By Frank Leone
Funkstown Preview – Final article will be included in the Foggy Bottom News in April.
In the late 1700s, George Washington would occasionally ride up from Mt. Vernon to visit the brand new national capital city that would bear his name. He often stayed with step-granddaughter Martha Parke Custis Peter and her husband Thomas Peter in a three story and attic duplex located in Foggy Bottom near the corner of K and 27th Streets. In fact, Washington spent his last night in Washington city, Aug. 5, 1799, at the Peter House, and died a few months later. The Peters left the house in 1803 to move to Tudor Place in Georgetown. But the house remained in use until 1965, when it was demolished to make way for the Potomac Freeway/Inner Loop.
Robert Peter (1726-1806) was a Scottish immigrant who became a leading tobacco merchant, major landholder, and slaveholder. He was the first Mayor of Georgetown (1789) and served as a Commissioner for many years. In 1795, he set out to build five or six houses for his sons across Rock Creek, in Foggy Bottom, on K Street between 23rd and 27th Streets. The area was part of Peter’s “Mexico” plantation, which he had patented in 1765. Peter anticipated the area developing into an important neighborhood in the early 1800s, but it remained quiet.
Thomas Peter (1771-1837), Robert’s eldest son, and his new bride Martha (“Patty”) (1777-1854) moved into the new residence after their marriage in 1795. Peter became a major landowner, slaveholder and slave trader, banker, and horseracing enthusiast. Enslaved people worked as domestic servants at the house and Peter “hired out” skilled enslaved people for construction projects. Most of the enslaved people worked on plantations in Maryland. Peter may also have had a working farm associated with the K Street property because he apparently had a tobacco house (barn) behind the main house.
The Peters entertained President John Adams and other notables at the house. In 1803, they bought a large Georgetown property on Q Street which and built Tudor Place, a 26-room mansion designed by William Thornton (who also designed the original Capitol building and the Octagon House).
In 1803, Peter leased the duplex to British Minister Anthony Merry and it became the first British Legation in Washington. It was then occupied by British ministers Francis Jackson and David Erskine, until 1809. The house then may have been occupied by John Quincy Adams for a short time. In 1838, the house was leased by William Hayman, the owner of a brewery located nearby on the corner of 17th and K Streets. The Peter family continued to lease the houses until about 1840 when they were sold to different owners. In the later 1800s, the houses were occupied primarily by working class white residents.
In 1920, No. 2618 was owned by the Victory Baptist Church. By the 1920s, the duplex was divided into apartments for lower-income tenants, most of whom were African American. In 1953, owner Leo Bernstein restored the house (which was still being used as apartments), was considering restoring the carriage house, and hoped to make it a museum. One of the few pre-1800 houses in D.C. (outside of Georgetown), it bore a DAR plaque regarding Washington’s visits. In 1965, however, the house was demolished for construction of the Potomac Freeway/Inner Loop, leaving not a visible trace.
The site, however, was the location for an archeological study conducted in connection with renovations of the Whitehurst Freeway, published in 2006. The study identified the houses underlying foundation and cellar and ceramic fragments, coins, and other artifacts.
Sources: Tudor Place, “Thomas Peter”; Parsons and Versar, for the D.C. Department of Transportation, “The Archeology of an Urban Landscape, the Whitehurst Freeway Archeological Project, Vol. II, Historic Sites,” Aug. 2006; “The Thomas Peter House,” The Evening Star, Feb. 5, 1944;“The Carriage House Is Next,” Washington Post, Aug. 2, 1953.
Thanks to Tudor Place for their assistance with this post.