18th Century Former Tavern* Building For Sale

A rare 18th century home has come up for sale on 33rd St. Listed just under $4 million, 1524 33rd St. is being sold for the first time in over 50 years. And it comes with the history of being a tavern that Thomas Jefferson once stayed at. (But, as GM will get into below, there is some reason to doubt that history…)

The home was supposedly built in 1788 and it occupies a shockingly large plot:

As mentioned above, it is claimed that this property was once a tavern in the early days of the Republic. There’s even a plaque on the front saying as much:

The listing expands a bit on this (including language from a 1999 walking tour book):

Own a piece of American history on one of the largest lots available in Georgetown today. The Yellow Tavern (later known as the White House Inn): Traveling in the 1700’s, as described by 18th century English actor John Bernard, ” A mile’s ride was about the most powerful experiment on one’s anatomy a man can desire.” Unpaved streets proved impassable after a rainstorm and ‘the Yellow Tavern was the most gracious respite from the difficulties of travel.’ Built in 1788, it was originally two buildings that were joined much later. Normally guests in taverns shared beds with strangers, the ‘privy’ was outside, meals were unreliable and bathing was done only during holidays. Here, the living was of a higher quality in order to attract the likes of Thomas Jefferson. When George Towne was a leading port, the tavern was a favorite stopping place for travelers and tobacco merchants from ‘Frederick Town’ as well as a popular meeting place of Thomas Jefferson and other notables. Here Mayor John Cox entertained General Lafayette; dinner of reed birds followed by dancing to music from the balcony.

There’s just one problem with this story: the Yellow Tavern was located not on 33rd St. (then Market St.) but rather at the corner of Fourth Street (now Q) and High St. (now Wisconsin Ave.).

And it was torn down in 1890.

Here’s the Evening Star July 15, 1890:

(32nd and R in 1890 is not 32nd and R today. At this point what is now Wisconsin Ave. was called 32nd St. and what is now Q St. was called R St. Here’s a map of the area in 1887:

Even before the Yellow Tavern could be torn down, it started falling apart. Here’s the Evening Star on July 23rd, 1890:

Besides being described as being at a different location, the Yellow Tavern described here doesn’t sound like the building on 33rd. It’s got three stories and gables. The 33rd St. is only two stories and has no gables.

And while the newspaper descriptions don’t mention color, it seems likely that the Yellow Tavern was…you know… yellow.

The plaque also states that the tavern was later known as the White Horse Inn (the real estate listing accidentally calls it the White House Inn). Unfortunately, the evidence of such a place being in Georgetown is a bit spotty. The name did get mentioned a couple times in connection with this propery around the time that the plaque was installed by the Colonial Dames of America in 1949. Here’s the Evening Star in 1947 announcing a Georgetown House Tour:

Additionally, Portrait of Old Georgetown, written in the 1930s by Grace Dunlop Ecker, does tie the Yellow Tavern to 1524 33rd St.

But things get a lot more muddled when you consider this article from 1909:

This article discusses a property again at the intersection of Q and Wisconsin. While it uses the name “White Horse Tavern” it, like the plaque, claims that the tavern was previously known as the Yellow Tavern.

It’s helpful that the article includes a picture of this property, as it doesn’t look like the property that was described in 1890:

Adding to this confusion, consider this article from 1905:

What you should take away from this is that these names exist more in legend that in history. This is not an uncommon phenomenon in Georgetown. A lot of mistakes about Georgetown’s past were made in the spirit of creating an “Old Georgetown” myth. For instance, for a long time people thought the Old Stone House was where George Washington’s headquarters were. It wasn’t. It’s just an old stone house that somehow escaped getting torn down. Other claims on Georgetown’s early history have been mistakenly made, like how the George Town Club used to claim it was once the legendary Suter’s Tavern. It would appear that the Yellow Tavern and the White Horse Inn/Tavern are merely less prominent examples. (Although it’s not even clear to GM that there ever was a White Horse Tavern/Inn in Georgetown. It was the name of a popular play at the turn of the century and may have influenced people’s “memories”.)

It’s perfectly possible that this property was used as a tavern of some name at some point. The building next door is claimed to be the innkeeper’s home, for instance. But it seems likely that the claim of being either the Yellow Tavern or the White Horse Inn (if that even existed) are on shakier grounds. It would be far from the first property to falsely claim that Washington slept there.

Either way, it’s an incredible property and can be yours for just $4 mil.


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One response to “18th Century Former Tavern* Building For Sale

  1. Pingback: When a Landmark Isn’t a Landmark | The Georgetown Metropolitan

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