Today in History

Today in History: October 13

Cornerstone of the White House Laid

I pray Heaven to bestow the best of Blessings on this House and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.

Letter from President John Adams to First Lady Abigail Adams,
November 2, 1800.

White House, Washington, D.C., showing south side, probably taken in winter
President's House [The White House],
Washington, D.C.,
John Plumbe, photographer,
circa 1846.
America's First Look into the Camera: Daguerreotypes, 1839-1862

The cornerstone of the White House was laid on October 13, 1792. In a proclamation issued on January 24, 1791, President George Washington announced the permanent location of the new capital, an area of land at the confluence of the Potomac and Eastern Branch (Anacostia) rivers that would eventually become the Distrcit of Columbia. Washington and Charles L'Enfant, the French planner of the federal city, chose the site for the residence.

Congress had selected a design by James Hoban, an Irish emigrant architect living in Charleston, South Carolina, for the structure. Modeled after Leister House in Dublin, Ireland, Hoban's plan featured the Palladian style popular in Europe. It was chosen over several other proposals including one submitted by Thomas Jefferson. President John Adams and his wife Abigail moved into the unfinished structure on November 1, 1800, keeping to the scheduled relocation of the capital from Philadelphia.

Constructed of white-gray sandstone that contrasted sharply with the red brick used in nearby buildings, the President’s House, also known as the Executive Mansion, was called the White House as early as 1812. President Theodore Roosevelt officially adopted the term in 1901.

A view of the Presidents house in the city of Washington after the conflagration
A View of the President's House in the City of Washington after the Conflagration of the 24th August 1814,
William Strickland, engraver,
circa 1814.
By Popular Demand: Portraits of the Presidents and First Ladies, 1789-Present

Invading British troops burned the White House during the closing months of the War of 1812. Rebuilt and enlarged under Hoban's plans, it was reoccupied by James Monroe in 1817.

The next major expansion of the executive mansion took place during Theodore Roosevelt's presidency when second-floor rooms were converted from offices into living quarters for the president's family. The West Wing was also built during this period to house the expanding presidential staff. For over six months in 1927, President and Mrs. Calvin Coolidge lived in nearby Dupont Circle while the White House was renovated and the roof raised and replaced. During the Truman years, the structure of the building was reinforced with steel beams.

Red Room in White House
White House Interiors. Red Room in the White House,
Theodor Horydczak, photographer,
circa 1920-circa 1950.
Washington as It Was: Photographs by Theordor Horydczak, 1923-1959

North side of White House
White House Interiors. North Side of the White House,
Theodor Horydczak, photographer,
circa 1920-circa 1950.
Washington as It Was: Photographs by Theordor Horydczak, 1923-1959

Green Room in White House
White House Interiors. Green Room in the White House,
Theodor Horydczak, photographer,
1946.
Washington as It Was: Photographs by Theordor Horydczak, 1923-1959

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