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What Once Was

The Galts and Galts of Dupont Circle

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By Stephen A. Hansen*

When a family intermarries with itself, sometimes more than once, relations can be very difficult to work out, but sometimes well worth the effort. The Galts of Washington, DC are no exception.

In 1876, a wealthy local flour merchant by the name of William M. Galt built only the second house that was located directly on Dupont Circle— the first house being that of Senator William Stewart in 1873.

William Galt house at 1328 Connecticut Avenue. drawing--author's collection.

William Galt house at 1328 Connecticut Avenue. drawing–author’s collection.

William Galt was born on his father’s farm in Carroll County, Maryland in 1834. He moved to Washington at the age of 17 and started working in a dry goods house before going into the coal trade with a cousin. Galt established his own flour business in 1862 in an old government warehouse on the corner of First Street and Indiana Avenue, NW.

By 1876, William was wealthy enough to build his own mansion on the triangular lot on the south side of the circle between Connecticut Avenue and 19th Street. In many ways it rivaled Stewart’s Castle across the circle.

 

When Galt’s house at 1328 Connecticut Avenue was complete, the Washington Star described it as “not only one of the finest residences in the city, but one of the pleasantest homes.” When they had finally settled into their magnificent new residence, they began to entertain on a large scale. But Galt and his wife only stayed in the house until 1880, when he sold it to Alexander Graham Bell’s future father-in-law, Gardner Greene Hubbard. Hubbard then remodeled and expanded the house. The Galt’s moved to a house just south of Thomas Circle where Galt died in 1889.

William’s cousin was Matthew William Galt, who married William’s sister — also his own cousin. Matthew and his brother, also a William, were heirs to Washington’s oldest and best known jewelry store, Galt & Bro. Jewelers.

William Galt.  photo-- author's collection.

William Galt. photo–author’s collection.

Matthew’s grandfather, James Galt, was a native of Maryland as well and had moved to Alexandria, Virginia in 1802 to open a jewelry store. In 1826, Matthew opened his first store in Washington on Pennsylvania Avenue between 9th and 10th Streets. The business survived until 2001 when it finally closed its doors after 199 years.

Matthew’s 32-year-old son Norman met Edmonia (“Edith”) Bolling while she was in Washington visiting her older sister Gertrude and her husband, Norman’s cousin Alexander Hunter Galt.

Norman and Edith married in 1896 and settled into a modest brick townhouse in the Dupont Circle neighborhood at 1404 21st Street. From there, they would move to a house at 1308 20th Street a few years later (now demolished). They had one child who died in infancy in 1903.

Edith Galt Wilson.  photo-- Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Edith Galt Wilson. photo–Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Norman Galt died in 1908 and Edith took over management of the family jewelry business. Seven years later, Edith met the recently widowed Woodrow Wilson and they were married in a simple ceremony in her 20th Street home. Edith was First Lady until 1921 and died in 1961 at the age of 89 at the Wilson’s S Street home.

Norman and Edith Galt's home at 1308 20th Street, NW. photo--Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Norman and Edith Galt’s home at 1308 20th Street, NW. photo–Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

In 1907, Gardner Greene Hubbard’s widow sold the house at 1328 Connecticut Avenue to a Kentucky whiskey distiller, Edson Bradley, who again remodeled and significantly expanded the house. In the 1920s, Bradley had much of the house dismantled and shipped to an oceanfront property in Newport, Rhode Island, where it was rebuilt, larger and grander than before and then named “Seaview Terrace.” The current building on the Dupont Circle site, originally built as an apartment building, dates from 1926.

Editor’s note: For more on the Galt, Hubbard, and Bell families, as well as Edson Bradley, be sure to keep an eye out for the author’s upcoming book, A History of Dupont Circle: Center of High Society in the Capital. Expected publication is September 2014.

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

© 2014 InTowner Publishing Corp. & Stephen A. Hansen. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part, including for commercial purposes, without permission is prohibited.