The Heurich House Hidden uncovers D.C. secrets

You have family and friends coming in for the weekend to visit and it is your job to entertain them. They have come all this way. They want to see Washington. You suggest the Smithsonian; they have been there. You suggest the FDR Memorial; they have seen it. You suggest a White House tour; they have done that, too. The troops are getting restless. Your father decides maybe they will just hang out in your room all day, relive their own college experiences, bond with your friends. Oh, the horror!

Fret no longer. One of the District’s best kept secrets, The Heurich House Museum, home of The Historical Society of Washington D.C., and an American castle is right around the corner and waiting to be explored.

Located at 1307 New Hampshire Ave., The Heurich House is a testament to the great history of this city. The home, which was built during the turn of the century, is nostalgic of the splendor of Victorian Europe, according to museum curator Jill Connors. The home is refurbished to appear just as it was when the Heurich family lived there, beginning in 1894. The self-guided tour leads you around the home, which appears as if the family has just stepped out for the moment. Sheet music lies out in the music room, jellies sit out in the kitchen, journals and pens anticipate a writer’s hand in Mrs. Heurich’s sitting room.

The decor of the Dupont Circle mansion is opulent and elaborate. From floor to ceiling the fourteen rooms on display are ornate in every detail. The parlor contains a painting of angels on the ceiling that was done by the same artist who painted the Green Room of the White House, Connors said.

Jean Wallace, a receptionist for the museum, said you must find all of the mysteries of the house just as she discovered one herself – fruit carved into the wood work bordering the dining room’s floor to ceiling fire places. The high ceilings and high-back red velvet chairs suggest that royalty would be quite at home feasting there.

The main hallway offers an especially opulent feeling. Not only does a balcony overlook it from the second floor, but an Italian suit of armor made in the 20th century stands guard at the bottom of the onyx grand staircase on the marble mosaic floor.

All of the rooms have a regal feel about them with one exception – the Bierstube, or old German tavern. This is the room where the family ate breakfast and lunch. It is reminiscent of Christian Heurich’s homeland. The walls are covered with German murals and mottoes. The mottoes reflect Mr. Heurich’s occupation as a brewer. Never let yourself be pained by thirsts, there is many a keg in the cellar, reads the translation of one motto.

Although the home’s decor is retrospective for its time, the technology in the house is on the cutting edge during the turn of the century. The house contains both electricity and gas lamps, in case electricity was just a passing fad, Connors said. It was built with both sophisticated indoor plumbing and elevator shafts.

The entire house is fire proof. After fire destroyed part of his brewery, Christian Heurich wanted to ensure the same could not happen to his home. To ensure the safety of his home, the house was built using iron beams, poured concrete, solid brick walls and metal lath. Although every room contains a fireplace for aesthetic value, steam radiators heated the house.

Christian Heurich died at his home in 1945 at the age of 102. His wife remained there until her death in 1956. In her will she deeded the house to the Columbia Historical society, now the Historical Society of Washington, D.C., to use as its headquarters. The organization’s office and research library are located on the third floor of the home.

Christian Heurich was an active member of the organization, which originated in 1894 but was homeless until the house was donated, Connors said. The mission of the Society is to serve as an educational and cultural institution committed to collecting, preserving, and teaching the history of Washington as a hometown as well as the nation’s capital, Connors said.

The Historical Society aims to promote tourism in the District that reaches past the common attractions. Beyond the Monuments is a city guide created by the organization in conjunction with other D.C. tourism organizations to highlight areas and neighborhoods that are often overlooked by tourists, Connors said. These neighborhoods include Adams Morgan, Shaw and Lafayette Square.

Connors said The Historical Society attempts to present different aspects off D.C. through its exhibits. The organization hosts lectures and features exhibits at The Heurich House. A lecture titled Myths and Legends of Washington D.C. will take place Sept. 12. Growing Up in Washington, an ongoing exhibit at The Heurich House, allows Washingtonians and Beltway outsiders alike to tell their childhood stories. One of The Historical Society’s most popular events is the Halloween Ghost Tour. According to Connors, there have been reports of some supernatural occurrences at the home where Christian Heurich died.

The Historical Society’s research library is also located in The Heurich House. It is a full-service library containing maps, manuscripts, property deeds, photos and, of course, books that date as far back as the 1790s. Locals visit the library to research neighborhood, family, small business and private home’s histories.

But District natives are not the only ones who know about the research library. Representatives from the television show Who Wants to be a Millionaire have called the site twice to confirm trivia questions, said library Director Gail Redmann. Production staff from the motion picture Amistad also researched at the library to find early District prints on which to base their sets.

The small Victorian Garden outside the house is perfect for the picnic you and your guests will have after enjoying your day transported back to the Victorian age. Your visitors may buy you a souvenir at the gift shop for showing them such a wonderful time in your city. In order to make Washington truly your city, you must know its hidden secrets and take pride in its history. You can do both at The Historical Society of Washington at The Heurich House Museum.

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