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What Once Was

General John Mason House (“Analostan”)

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By Stephen A. Hansen*

The 70-acre Theodore Roosevelt Island, resting in the Potomac River between Washington, DC and Virginia, once known as Analostan and Mason’s Island, was the site of a grand house and plantation constructed by General John Mason (1766-1849).

North face of Analostan as it appeared when completed circa 1800 (rendering–Stephen A. Hansen)

John Mason, the eighth surviving child of George Mason of Gunston Hall, was one of the most prominent businessmen in Georgetown at the turn of the 19th century.  He served as a brigadier general of the District of Columbia militia, was a founder in 1793 of the first bank in Washington, the Bank of Columbia, and later served as its president. He also became president of the “Potowmack” (Potomac) Company, the predecessor to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company; George Washington had been its first president. And in 1815, he purchased the Columbia Foundry, the largest business in Washington at the time.

19th-century sketch of Analostan (photo–Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

During the 1790s, John Mason began constructing his summer home on the island.  In the winter months, the Masons would return to their house at 3425 Prospect Street in Georgetown (the house is still standing today).  Prominent visitors to Analostan in the summers included Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, and Louis Phillipe, Duc d’Orleans —  later the King of France.

To date, it has been assumed that Analostan was never finished, with only the center and west wing ever completed.  But, archaeological evidence and a letter from Thomas Jefferson suggest otherwise.  In 1806, the east wing was destroyed by a fire while the Masons were at their Georgetown home.  Never one to miss a fire, in a letter to his eldest granddaughter, Anne

South face of Analostan circa 1800 (rendering–Stephen A. Hansen)

Cary Randolph, Jefferson described the damage and its aftermath: “one wing was burnt down and the middle nearly so. They saved their furniture.  Suspicions arising that it was done by one of his house servants who wished the family to go back to Georgetown, he was arrested on his way to prison with the constable, he jumped out of the boat and drowned himself.  I understand the family will continue through the summer in the remaining wing.”  The west wing was never rebuilt.

James Murray Mason (photo–Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

Due to financial problems, Mason was forced to abandon his island paradise as well as sell his Georgetown house in 1833 when he moved to his Clermont (Claremont) plantation in Fairfax, Virginia. One of Mason’s sons born on the island, James Murray Mason, served both as a United States Senator James Murray Mason (photo–Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division) and Representative from Virginia.  He was later appointed commissioner of the Confederacy to the United Kingdom and France between 1861 and 1865 during the Civil War.

Mason’s Island was bought by former Washington mayor William A. Bradley and the house was used as a public resort and then as an army camp during the Civil War.  The interior of the house was destroyed by fire in 1866. After Bradley died in in 1867, the island became home to the Columbian Athletic Club and the Analostan Boat Club.  The remaining roof and several walls collapsed in a second fire in 1906. In 1913, the house was purchased by the Washington Gas Light Company.  In 1931, the island was acquired by the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Association, which donated it to the federal government for a park. In 1935, the remaining walls of the house were finally pulled down.

 

Abandoned Analostan, approx. 1880-‘90 (photo–Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

After the 1906 fire (photo–Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Stephen A. Hansen is an historic preservation specialist, Washington DC historian, author of several books and of the Virtual Architectural Archaeology blog.

© 2012 InTowner Publishing Corp. & Stephen A. Hansen. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part, including for commercial purposes, without permission is prohibited.