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Apr 26, 2018 Washington, D.C.

The White House Historical Association will release its newest book The Stephen Decatur House on Lafayette Square: A History, in July. Timed to mark the bicentennial of the house in the president’s neighborhood, the book is the first comprehensive history of the house, its occupants, architecture, collections, preservation, and evolution from private home to historic site, as well as its many presidential connections.  

The story is presented in four parts:

  • A Rage for Glory, the biography of Commodore of Stephen Decatur (1779-1820) detailing his naval accomplishments and untimely death by historian James Tertius de Kay
  • An architectural history of the Decatur House by historian Michael Fazio
  • An overview of the Decatur House fine and decorative arts collection by consultant Osborne Mackey
  • A study of the evolution of Decatur House from a private home to a historic site, by Katherine Malone-France of the National Trust for Historic Preservation

The Decatur House was the first private residence in the White House neighborhood. Commodore Stephen Decatur purchased the land on the northwest corner of President’s Park with the prize money he was awarded for his naval conquests in the War of 1812.

The Decaturs commissioned English architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe (America’s first professional architect who also designed the Capitol and parts of the White House) to draw plans for the home.

A celebrity for his heroics in the Barbary Wars and the War of 1812, Stephen Decatur became one of Washington’s most celebrated figures until his untimely death in 1820, when he was mortally wounded in a pistol duel with a rival officer in Maryland.

White House Historical Association President Stewart McLaurin describes the significance of Decatur and the namesake house: “This is a history of what was, but, just as importantly, what might have been. Commodore Stephen Decatur would likely have been president had he not accepted a challenge to a duel. Decatur House might have been forgotten had Latrobe not created an architectural masterpiece. The stately brick structure has survived to celebrate its bicentennial, but it might have been razed to make way for a federal building had it not been for the determination of early preservationists and the interest of no less than President Franklin D. Roosevelt and President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy.”

After her husband’s death, Susan Decatur rented Decatur House to prominent figures including Secretary of State Henry Clay, former President Martin Van Buren, and Secretary of State Edward Livingston. General Edward Beale of California purchased the town house in 1872 and redecorated it as a fashionable Victorian home. The house was later passed to his son Truxton Beale, an ambassador to Russia and Romania. In 1956, after the home had been in the Beale family for 84 years, the house was bequeathed Decatur House to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. In 2010 the White House Historical Association became a co-steward of the historic site.

The Stephen Decatur House on Lafayette Square: A History, features nearly 200 newly commissioned photographs from the Decatur House decorative arts collection, including naval trophies, desks and other furniture, never-before published funeral and coffin receipts, silver, Chinese export ware, portraits, letter book, and personal items such as fans and quilts.

The Stephen Decatur House on Lafayette Square: A History will be available to pre-order on June 1, 2018 at shop.whitehousehistory.org.

For media inquiries, please contact press@whha.org or Jessica Fredericks, Communications Director, at JFredericks@whha.org.

P.D.F. Resources

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About the white house historical association

First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy envisioned a restored White House that conveyed a sense of history through its decorative and fine arts. She sought to inspire Americans, especially children, to explore and engage with American history and its presidents. In 1961, the White House Historical Association was established to support her vision to preserve and share the Executive Mansion’s legacy for generations to come. Supported entirely by private resources, the Association’s mission is to assist in the preservation of the state and public rooms, fund acquisitions for the White House permanent collection, and educate the public on the history of the White House. Since its founding, the Association has given more than $45 million to the White House in fulfillment of its mission. 

To learn more about the White House Historical Association, please visit WhiteHouseHistory.org

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