Built in 1819, the Decatur House was designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe for Commodore Stephen Decatur, who was at the height of his naval career when the house was constructed, and who, along with his wife, Susan Wheeler Decatur, wished to establish themselves in Washington society. The Decaturs lived on Lafayette Square only 14 months before 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. The Decatur House contains one of the only extant living quarters for enslaved persons still standing in the District.
DC Inventory: November 8, 1964 (Joint Committee on Landmarks)
National Register: October 15, 1966
National Historic Landmark: December 19, 1960
Within Lafayette Square Historic District
This site is included in the Capital City Slavery Tour for its role as a site of enslavement for 15 to 21 individuals. For further information on slavery in the District, view DC Preservation League's Capital City Slavery Digital Exhibit.