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“The temporary White House”
Review of Octagon Museum

Octagon Museum
Book In Advance
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USD 20.00*
and up
Washington DC Haunted Houses Walking Tour
Ranked #176 of 492 things to do in Washington DC
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Attraction details
Fee: Yes
Recommended length of visit: 1-2 hours
Owner description: The Octagon Museum was built between 1798-1800 by John Tayloe at the suggestion of George Washington. In 1814, the house was offered to President Madison as temporary quarters after the White House was burned in the War of 1812. The Treaty of Ghent was signed there, thus ending the war.
Reviewed 20 May 2017

Octagon houses were a unique house style briefly popular in the 1850s. They are characterized by an octagonal (eight-sided) plan and often feature a flat roof and a veranda all around. The most famous Octagon House of all was built between 1798 and 1800 in Washington, D.C. Designed by Dr. William Thornton, the architect of the U.S. Capitol, it is located at 1799 New York Avenue Northwest. It was built for Colonel John Tayloe, whose Mount Airy plantation was located about 100 miles south of Washington in Richmond County, Virginia, and was reputed to be the richest Virginia plantation owner of his time. The three-story brick house combines a circle, two rectangles and a triangle in its brilliant architectural plan, not to mention the Coade stone, stoves, Acquia creek sandstone, imported furniture from England and other unique decorative elements that make the Octagon House a one-of-a-kind residence. It is also famous for two other reasons--it was the temporary "Executive Mansion" of President James Madison and his wife Dolley after the White House was burned by the British in 1814 and Madison used the circular room above entrance as a study, where he signed the Treaty of Ghent to end the War of 1812.

1  Thank Taylor B
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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Reviewed 14 February 2017

This is a delightful little jewel in the heart of the City. It was built in the early 1800's as a winter Residence for the Tayloe family. The house itself and is a wonderful example of the architecture of the period. We booked a tour in advance and our guide was so enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the period. During the War of 1812, James and Dolly Madison spent about eight months at this residence in 1814 when the White house was burned by the British,
If you are planning a trip to DC and love history, put The Octagon house on your list. Best $5.00 I have spent.

1  Thank Momalita
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 29 August 2016

The Octagon House is famous for being the White House temporarily for James Madison when the original was burned, and that alone makes it worth visiting. It also houses the desk where the Treaty of Ghent ending the War of 1812 was signed.

I like that tours of the House are self-guided and they really give you the run of the place, spending as much or as little time in each room as you want, reading as much or as little about each room on the information sheets provided for each room, and generally being undisturbed in the tour (there were only a handful of other visitors on the Saturday afternoon I visited).

The House itself is typical of other historic rooms of the period. The most impressive parts are the "Octagon" entry-room that gives the House its name and the soaring multi-level main staircase.

The visiting hours are pretty limited, but the whole house can be toured in less than an hour, and it's worth doing.

1  Thank Brendan S
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 2 July 2016

I visited the Octagon House because of my interest in both architecture and history. As an example of early 18th Century architecture, it's a rare example of upper class urban living. During my visit they were in the midst of some restoration, which was interesting to experience as well. Our docent was very knowledgeable about the house and its history. The second story circular-shaped room was where James Madison signed the Treaty of Ghent ending the War of 1812 since he and Dolly had to vacate the White House when the British set it to flames in the same war, and lived here during the reconstruction. There's still work to be done on this house, but get off the busy DC streets and take a look at an interesting piece of architectural and US history.

1  Thank Rent-a-dad
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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Reviewed 26 June 2016

The Octagon Museum is one of the best examples I have seen of an historic home preserved for the sake of education. If you are deeply interested in architecture and the decorative arts, preservation of the built environment, nineteenth century America, and African American history, I highly recommend the Octagon Museum. The rooms are sparsely furnished and there is quite a bit of information in the form of hand-outs and strategically placed cards that allow visitors to conduct their own self-guided tours. The attention given to the lives of the enslaved persons who lived and worked in the Octagon House and how their labor contributed to the lifestyles of the Tayloe family is particularly commendable.

This is not a museum to visit if your tastes run more toward Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous: Nineteenth Century Edition or if you and your children want to be entertained. The Octagon Museum cannot be called "fun" by any stretch of the imagination. It is a place for reflection on our collective past and what we can see if we stop to really look at our environment and interpret it properly.

2  Thank Traveller2010NYC
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC

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