The President Woodrow Wilson House is the home to which President and Mrs. Wilson retired from the White House in 1921. President Wilson lived here until his death in 1924, and Mrs. (Edith) Wilson lived in the home until her death in 1961, at which time she bequeathed the home and its furnishings to the National Trust for Historic Preservation to serve as a monument to President Wilson.
The home and gardens were designed by architect Waddy Butler Wood and were completed in 1915.The President Woodrow Wilson House is situated in the Kalorama – Embassy Row area that has long featured stately mansions and town homes. The home is executed in a Georgian Revival style and is sympathetic in design to two adjacent buildings constructed in the same era, one designed by John Russell Pope and the other by Mr. Wood. The home was originally built as a private residence of Henry Parker Fairbanks, an executive of the Bigelow Carpet Company.
The President Woodrow Wilson House includes many remarkable features, including a marble entryway and grand staircase, Palladian window, book-lined study, dumb waiter and butler’s pantry, and solarium overlooking the formal garden. The home has been maintained much as it was in 1924, including furniture, art, photographs, state gifts, and the personal effects of President and Mrs. Wilson. The drawing room includes a century-old Steinway piano that President Wilson had in the White House, a framed mosaic that Wilson received on his trip to Italy in 1919 from Pope Benedict XV, and a wall-sized Gobelin tapestry presented by the people of France following World War I.
President and Mrs. Wilson moved from the White House to the S Street home on the last day of his presidency, March 4, 1921. President Wilson is the only President to have made Washington his permanent home following his term in office. In retirement, President Wilson received dignitaries and guests at the home, including former British Prime Minister David Lloyd George and former French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau.
President Wilson made a radio address to the American People from The House on November 11, 1923, the fifth anniversary of Armistice Day – the first nationwide remote radio broadcast. The House opened as a museum in 1963.
President and Mrs. Wilson were not the only people living at the S Street home. Mrs. Wilson’s brother John Randolph Bolling lived in a 3rd floor bedroom that is now our office and worked as the Wilson’s private secretary. Isaac and Mary Scott were the full time staff and lived in a small apartment on the fourth floor. Isaac Scott filled the role of butler and valet to Wilson while his wife Mary Scott acted as housekeeper and lady’s maid. Learn more about the Scotts here.
In addition to the Scotts, there were part-time staff people who lived elsewhere and commuted to S Street when needed. In 1921, these included Mr. George Howard, the chauffeur, Mr. Rupple, the night nurse, a laundress once a week and probably a cook for all but the simplest meals. As Wilson’s health deteriorated there were additional nurses who rotated in and out. In later years, various relatives of Mrs. Wilson lived with her at different times.
In 1802, Thomas Jefferson described a section of northwest Washington called “Belair” to his friend Joel Barlow as “a lovely seat … on a high hill commanding a most extensive view of the Potomac.” Barlow, America’s first popular author and a diplomat, purchased the estate in 1807 and renamed it “Kalorama” — Greek for “beautiful view.” Barlow lived on his Kalorama estate until he traveled to France in 1811 as the United States Ambassador. He died in Poland in 1812 of pneumonia, the first American diplomat to die at his post.
The land had originally been part of a 600-acre land grant made to John Longworth by King Charles II of England. After Barlow’s widow sold the property it changed hands many times. During the Civil War there was a hospital for smallpox patients on the property which took advantage of the cooling breezes and the good view on the hillside overlooking Washington. In the 1890s, developers began putting large homes in the area. Over the years, the neighborhood held the homes of several Presidents in addition to Woodrow Wilson, including Herbert Hoover, William Howard Taft and a young Franklin Roosevelt, as well as Supreme Court Justices, Members of Congress, writers, and other luminaries.
The neighborhood also became a home for diplomats. The first embassy, Thailand, was built in 1920. Today Kalorama is part of Embassy Row and is known for having many embassies and diplomatic residences, as well as private homes and museums.
Kalorama is bordered by Connecticut Avenue, Florida Avenue, 22nd Street, P Street, Rock Creek Park and includes part of Massachusetts Avenue. It is easily accessible from Washington’s Metro system.