I think most of you know by now, I am fascinated by old houses. If I had to pick one that has always intrigued me, it would be the White House. What an amazing and beautiful symbol of the United States. One of the items on my personal bucket list is to tour it and to walk the halls where (almost) all of our presidents have walked. Can you imagine the stories those old walls could tell?
Since I love historical trivia, I hope you will bear with me now when I share some about the White House. For example, I said earlier that almost all of the presidents have walked its halls. However, George Washington never had the opportunity. He worked with Pierre L’Enfant to choose its location within the newly-authorized District of Columbia, and selected the final design for the “President’s House,” but did not live long enough to see it completed in 1800. Nonetheless, I think it is remarkable that while there have been fires which gutted it and extensive remodels to the interior since then, the white stone exterior walls we see in photos are the same walls George Washington saw being raised.
While the main rooms are essentially unchanged today from the original design, other rooms and capabilities have been added, some fairly quickly. When he was president, Thomas Jefferson designed the low colonnade sections which stretch out from either side to provide room for “domestic service” such as storing food and firewood, servant rooms, and stables. He also added an indoor “necessary” in each wing, to replace the one outdoor privy everyone at the White House used before that!
The West Wing and East Wing buildings on the ends of the colonnades weren’t added until much later. Theodore Roosevelt built the West Wing after he took office in 1901. He needed more room for his six children, so built the West Wing so the president’s office and the cabinet room could be moved off the second floor of the residence. An original (much smaller) East Wing was constructed about the same time, but the one we know today was built in 1942 – to hide the construction of an underground bunker for the president.
It is a little astounding to think about all of the functions which are packed into the White House in its modern configuration. Today, the main structure of the White House has 132 rooms and 35 bathrooms on six levels. In addition to a private beauty shop and workout room for the first family, there is also a tennis court, jogging track, swimming pool, movie theater and bowling lane for their entertainment. I think George Washington would be amazed! But he would no doubt still recognize the state rooms on the main level from the original design.
Perhaps that is what intrigues me the most about the White House. While conveniences such as electricity and air conditioning and the internet have been added over the years, the core functions within those old walls have never changed. The inhabitants may come and go, but it still serves as the People’s House, the most tangible and recognizable symbol of our democracy even after all these years. And that is pretty amazing. I wish these walls could talk, but in a sense, they already do.
I write historical fiction, and I invite you to share the journey to published author with me.