1 of 2
Photo courtesy Tudor Place
2 of 2
Photo courtesy United States Botanical Garden
Submersion in a subject inevitably produces surprise. Last year my surprise in touring Washington, D.C.’s historic homes for the holidays was the Heurich House Museum, more colorfully known as The Brewmaster’s Castle. With all of the machinations that take place in the nation’s capital, I might have expected it to have a rich brewing history, but any castle other than the famous Smithsonian building on the Mall had eluded me, and here was an especially lovely home dressed up for the season that most city visitors are unaware of. It’s one of several house museums that are hidden jewels in a city of world-class tourist attractions. At this time of year, these sites play host to an array of special events in celebration of the season that are well worth a weekend excursion. Here’s a sampling.
Dupont Circle and Embassy Row
My husband and I hopped up (pun intended) to DuPont Circle to enjoy a brew in tribute to the family of Washington’s highly successful brewmaster, Christian Heurich, at the mansion he had built for his family in the 1890s. At its height, his brewery was the largest non-government employer in the city.
One-hour tours of the brewmaster’s home/castle/museum, 1307 New Hampshire Ave. NW, always include tastings and snacks; but the annual Christkindlmarkt, with participation by many food, crafts and beverage artisans, is special for its re-creation of a German Christmas market and the Victorian splendor of holiday decorations. It’s worth a visit in any season for one of DuPont Circle’s First Friday events.
Anderson House, 2118 Massachusetts Ave. NW, since 1938 has been the headquarters of The Society of the Cincinnati, which was founded by Revolutionary War veterans and is the nation’s oldest patriotic organization. The circa-1905 mansion was the winter home of Larz and Isobel Anderson, a stellar diplomatic couple in D.C. society. A Vintage Evening: Yuletide at Anderson House will be held at 6 p.m. on Dec. 8. You can sample eggnog punch based on a century-old recipe, and tour the mansion. Admission is $15 for the event, and you must be at least 21 years old to attend.
For a peek at 1920s-style holidays (the era of wind-up tin toys), visit the Woodrow Wilson House, 2340 S St. NW, home to the only presidential couple to continue to live in the nation’s capital after leaving the White House. Although there’s no special holiday event, gifts do abound — those given to the 28th president by world dignitaries before and after World War I, that is. Originally built for a corporate executive, the house’s marble entryway and grand staircase, Palladian window, dumbwaiter, butler’s pantry and solarium overlooking the formal garden are impressive.
Other D.C. Homes (and a Garden) for the Holidays
Celebrate winter as well as the holidays at Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens, 4115 Linnean Ave. NW, home of cereal heiress and philanthropist Marjorie Post.
The annual Russian Winter Festival includes lively Russian folk music and dances and a fun play based on traditional Russian stories of Grandfather Frost (Santa Claus) and his granddaughter, the Snow Maiden.
At Tudor Place, the 1816 estate built by a granddaughter of Martha Washington and her husband Thomas Peter, it’s December 1945 for the holidays, and the home is bedecked for the Peters’ three-generation celebration of Commander Armistead Peter III’s return from U. S. naval duty in the Pacific. The mansion, located at 1644 31st St. NW in Upper Georgetown, plays host to seasonal events from Dec. 3 on, including candlelight tours, and an opportunity for “history detectives” to find decorations and clues to celebrations past.
The circa-1804 Federal-style Dumbarton House, 2715 Q St., was home to Joseph Nourse, sometimes referred to as “America’s first civil servant” because he served as the first Register of the Treasury through six presidential administrations. The Federal-style mansion is closed for a heating/air update in December but will post dates for pop-up hard-hat tours on its website.
While home only to plants and trees, the United States Botanic Garden, 100 Maryland Ave. on the National Mall, is the biggest holiday bargain in town — visits are free. Its holiday exhibit, “Season’s Greenings,” runs Thanksgiving Day to Jan. 2, 2017, with a model-train show and re-creations of national sites such as the Statue of Liberty and displays in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service and the 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act.