Sunday, April 16, 2017

Iwalked Washington D.C.’S Cutts-Madison House

I walked Washington D.C.’S Cutts-Madison House - The yellow Colonial-style home at the intersection of H Street, NW and Madison Place, NW is named for two of its former owners and recognized as the Cutts-Madison House. The building was constructed in 1820 for the Comptroller of the Treasury named Richard Cutts. He actually built the house himself for which he and his wife, Anna Payne Cutts (the younger sister of Dolley Madison). The building was the first to be constructed along the eastern edge of Lafayette Square and originally featured two stories covered in grey stucco. The building’s original entrance also formerly faced Lafayette Square, although it has since been replaced by a bay window.

Cutts-Madison House
Cutts-Madison House

The Cutts family ran into financial hardship in 1828 and the building’s mortgage was acquired by former President James Madison for the sum of $5,750. James lived here with his wife Dolley until his death in 1836. James’ death, along with supporting a son with extravagant habits from a former marriage (John Payne Todd), left Dolley in a financially unstable position. She moved out of the family’s mansion at Montpelier and moved into this residence to attempt to reduce her expenses. She made one final valiant attempt to save her beloved Montpelier when she returned for a brief period during 1839 to 1843 and rented out her Madison Place residence. Unfortunately the additional income was insufficient to save Montpelier and she was forced to sell the property and return to the Cutts-Madison House in 1843. She would live the remainder of her days here until her death in July 1849. A historical plaque recognizing the famous former tenants of this building resides along it’s H Street, NW side. One interesting fact of note regarding the plaque is that Mrs. Madison’s name is misspelled as she actually spelled her name Dolley—not Dolly.

Upon Dolley’s passing the residence passed to her sole surviving child, John, although it appears someone forgot to inform Dolley that the property had passed onto new owners. For a number of years after her death many passersby of this home would claim to see her ghostly image sitting on the porch as she loved to do in her later years.
Officially the property would pass into the ownership of Rear Admiral Charles Wilkes, who purchased the home from John in April 1851. Wilkes is best recognized as having led an exploring expedition within the South Seas from 1838-1842. He would reside here with his family for a period dating 1851 to 1886. During this time Wilkes did make one significant change in the structure when he had the original gable roof removed and replaced it with the current flat roof which you see today.

The next official tenant to move into the famed Cutts-Madison House would be the Cosmos Club, which acquired the building from Wilkes in 1886 for $40,000. The Cosmos Club is a private social club that was founded in 1878 by John Wesley Powell with the stated objective of, “The advancement of its members in science, literature and art.” The Cosmos Club, during its tenancy which lasted until 1952, made a number of additional alterations to the building including raising the roof for the addition of a full third story. The Cosmos Club would vacate the property in 1952 when it moved to its current home and headquarters within the Townsend Mansion(located at 2121 Massachusetts Avenue, NW).

In the ensuing years a handful of government agencies would call the Cutts-Madison House home. The National Science Foundation operated out of here for a handful of years during 1952 to 1958. After this, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) actually held offices here until 1964. Today, the Cutts-Madison is part of a complex of buildings that are a part of the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. In addition to the Cutts-Madison House this complex includes the neighboring Cosmos Club Building, the Benjamin Ogle Tayloe House and the Howard T. Markey National Courts Building.