GEORGETOWN'S OLD STONE HOUSE: AN ANCHOR TO OUR PAST AND THE CHALLENGE OF INTERPRETING IT
Reardon, Jeffrey Jay
ABSTRACTOne of the oldest buildings in Washington, D.C., the Old Stone House (OSH) harbors a rich bounty of history that offers a tangible connection not only to the story of Georgetown, but to the cultural fabric of our nation. Nobody famous lived there, no major events took place there, instead the structure and its grounds are an excellent example of an evolving middle-class way of life that became a central concept of American identity. Typical of that class, the building was a hybrid: a residential sanctuary as well as a business portal. The fact that this ¨Dbrick and mortar¡¬ connection to the past is nestled in Georgetown provides an additional opportunity to study the unique and colorful past particular to that area.To tell the story, it is necessary to outline briefly the early history of the region back to the Native Americans and early European settlers, before discussing the social history attached to the OSH. During the 1950s the solid remains of the house were saved and preserved and its grounds restored by the National Park Service (NPS). In doing the preservation work, it was obvious to NPS that explaining the house¡®s accrued changes presented an opportunity to interpret and re-connect to the American past from pre-Revolutionary times to the present. When NPS moved to protect the house in 1953, it was only the beginning of its interpretation. The task then progressed to a different aspect of history encompassing the realm of cultural preservation.iiiThis study will explore the historical records of the OSH, its preservation, and presentation. It will place it within the context of Georgetown, and include the folklore and stories embedded in it that, in fact, help explain why the structure survived the changes around it. Integral to that context is the Potomac River and its commerce, slavery and tobacco marketing, and the C&O Canal¡ªthey dominated the world of the OSH in its first decades. Then it will consider the changes in emphasis. There will be more of an historical interpretation angle from the 1960s to the present and how it opens a window unto Georgetown¡®s past and America¡®s history. Though it predates it, Georgetown nevertheless has been part of the Nation¡®s Capital city for over two centuries. Of note, also, is the garden that lies adjacent to the house. It offers an additional opportunity to tell the OSH¡®s story. NPS¡®s objective is to provide a ¨Dtripod¡¬ of natural, cultural, and recreational experiences. The property on M Street, formerly known as Bridge Street, demonstrates an appealing blend of those themes.An important tool in this study will be the use of comparison and contrast involving the house itself as well as the evolving larger context of Georgetown. There is a sharp contrast with another historic house only a short distance away. Tudor Place, an elegant town mansion was home to an upper-class family in the 1790s; OSH sheltered a solidly middle-class family at the same time. On a larger scale, Georgetown can be compared and contrasted with the nearby thriving port city of Alexandria, Virginia.The final section of the study will deal with the challenges that lie ahead for interpreting the OSH. Paramount in that regard is the changing audience of the future. New techniques in education, in communication (like electronic devices), even nationalivtraumas like 9/11 will influence the way we understand our world and how we relate that understanding to our past. Coming generations need to know how the residents of the OSH experienced natural and manmade disasters (like war and economic depression). By studying how the preservation and interpretation have evolved, we may gain insight into how to tell the OSH¡®s story into the 21st century and beyond, preserving a cultural link that runs from 1765 to the present and beyond.
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