various generations of Washingtons struggled to maintain the property. As is often the case with landed aristocrats, they were land rich but cash poor, and Mount Vernon suffered neglect because of the cost of upkeep. Finally, in 1858, John Augustine Washington III sold the mansion and surrounding land to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association. This organization subsequently restored the property, making it one of the first historic house museums in the country.

Mount Vernon opened for visitors in 1860, and it has remained a popular tourist attraction ever since. The first photo was taken some 50-60 years later, and it shows the view of the mansion from the west, looking across the bowling green. Today, hardly anything has changed in this scene. The property is still operated by Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, which remains an independent nonprofit organization, and it draws an estimated one million visitors each year. Because of its historical significance, Mount Vernon was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1960, making it one of the first sites in the country to receive this recognition.