When you think of Washington D.C., what do you think of? Chances are, the White House, official home to the President, is near the top of the list. George Washington is the only U.S. President who never lived in the White House, although he helped choose the land and the home design.
Today, the White House is a stately, dignified place, the location of frequent state dinners, official business, and of course, the President’s residence. But for many years, it was anything but luxurious.
In 1791, French architect Major Pierre Charles L’Enfant was asked to design the new home. He suggested a great palace, similar to those found in Europe. Washington disagreed. The people had just won their freedom from queens and kings. They certainly didn’t want their new leader living in such a place.
Thomas Jefferson suggested they hold a contest, asking for designs for the home. Architect James Hoban won $500 for his design, which was based on Washington’s preferences for a simple, yet dignified home.
The work began in 1792. The stones used for the house soaked up rainwater. The builders were afraid that they would crack in freezing weather. They solved the problem by painting them with white wash.
Second President of the United States, John Adams, moved into the White House with his family in 1800 but was disappointed. The rooms were cold and poorly furnished. Servants had to walk over a mile and a half to fetch water from a spring. The swampy grounds attracted mosquitoes.
During the War of 1812, British soldiers invaded Washington D.C. James Madison was president at the time. Before fleeing Washington D.C. with her husband, Dolly Madison retrieved the Declaration of Independence and a portrait of George Washington from the White House. Good thing too, because the British soldiers set the presidential home on fire. While it didn’t burn to the ground, it was extensively damaged and these precious historical artifacts might have been lost.
The White House was first enlarged in 1902. Later, Franklin D. Roosevelt added a modern kitchen and an indoor swimming pool.
In 1948, a major expansion and renovation doubled the size of the White House. The building was fireproofed and updated. Jacqueline Kennedy refurnished the White House again in the 1960s.
Dignified: having a noble, serious manner, worthy of respect
Preference: Inclination, liking, or taste
Questions and Answers
Question: Can I visit the White House?
Answer: Today, the White House includes rooms for the President and his family, offices, guest rooms, a library, and a china room. These rooms are not open to the public. If you visit the White House, you can see the East Room, the oval Blue Room, the Green Room, the Red Room, and the State Dining Room, which is used for formal dinners.