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.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Kalorama Mansion

The Kalorama mansion as it appeared circa 1825
The Kalorama mansion in Washington, DC once stood at what is now the intersection of S and 23rd Streets, NW on the present day location of the Myanmar Embassy.  The original part of the house dated from about 1750 and was built by early Washington proprietor Anthony Holmead.  In 1795, Holmead built a new house, Rock Hill, and sold the first house to City Commissioner Gustavus Scott who named it Belair.

The original house built by Anthony Holmead around 1750.
Upon Scott's death in 1800, the house was sold to William Augustine Washington (the president's nephew).  Washington added a dining and drawing room onto the east side of the original house. In 1807, Washington sold the estate to poet, statesman, and friend of Thomas Jefferson, Joel Barlow.  Washington moved to Charleston, S.C. where he died a short time later.

Barlow changed the name of the estate from Belair to Kalorama, Greek for “fine view,” as he felt the name Belair had been already given to many places in Maryland and Virginia. Barlow engaged the services of architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe and added the large east wing to house, a gatehouse once located near the intersection of what is now Florida and R Streets, a family mausoleum at Massachusetts and 22nd Streets, and stables at Massachusetts and Decatur Place [click here for a map of the estate].

The large east wing was added by Joel Barlow and may have been designed by architect Benjamin Latrobe.
Upon the resignation of the American minister to France, president Madison persuaded Barlow to travel to France to arrange a commercial treaty with the Napoleonic government. Tragically, Barlow died of exposure on Christmas Eve 1812 while following Napoleon over the frozen fields of Poland. His widow Ruth returned to Kalorama where she was joined there by her sister Clara and her husband Col. George Bomford.  Ruth Barlow died at Kalorama in 1818 at the age of 62. 

The conservatory added onto the original house by George
In 1822, Bomford acquired title to Kalorama. Bomford added the conservatory onto the front of the original house and amassed the size of the estate to 91 acres, a large part of which later became the Kalorama and Belair Heights subdivisions.  Bomford was forced to sacrifice ownership of Kalorama in 1846 when it was acquired by George Lovett for his mother, Mrs. Charles Fletcher.

Due to its isolated location, the mansion was confiscated during the Civil War by a regiment from Illinois for use as a smallpox hospital. The Lovetts temporarily moved to Philadelphia. Hospital tents were struck and out buildings were demolished when the army was disbanded in the fall of 1865. But during a farewell ball for the remaining hospital staff on Christmas Eve of 1865 in the mansion, a defective stove pipe caught fire and completely gutted the east wing.  Years would pass before the government settled on the rent and damages to Kalorama during the war. 

Kalorama after the 1865 Christmas Eve fire.

The Lovetts eventually rebuilt Kalorama and continued to occupy the house until 1889 when it was razed to make room for the extension and grading of S Street.

Click here for a full, annotated history of Kalorama, but please return to this blog to share your thoughts, comments, or insights.


  1. this site is impressive, especially the old photos. love the sepia toned picture of the Kalorama mansion in 1825--most impressive!

  2. I am thoroughly impressed with the work and the visual images, so important to today's media-based society.


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