virtual \architectural \archaeology

vir·tu·al \ ar·ch i·tect·ur·al \ ar·chae·ol·o·gy. n 1: the use of documentation, photographs, drawings, and artifacts combined with the latest in computer technologies to virtually model the lost built environment.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Gen. John Mason House (Analostan)

General John Mason House (Analostan) after it was completed in the 1790s (north face).

The 70-acre Theodore Roosevelt Island, resting in the Potomac River between Washington, DC and Virginia, was known as My Lord's Island and then Barbadoes in the 17th century. It was purchased in 1717 by George Mason, the father of George Mason of Gunstan Hall, from which time it became commonly known as Mason's Island.

After the fire of 1866 (HABS)
In 1792, George Mason bequeathed the island to his fourth son, General John Mason (1766-1849). John Mason referred to the island as Analostan Island, and he himself was often referred to as "John Mason of Analostan Island." 

John Mason was one of the most prominent businessmen in Georgetown at the turn of the 19th century. He served as a brigadier general of the District of Columbia militia, was a founder of the first bank in Washington, the Bank of Columbia in 1793 and later served as its president. He became president of the "Potowmack" (Potomac) Company, the predecessor to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company (George Washington was its first president). And in 1815, he purchased the Columbia Foundry, the largest business in Washington at the time.

A romanticized view of Analostan, probably done sometime
after the 1806 fire as the east wing is missing in this
depiction. (HABS)
During the 1790s, John began constructing his summer home on Analostan Island.  During the winter months, the Masons would return to their house in Georgetown. Prominent visitors to Analostan in the summers included Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, and Louis Phillipe, Duc d'Orleans- later King of the French.

South face of the house when it was completed.

South elevation of west wing after the 1906 fire. (HABS)
Archaeological and photographic evidence reveal that the house was one story, with a full basement.  The main floor included a drawing and dining rooms, and bed chambers, while the kitchen and storage rooms were located in the basement. There was a large brick terrace along the south front of the house and the small entrance portico on the north front faced Georgetown. 
To date, it has been assumed that Analostan was never finished, with only the center and west wing completed.  But, archaeological evidence and a letter from Thomas Jefferson suggest otherwise.  In 1806, the east wing was destroyed by a fire while the Masons were at their Georgetown home. Never one to miss a fire, in a letter to to Anne Cary Randolph, Thomas Jefferson described the damage and its aftermath: "one wing was burnt down and the middle nearly so. They saved their furniture. Suspicions arising that it was done by one of his house servants who wished the family to go back to Georgetown, he was arrested and on his way to prison with the constable, he jumped out of the boat and drowned himself. I understand the family will continue through the summer in the remaining wing."  The west wing was never rebuilt. 
Mason's Claremont plantation.

Due to financial problems, Mason was forced to abandon his island paradise as well as sell his Georgetown house in 1833 when he moved to his Clermont (Claremont) plantation in Fairfax, Virginia. 
Of note is one of Mason's sons born on the island, James Murray Mason.  James Murray served both as a United States Senator and Representative from Virginia. He was appointed commissioner of the Confederacy to the United Kingdom and France between 1861 and 1865 during the Civil War.

James Murray Mason
Mason's Island was bought by former Washington mayor William A. Bradley and the house was used as a public resort and then as an army camp during the Civil War.  The interior of the house was destroyed by fire in 1866. After Bradley died in in 1867, the island became home to the Columbian Athletic Club and the Analostan Boat Club.  The remaining roof and several walls collapsed in a second fire in 1906. In 1913, the house was bought by Washington Gas Light Company. In 1931, the island was acquired by the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Association, which donated it to the federal government for a park. In 1935, the remaining walls of the house were finally pulled down.

The virtual reconstruction of Analostan was based on the1936 Historic American Buildings (HABS) Survey (HABS DC-28).


  1. As amazing as what you did for Analostan, which I always refer my Peabody Room patrons to who are researching that topic!
    Jerry A. McCoy

  2. Louis Philippe Joseph d'Orléans styled himself as "King of the French" (Roi des Français), not "King of France." This title, Roi des Français, was specified in the French constitution of 1791. It is thus historically incorrect to refer to him as King of France.

    1. Thanks for catching this, Skip. I made the correction.


Post a Comment