white house yard

White House History: Celebrating the Most Famous Home in the US

With up to 100,000 visitors per month, the White House is the most visited residence in the United States. To celebrate President’s Day, we’re taking a look at some of the more interesting facts about the “Presidential Palace”.

Who lived at the White House?

George Washington was the only president to never live in the White House. While he was alive during its construction, he died before its completion. Prior to the construction of the White House, Philadelphia was the nation’s acting capital and wasn’t happy about the impending transition to D.C. The city built its own presidential palace in the 1790s, but Washington refused to stay there, instead opting to stay in other Philly-area residences.

drawing of white house construction

Where is the Cornerstone?

Speaking of the construction, the cornerstone was laid on Saturday, October 13, 1792–but nobody really knows where it is today. According to the story, a group of freemasons met at a Georgetown tavern and paraded to the proposed site of the president’s mansion. In a ceremony, they placed an inscribed cornerstone to mark the start of construction then marched back to the tavern to make a toast. They then repeated their march back to the mansion site and back to the tavern for a total of 16 trips. All this celebrating and toasting meant that no one really documented where the stone actually was.

How much of the White House–is really the White House?

It’s hard to imagine that much has changed to the structure of the White House, but actually very little of the original remains. The British burned the original in 1814 after US forces set fire to Canada’s parliament during the War of 1812. First lady Dolley Madison saved the famous Gilbert Stuart painting of George Washington as she was fleeing and some of the exterior stone walls also survived. Unfortunately, this was not the only fire that ravaged the property. A blocked fireplace flue caused another damaging fire on December 24, 1929. President Hoover left a Christmas party to personally direct firefighting efforts.

white house backyard

This was not the only rebuilding effort required by the home. When President Harry S Truman tried to upgrade the White House in 1948, it was nearly condemned! Engineers discovered it was structurally unsound and close to falling down at which point Truman began to reside at the Blair House. It took four years to complete the renovation project. While the structure was opened for rehabilitation efforts, Truman tried to find the missing cornerstone but was without success.

Today anyone interested can visit the White House to see this great home themselves. Public tour requests must be submitted through the guests’ Congressional representative and are awarded on a first come-first served basis. Tours are free of charge, however, all guests aged 18 or older must have a valid, government-issued id. For more information on scheduling a tour, visit the White House Tours & Events page.

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