White House Tidbits: The 18th and 19th Centuries
Dr. Lori, in this first of a two-part series, explores the history of one of the country's ongoing and longstanding American icons.
The White House is a fascinating, stately, and beautiful place that remains a symbol of those values that we Americans hold dear. Here are a few historical tidbits that highlight the importance of the most recognizable home in the country.
Many are unaware that our first President, George Washington (1789-1797) never lived in the White House. He wanted the classical building constructed to serve as a status symbol for the young nation. The original house designed by architect, James Hoban, features a classical design with a north front and south front entrance of sandstone and white panel. There was no backdoor.
President John Adams (1797-1801) was the first American president to take residence in the White House. While the building was nothing more than a shell when he arrived - about which First Lady Abigail Adams was known to complain. The first floor was an array of service rooms including the laundry. Today the first floor has prominent reception rooms.
It was the will of President Thomas Jefferson (1801-09) who decided that the nation’s most prestigious house should have a street address. He allowed Pennsylvania Avenue to be cut through the property in front of the White House. He thought that the President of the United States should have a house on a street like most Americans had. This differs from the tradition of the European royalty and heads of state which had residences on estates and large tracts of land.
President James Madison (1809-17) brought a famous woman to the White House who was said to be America’s first hostess. First Lady Dolly Madison, like many of the First Ladies who followed after her, knew the importance of preserving American history in the White House. During the War of 1812, the British burned the White House. During the tragic event, Dolly Madison who was home alone saved the famous portrait of George Washington, known as the “Lansdowne Washington” from destruction. After the fire, the only part of the house that remained was the building’s exterior walls. In fact, Congress did not want the house to be rebuilt, but President and Mrs. Madison were successful in forcing the members of Congress to give funds for the White House to be reconstructed. It was quickly restored.
There are many little known oddities surrounding the White House such as the wheel of cheese that was a gift to President Andrew Jackson, which remained in the house for two years causing quite a stench. Many folks are unaware of the famous shopping sprees of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln. She spent an excessive budget on redecorating rooms including the famed Lincoln bedroom. Mrs. Lincoln’s spending prompted President Lincoln to admit: “I gave her an unlimited budget and she has exceeded it.”
The White House and its interesting residents have added to the longstanding history of a symbolic home that is uniquely American.
Ph.D. antiques appraiser, author, and award-winning TV personality, Dr. Lori presents appraisal events nationwide. Dr. Lori is the star appraiser on the hit TV show, Auction Kings on Discovery channel. To learn about your antiques, visit www.DrLoriV.com, www.Facebook.com/DoctorLori or call (888) 431-1010.