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The Hidden History of 5 Capitol Hill Houses

Sewall-Belmont house on Constitution Ave., built in 1800. Photograph via Creative Commons on Flickr.

The rest of the world might know the Hill for its two houses of Congress. But take a stroll through its historic streets and you’ll find plenty of houses that—at least most days—are just as interesting.

George Watterston House (built early 1800s)

224 Second St., SE

Watterston, the original owner, was appointed by President James Madison as the third Librarian of Congress in 1815. The building is now headquarters for the National Indian Gaming Association.

Friendship House (built 1795 or 1796)

619 D St., SE

The house was frequented by George Washington and used as a hospital for soldiers during the War of 1812. In 1815—the year after he wrote the national anthem—Francis Scott Key purchased it. The Friendship House Association, a social-services provider, bought it in 1936. It fell into foreclosure before being turned into condos in 2012.

Marine Corps House of the Commandants (built 1806)

Eighth and I sts., SE

In 1801, President Thomas Jefferson and Lieutenant Colonel William Ward Burrows chose this site to build a house for the highest-ranking officer of the US Marines. The mansion is still home to the Marine commandant and is thought to be the oldest continually occupied public building in the District.

Hiram Johnson House (built 1817–22)

122 Maryland Ave., NE

The most prominent owner of this house—a.k.a. the Mountjoy Bayly House, after the second Sergeant at Arms of the Senate, who built it—was Hiram Johnson, a governor of California, a US senator, and a founder of the Progressive Party. General Motors heir Stewart R. Mott bought the building in 1974; the first floor now houses his foundation.

Sewall-Belmont House (built 1800)

144 Constitution Ave., NE

Years after the Sewall family sold it to other owners, it ended up in the hands of the National Woman’s Party, which renamed it to honor suffragist Alva Belmont. In 2016, President Obama declared the house a national monument for women’s equality. Open for tours Wednesday through Sunday.

This article appears in the June 2017 issue of Washingtonian.

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Former editorial fellow Kayla Randall is City Lights editor at Washington City Paper.