Commercial Architecture May 2017 - 18
tention of her husband, President James Madison.
A series of subsequent events led to Watterston's
fame and notoriety in Washington's social circles. In
1814, as the British marched through the Capitol, burning it and the nascent Library of Congress, along with
the White House, Watterston fought to defend his city
to the best of his abilities. His patriotism and ode to
Mrs. Madison led the President to appoint George Watterston to be the third Librarian of Congress.
Watterston's immediate responsibility was to organize the approximately 6,500 books donated by former
President Thomas Jefferson from his personal collection for the new library. Watterston cataloged the collection just as Jefferson wanted. Watterston remained
in his position as librarian for 14 years, until 1829.
In addition to serving as Librarian of Congress,
Watterston spent much of his career in other public
and non-government institutions. He was president of
the board of alderman, served on the city council, and
was the founder and first secretary of the Washington
Monument Society. He lived to see the Washington
Monument reach a height of about 150 ft.
Watterston and his young wife, Maria, moved into the
house in 1811, the year of their marriage. From the
second and third floors of his house, facing northwest,
Above. Formerly a family bedroom, this room of the original main house is now a private office.
Below. The current main level was originally George Watterston's library.
Watterston could observe the Capitol's construction.
On days that he worked at the Capitol, he could take a
short walk from home, where his wife took care of their
six children (all born between 1815 and 1825; another
child did not survive past its first year).
The Watterston House was ideal to raise a family,
while exuding the prominence and importance of a
leading Washington political figure such as Watterston.
There is no official documentation attesting to the
original author of the building's design, but Washington's first city surveyor, Nicholas King, quite possibly
designed it, as he was responsible for designing many of
the city's first mansions. Watterston's father, David,
who was a builder and part of the team responsible for
the initial construction of the Capitol in the 1790s,
could have helped build his son's first home.
The Watterston House sits on a slight rise, on 224
Second St., SE. It is three stories high with a raised
basement. Red brick of Flemish bond adorns much of
the historic main house. The only exception is the
building's top 4 ft., which was added in 1906. Today, a
cast-iron porch runs across the main façade; in Watterston's time, it was a wooden porch, still reached by the
same stone steps in place today.
When entering the main level of the house, double
doors open into the foyer, which leads through an
arched opening to a mahogany stairhall that ascends
all three stories of the house. To the right, off the main
entrance foyer, are double living rooms with decorative
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