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What Once Was

All in the Family: The Cutts-Madison and Benjamin Ogle Tayloe Houses on Lafayette Square

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By Stephen A. Hansen*

This is the tale of two houses on Lafayette Square, which were joined together through intermarriage between their families for almost 100 years, as well as later physically joined together by the Cosmos Club.

The Cutts-Madison house today.  photo--Wikimedia Commons.

The Cutts-Madison house today. photo–Wikimedia Commons.

The Cutts-Madison house on the corner of H Street and Madison Place was constructed around 1819 by Richard Cutts from Maine and congressman from Massachusetts and later Comptroller of the Treasury, who built the house for himself and his wife, Anna Payne Cutts, who was Dolley Madison’s sister. In 1828, his brother-in-law, former President James Madison, secured the mortgage on the house. In 1837, Dolley moved into the house and lived there until her death in 1849. (For a full account of the Cutts-Madison house and Dolley Madison, see Streets of Washington, Dolley Madison’s House.)

The Benjamin Ogle Tayloe house today. photo--Wikimedia Commons.

The Benjamin Ogle Tayloe house today. photo–Wikimedia Commons.

The Benjamin Ogle Tayloe house, also located on the east side of Lafayette Square at 21 Madison Place, was built in 1828 by Benjamin Ogle Tayloe. Tayloe was born in Annapolis and was the son of Colonel John Tayloe III (builder of the nearby Octagon House), and a grandson of Governor Benjamin Ogle of Maryland. In 1824, he married Julia Maria Dickinson from Troy, New York. Together, they had six children: John, Edward Thornton, Estelle, Anna, Eugenie Phoebe, and Julia.

With the death of Col. Tayloe in 1828, the Octagon house passed on to his mother who remained there until 1855. Benjamin, preferring his country estate life over city living, would have lost his foothold in Washington society. But, at his wife Julia’s urging, who claimed to be more comfortable in the city, Tayloe appeased her and built the house on Madison Place.

Tayloe built a Federal-style brick, free-standing house flanked by tall exterior twin chimneys on either side, with two roof dormers in-between.

A triple window in the center of the house was added later, marking the location of the original entrance. Unlike the original Cutts-Madison house that had a third floor added later, the Tayloe house was a full three stories.

Tayloe was a businessman and an influential political activist in Washington, and the house became a noted meeting place for many of the leading political figures of early 19th-century American politics.

Julia Tayloe died in 1846 leaving Tayloe to raise six children on his own for the next 10 years. In 1856 he married Eugenia Phoebe Warren, who like Julia, was also from Troy, New York. Later, Phoebe’s grandnephew, George Warren, Jr. would also marry the Tayloe daughter Eugenie.

It was probably around this time of his marriage to Phoebe that Tayloe undertook some updates to the house. Charles Wilkes had acquired the Cutts-Madison house around 1850 and subsequently made some significant alterations to it, including the first floor windows facing Lafayette Square by extending them down to the floor and adding transoms above and installing the wrought-iron porch in front. The same modifications were done to the exterior of the Tayloe house, but on the second floor, giving both houses the then in-vogue Italianate villa-style look and creating an impression of a piano nobile (“noble level”). A protruding vestibule was also added to the front entrance.

It is no coincidence that both houses adopted aspects of the Italianate villa style at this time. Andrew Jackson Downing had landscaped Lafayette Square in 1851 just across from the two houses, and along with Calvert Vaux also designed the twin Italian villa-style Frances and Robert Dodge houses in Georgetown in the early 1850s.

When Benjamin Tayloe died in 1868, his wife Phoebe inherited the house. She also inherited the Cutts-Madison house from her nephew, George B. Warren, when he died in 1880. Warren had acquired the house in 1870 after a series of owners since Charles Wilkes.

At this point in her life, Phoebe may have owned two houses on Lafayette Square, but apparently did not have much money.

When her stepson Edward Thornton Tayloe died in 1882, his will provided for an annuity of $2,000 to be paid to Phoebe for the rest of her life.

When Phoebe died in 1884, the Tayloe house then passed on to Tayloe’ s children. The Cutts-Madison house passed on to Eugenie (Tayloe) Warren to hold in trust for her nephew Edward Tayloe Perry (the son of Estelle (Tayloe Perry) and grandchild of Benjamin Ogle Tayloe who was still a minor at the time.

In 1886, Eugenie Warren sold the Cutts-Madison house to the Cosmos Club. Its new owners built out a full third floor and expanded the house significantly to the south and east at the first floor level to create large assembly rooms. Further additions were made to the east along H Street in 1894.

The Tayloe house in 1886 before Don Cameron expanded the ell to create a new main entrance. photo--author's collection.

The Tayloe house in 1886 before Don Cameron expanded the ell to create a new main entrance. photo–author’s collection.

In 1887, James Donald (“Don”) Cameron, a senator from Pennsylvania purchased the Tayloe house. Cameron served as Secretary of War under President Ulysses S. Grant and in the United States Senate for nearly 20 years. Cameron significantly modified the house, almost entirely rebuilding its interior. On the exterior, a recessed ell on the north of the house was built out flush to the front of house to allow for a new main entrance set within a two-story rounded bay with a Palladian window above.

James Donald (“Don”) Cameron. photo--Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

James Donald (“Don”) Cameron. photo–Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Cameron did not stand for reelection to the senate in 1896 and returned to his home in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. From 1897 to 1899, he leased the house to Garret Hobart, who served as Vice President under William McKinley. During Hobart’s tenure in the house, it was nicknamed the “Historic Corner” due to the large number of politically important visitors and meetings he held there, and the “Cream White House” because of its painted brickwork.

From 1900 to 1902, the house became referred to as the “Little White House” when Cameron rented it to Senator Mark (“Boss”) Hanna of Ohio, one of the most powerful men in Washington in his day. Hanna was known for his power breakfasts of corned beef hash and pancakes, which McKinley often attended.

In 1904, Benjamin Ogle Tayloe (a grand nephew of the first Benjamin Ogle Tayloe) married Mary Elizabeth Cutts, the granddaughter of Richard Cutts and great-grandniece of Dolley Madison. With this marriage, the first four families that occupied both houses — Cutts, Madison, Tayloe, and Warren — had all intermarried.

View down Madison Place circa 1910 showing both houses with the soon to be demolished Ingersoll and Windom houses between them. postcard--John DeFerrari.

View down Madison Place circa 1910 showing both houses with the soon to be demolished Ingersoll and Windom houses between them. postcard–John DeFerrari.

The Commercial Club rented the Tayloe house from 1909 to 1913. In 1915, Cameron rented the house to the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage to be used as its headquarters and as a congregating place and lookout post for picketers’ who would wait for Wilson to return to the White House then rush his car. But in 1917, offering no explanation, the Camerons ordered the militant suffragettes to vacate the house. One can only imagine that these were not the type of neighbors the old “cave dwellers” wanted around their Lafayette Square homes and may have complained to the absentee landlord.

Suffragettes congregating at the Cameron house. photo--Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Suffragettes congregating at the Cameron house. photo–Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

The Cosmos Club had gradually been acquiring the block in a southward direction, starting with the Cutts-Madison house in 1886, then purchasing the townhouses at 23 and 25 Madison Place (the Ingersoll and Windom houses) and razing them in 1909 to make way for their new five-story club house. In 1917, the Cosmos Club purchased the Tayloe house. Now, the two houses that were once joined together by family were now also physically joined. The Cosmos Club remained on Lafayette Square until 1952, when it moved to the Townsend Mansion on Massachusetts Avenue.

On September 18, 1939, Mary Tayloe jumped from a three-story window of her apartment at 2016 P Street, NW. In the suicide note she left, she said that she was 64-years-old and a widow, fearing that blindness was imminent, she had nothing further to live for.

Both the Cutts-Madison and Tayloe houses along with the Cosmo Club building are still standing today — thanks to the efforts in the 1960s of the Committee of 100 on the Federal City, Jacqueline Kennedy, architect John Carl Warnecke, and many others.

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

© 2013 InTowner Publishing Corp. & Stephen A. Hansen. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part, including for commercial purposes, without permission is prohibited.