The house was designed for Commodore Stephen Decatur who was at the height of his naval career when the house was constructed, and he and his wife, Susan Wheeler Decatur, wished to establish themselves in Washington society. The Decaturs lived on Lafayette Square only 14 months--Commodore Decatur was slain in a gentlemen's duel with Commodore James Barron on March 20, 1820.
The house's second great era was ushered in with its purchase in 1871 and occupancy by General and Mrs. Edward Fitzgerald Beale. Modifications made during the Beale years resulted in a rich Victorization of Latrobe's classical design. Upon Mrs. Beale's death in 1902, Decatur House became the property of their son Truxton and his wife, Marie Beale. Restoration in 1944 and again during the 1960s attempted to return the Decatur house to its original architectural appearance.
Overtly threatened with destruction three times in the past, Decatur has served as an anchor in saving remaining historic buildings lining Lafayette Square. In 1956, Mrs. Marie Beale bequeathed Decatur House to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. In 2010, the White House Historical Association entered into a co-stewardship agreement with the Trust, incorporating the Decatur House and its adjoining complex into the educational and research mission of the Association.
National Historic Landmark designation December 19, 1960
DC listing November 8, 1964
National Register listing October 15, 1966