Cornerstone of the White House Laid

The cornerstone of the White House was laid on October 13, 1792. In a proclamation issued on January 24, 1791, President George Washington announced the permanent location of the new capital, an area of land at the confluence of the Potomac and Eastern Branch (Anacostia) rivers that would eventually become the District of Columbia. Washington and Pierre Charles L’Enfant, the French planner of the federal city, chose the site for the residence.

I pray Heaven to bestow the best of Blessings on this House and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.

Letter from President John Adams to First Lady Abigail Adams, November 2, 1800External. Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. Massachusetts Historical Society

President’s House [i.e. White House], Washington, D.C… John Plumbe, photographer, [ca 1846]. Daguerreotypes. Prints & Photographs Division

Congress had selected a design by James Hoban, an Irish emigrant architect living in Charleston, South Carolina, for the structure. Modeled after Leister House in Dublin, Ireland, Hoban’s plan featured the Palladian style popular in Europe. It was chosen over several other proposals including one submitted by Thomas Jefferson. President John Adams and his wife Abigail moved into the unfinished structure on November 1, 1800, keeping to the scheduled relocation of the capital from Philadelphia.

Constructed of white-gray sandstone that contrasted sharply with the red brick used in nearby buildings, the President’s House, also known as the Executive Mansion, was called the White House as early as 1812. President Theodore Roosevelt officially adopted the term in 1901. Pierre L’Enfant hired enslaved African Americans from their masters to clear the sites for the White House and the Capitol. They also lugged building materials and performed skilled labor alongside paid workers to build the White House.

A View of the President’s House in the City of Washington after the Conflagration of the 24th August 1814… William Strickland, engraver; George Munger, artist, c1814. Popular Graphic Arts. Prints & Photographs Division

Invading British troops burned the White House during the closing months of the War of 1812. Rebuilt and enlarged under Hoban’s plans, it was reoccupied by James Monroe in 1817.

The next major expansion of the executive mansion took place during Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency when second-floor rooms were converted from offices into living quarters for the president’s family. The West Wing was also built during this period to house the expanding presidential staff. For over six months in 1927, President and Mrs. Calvin Coolidge lived in nearby Dupont Circle while the White House was renovated and the roof raised and replaced. During the Truman years, the structure of the building was reinforced with steel beams.

White House Interiors. Red Room in White House. Theodor Horydczak, photographer, ca. 1920-1950. Horydczak Collection. Prints & Photographs Division
The White House, Washington, D.C.. Carol M. Highsmith, photographer, [between 1980-2006]. Highsmith (Carol M.) Archive. Prints & Photographs Division
White House Interiors. Green Room in White House. Theodor Horydczak, photographer, 1946. Horydczak Collection. Prints & Photographs Division

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