Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Home of USMC Commandants
In March 1801, President Thomas Jefferson and the second Commandant of the Marine Corps, Lieutenant Colonel William Ward Burrows made a horseback tour through Washington, DC, looking for a proper site for the Marine Barracks and a home for the Commandant.

Square 927, a short walk from the Washington Navy Yard and within easy marching distance of the Capitol, was their choice. Construction began later that year and Burrows' successor Lieutenant Colonel Commandant Franklin Wharton, completed the house and the Barracks in 1806. Still used for its original purpose, the building has been home to all but the first two Commandants and is said to be the oldest continuously occupied building in Washington, D.C.

When first built, the Georgian Federal-style house measured 25 by 32 feet and contained four large rooms and a central hallway on each floor, a kitchen in the basement and servants' quarters in the attic.

Renovations and additions, which began in 1836, have expanded the house to 15,000 square feet, including 24 rooms not counting hallways, closets or baths. The decor has always been dictated by the personal tastes of each Commandant and his family.

The house of the Commandant's was one of the few buildings not burned by the British when they sacked the Capitol in 1814. This omission by the British has given rise to several legends as to why the house was spared. One version is that Admiral Cockburn and General Ross, commanding the British troops, spared it to use as their headquarters, than neglected to apply to torch upon their withdrawal.

Another contends that Marines at the Battle of Bladensburg so impressed General Ross that he ordered the house and the Barracks spared as a gesture of soldierly respect.

In 1916, Major General George Bennett the 12th Commandant, approached then acting Secretary of the Navy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, with the idea of having portraits painted of all former Marine Corps Commandants to document the successive changes in uniforms. Roosevelt agreed and persuaded the Comptroller of the Treasury to fund the project "as the duty of the government to encourage in every way possible the collection and preservation of every kind of historical material."

It is also a tradition that the occupants of the house leave a gift for future occupants of the house to use. Some gifts from former Commandants include fine furniture, crystal and china.

Square 927, including the house and the Barracks, was entered in the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, and was then designated a National Historic Landmark by the Department of the Interior in 1976.