Now and a Long Time Ago: Key Mansion

Key Mansion

Today on Now and a Long Time Ago, GM uses his Photoshop skilz to show you approximately where the Key Mansion once stood. It’s there in the middle of Francis Scott Key Park, across from the Car Barn.

The Key Mansion is where Francis Scott Key lived when he lived in Georgetown. Typical of Streets of Washington, the blog has the definitive article on the building here. Here’s a short clip:

The house, seen in this postcard from about 1909, was originally built by a merchant named Thomas Clark in 1795, long before any bridges or the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal disrupted the local landscape. In those days, terraced gardens sloped down gracefully behind the house to the Potomac River. Francis Scott Key leased the house in late 1805 and was residing there in 1814, when he went on his mission of mercy to Baltimore to secure the release of Dr. William Beanes from the British. While detained on a British ship in Baltimore Harbor during the siege of Fort McHenry, he penned what would become our national anthem.

Key moved out of the house around 1830 partially because the C & O Canal was built in his backyard. The house sat there for about 75 years before a group of preservationists turned the house into a museum. The banners and signs they put up can be seen in this merged photo (click the photo for a larger image).

As Streets of Washington points out, it was a futile effort:

Unfortunately, this well-meaning effort was doomed from the start. The Key Mansion was located at the far end of Georgetown’s then-tawdry commercial strip, and tourists didn’t particularly want to go there. Plus, the drab-looking building was empty—no historic furnishings; nothing really to see. Elaborate membership certificates were produced, to be bestowed on those who would contribute a dime or a quarter. It didn’t work. The museum soon closed.

After a dramatic renovation removed much of the historical integrity of the house, it lingered for several more decades before it was torn down in 1947.

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