George Washington Papers

From George Washington to the District of Columbia Commissioners, 27 October 1798

To the District of Columbia Commissioners

Mount Vernon Octr 27 1798


When Mr Blagden came here yesterday with your favor of the 25 inst., and the plans, specifications &c. of my houses, I was out on my usual ride about my farms, and when I returned home I found Company, which prevented my answering your letter by him.1

The sketch of an agreement enclosed in your letter comports fully with my ideas. I have made one or two triffling alterations in it in consequence of some conversation with Mr Blagden, and I now take the liberty to enclose two Copies of the Agreement, and an additional Copy of the specifications.2 The agreements are drawn on unstamped paper; but I presume it may be stamped in George Town. If it cannot be done there, Doctr Thornton will be so good as to have new agreements drawn for me on stamped paper.3

I pray you, Gentlemen, to accept my best thanks for the trouble you have had in this business, which I assure you I should not have given, had I not been induced to build these houses more with a view to promote the necessary improvements in the City, than from any expectation of p[r]ivate emolument from them. With great respect & esteem I am Gentln Yr most Obedt Servt

Df, in Tobias Lear’s hand, DLC:GW; LB, DLC:GW. The letter-book copy is an accurate copy of Lear’s draft.

1For GW’s “Company” on 26 Oct., see GW to William Thornton, 28 October.

2The specifications for the construction of the two houses agreed to by GW and George Blagdin at this time are in DLC:GW. The lengthy document reads:

“Specification of Carpenters & Joiners work for two Houses intended to be built for Genel Washington viz.—as follows—All the Joists in the floors to be of good Pine, likewise all the other Timbers, Such as Purlins, Rafters, Ceiling Joists, Quarter Partitions Bond Timber, Plating &c. And to the following Scantling.

Viz. Inches Inches [Inches]
Joists 11 3 Quarter Partitions 5 3
Purlins 8 7 Stooths in the Roof 3 3
Rafters 3 by 3 Roof plate 6 by 4
Lintels 9 3 Bond Timber 9 3
Ceiling Joists 5 3 Cross Ties 4 3

All the Joists, Rafters, Ceiling Joists, Stooths, Quarter Partitions, &c. to be laid not more than 13 Inches apart. All the fire places to have framed Timbers in the floors for Brick Arches. The two Passage Walls to have 4 Bond Timbers, in each, one under every floor, with Cross Ties to the same. The Roof to have 2 Purlins on each Side, and to be framed with Rafters, Ceiling Joists, and Stooth as Pr Section.

The Roof to have 6 Dormer Windows on the Brick side, with Pitched Roofs, and Sliding sashes each window to contain 9 panes of Glass, 8 by 10 Inches. The front side of the Roof to have 2 sky lights to slide, each sky light to Contain 9 panes of Glass 8 by 10 Inches, all well bedded in putty.


All the Principal floors and Chamber floors to be laid with good 1¼ Inch yellow Pine Plank, laid to a regular gauge, not exceeding 7 Inches Wide, groved and tongued and secret nailed. All the Garret floors to be laid with good 1¼ Pine Plank, groved and tongued and nailed through the front. All the Passage floors to be the same as the Rooms. All the floors in the Rooms & Passages in the Roof to be well laid with good Inch Pine Plank, groved tongued and nailed through the front: all the above Plank to be good sound stuff free from sap and shakes.


The 4 basement outer Doors to be 4 Panneled with Batten frames moulded on one side and Inch back, to be hung with good hooks and bands and each door to have a good 12 Inch Iron rim lock with Bolt and Knops. The frames to be made of good proper Scantling, with plain linings and single mouldings to the same, and a Tramson light to each frame to contain 4 panes of Glass not less than 10 Inches high. The 2 front doors to be 6 panneled and framed of 2 Inch plank moulded on both sides with framed—Jambs and Circular soffeits to match the doors, and double faced archatraves to the same. The 2 back doors on the principal floor to be 6 Panneled moulded on one side, with plain Jambs and single mouldings to the same; The 2 frames to the same to have each a transom light to contain 4 panes of Glass not less than 12 Inches high.

The 5 Inner Doors on the same floor to be 6 panneled framed of 1½ Inch plank moulded on both sides with framed Jambs and soffeits and double faced Archatraves to the same.

Chamber, 5 Doors to be 6 panneled and moulded on both sides framing 1½ Inch thick framed Jambs and soffeits and double faced archatraves to the same.

The Garrets, 9 Doors, 6 panneled and square on both sides, framed 1¼ Inch plank; Plain Jambs & soffeits and single faced archatraves to the same.

The Rooms in the Roof; 6 Doors 4 pannel’d and Square, on both Sides with plain Jambs, soffeits and Single mouldings to the same—N.B. one framed Jamb with soffeit and archatraves to the same in the Chamber Study; And one D[itt]o in the Garret Story—with plain Jambs and single archatraves, but no Doors to the above. The 2 middle rooms in the Garret Story, and 2 passage Rooms in the roof, to have a transom light over each door, to contain 4 panes of Glass in each 10 Inches high.


The principal and chamber Stories to have 20 ovolo sashes with beaded and bosed frames, with 12 panes in each sash, the size of the Glass 12 by 18 Inches.

The Garret Story to have 12 sashes of the same kind with 6 panes in each, Glass—12 by 18 Inches.

The basement Story in front to have 4 sashes each to contain 12 Panes Glass, 12 by 12 Inches. back Sashes in the same Story to have 12 Panes in each, Glass 10 by 12 Inches—all the above Sashes to be 3 panes wide and the frames boxed to hang double—except the front basement one, to hang single & all of the same mouldings.

Shutters and Linings

The 8 sashes on the Principal floor to have folded framed ovolo shutters, to hang in two heights with Square backs, with back linings framed to match. The Pannels flat and 4 in height—The shutters framed 1½ Inch Plank with framed, dado backs and elbows recessed to the ground and double faced archatraves to the same. All the sashes in the Chamber Story to have plain linings, and double faces Archatraves to the same, and those in the front to be recessed to the floor, with plain Dado & Sides to the Same, the archatraves in the Chamber back rooms to stand on the surface.

The 12 Garret, Sashes to have plain linings, with single faced Archatraves, to Stand on the Surface.

The 8 basement sashes to have Plain linings and single mouldings to the same. and the 4 sashes on the back side to have single folded 1½ Inch framed Shutters hung Out side with Cocked Hinges.


The two houses to have a good Stair case in each, continued up to the rooms in the roof consisting of 61 Steps in each Stairs, the steps to be 12 inches wide with returned nosings, and plain cut brackets, Poplar rails with Ramps and curved knees, Square newels, diminished and Square banisters, mitred caps and half handrail worked to match, returned rails and banisters on the landings, soffiets plastered. The 2 first flights to have moulded framing to enclose the basement stair heads with a good 6 panneled door to the same in each. The basement Story to have 2 flights of good strong plain Stairs, with 15 Steps in each 12 Inches wide with plain newels, Rails and bannisters to the same. The 2 back doors of basement Story to have 2 flights of good strong stairs, with Capt rails and square Bannisters, and continued platform for both doors, the rises to be not more than 7 Inches and the steps 12 inches wide.

Surbases & Plinths

All the lower Rooms and Chambers together with their passages, to have a good surbase round the same composed of different numbers to girt not less than 5 Inches, with good bold Torus Plinths of a proper height.

All the rooms in the Garret Story and their passages to have good Surbase and Plinths round the same but of a plainer kind. All the rooms in the roof and their passages together with the 2 basement back rooms and passages to have a good plain Chairrail and skirting round the same.


All the archatraves in low rooms and chambers to be double faced, on not less than 6½ Inch ground.

All the archatraves in the Garret Story to be single faced on a 6 Inch ground. all the Doors inside to have 2 archatraves to each; and all the sashes one, except the basement sashes, which are to have single mouldings only—likewise all the doors in the Basement and those in the rooms—in the Roof to have Single mouldings two to each door. All the single mouldings to be not less than 9/8 Inch deep.

In one of the Houses is to be a movable partition in one frame, to move up and be received in the Boxed double stoothing partition in the Chamber made for that purpose. The frame to be 2 inches thick when finished both sides canvased Glued and painted, to match the room.

The Surbases and Plinths, on each side to be painted, in distemper to match the real ones, The frames to have good pullies, lines, Irons, and proper apparatus to raise the same.


The 8 fire places on the principal floor, and the Chambers to have each one a good neat Dental Cornice with Frizes and archatraves mouldings to the same to stand on Blocks. The 4 fire places in the Garrets to have a neat plain Cornice composed of Different members with Frizes & archatrave mouldings to the same. The front of the 2 Houses to have a good handsome square modillion cornice, the modillion capped with a bracket continued moulding and Square Cut, the top of the Cornice to have a channel not less than 6 Inches wide lined with lead to receive the Eave and carry off the water.

The 2 passages to have 2 arches in each one in the low room passage and one in the Chamber with circular archatraves Plain Pillasters with Imposts; Bases and Plinths to the same; the archatrave double faced.

Iron Monger & Smith Work

The out Doors of the Basement to be hung with good hooks and bands with a 12 Inch Iron rim lock on each with bolts, The 2 principal and back Doors to be hung with 5 Inch butt Hinges, and each to have a 12 Inch Iron rim lock with bolts and brass knops to the same. All the low room and chamber Doors to have 4½ Inch Hinges and 10 Inch Iron rim locks with Brass Pendents and bolts. All the Doors in the Garret Story, Story in the roof and Inner Doors in the basement to have 1¾ Inch Hinges and 9 Inch locks, Iron rim & Brass Pendents.

All the sashes to be hung with brass 1¾ Inch pullies in Iron frames 4 in each sash frame.

All the sashes to have brass-spring fasteners and well hung with good line and proper cast Iron weights.

The inside shutters to be hung with 2½ inch Butt hinges—to have 4 brass Pendent rings to each pair and to be fastened inside with good pivot Bar fasteners, the out side shutters to the Basement back room windows to be hung with good strong cock Hinges and Iron bolts to the same.

Painting & Glazing

All the windows to be Glazed with Good Glass, well bedded in good putty, the Glass to be of the sizes before mentioned—All the Doors, Sashes, Shutters, linings, frames, Stairs, framing, Archatraves, Surbases, Plinths, Mouldings, Cornices, &. to be well painted three times in Good Oil Colour.

The two Houses to have a Frontispiece consisting of four columns of proper proportion with Plinth Caps, Bases, and a continued intableture over both Doors, with Grounds, Plinths, Imposts, and circular double faced archatraves, and a good Fan light to each—the whole of which to be well painted, sanded, and Painted to match the stone String course, and its form as pr Elevation.

The eave cornice to be well painted & sanded, the same as the Frontispiece and to have 2 good lead water pipes of 3 Inches diameter to the same, to come near the ground, one at each corner. The Roof to be covered with good 2 feet Cyprus Shingles laid to a 6½ Inch gauge on good Inch sheeting plank of Yellow Pine. The whole of the before mentioned work to be done and finished in a Complete Substantial and Workmanlike manner.

Brick Work Plastering & Stone Cutting


The heights of each Story is—Cellar or Basement 8 feet, Principal and chamber Stories 12 feet each, Garret 9 feet clear between floor and ceiling. Cellar

Front and back wall each 2 feet thick faced with good common Bricks and backed with Stone. Two end Walls 20 Inches thick—with good mortar and stone—all the inner or Partition Walls of Stone 18 Inches thick—the area Walls 20 Inches thick, faced with Brick and backed with Stone. The Kitchens (suppos’d backward) to be paved with Brick flatwise also passages and area’s—Two flights of the Free stone Steps, into area’s, ⟨Trimmer⟩ arches to all fire places. Front wall from top of Basement to top of cornice or Square 2 Bricks thick, faced with best stock Brick Rub’d and gaug’d arches over Windows—Stone Window cills, Strings cource facia, and Plinth as pr Elevation, Plinth and facia Cramp’d and leaded. 3 Steps and Platform with astragal nosing to front Doors, length as described in Plan—arch over area to support d[itt]o—of Brick except the ends which are of free stone—Two astragal door cills Back wall of best common Bricks—2 brick thick to top of Chamber floor and from thence 1½ Brick—work’d in flemmish bond—plain neat arches to Doors and Windows—Two end walls 1½ Brick thick chimney brests as pr Plan. All the interior Walls—brick in length thick, except that between passages which is 1½ brick thick—all the mortar to be made of good stone lime—with a proper proportion of good sharp sand—4 free stone Chimney pieces—and Harths—in principal and Chamber stories—All Ceilings in Cellar plastered with 2 Coats of lime and Hair—Walls in Kitchen and Passages 2 Coat work also—Low Rooms, Chambers, & Garrets, all with 3 Coats, and Rooms within of Roof 2 Coat work—Plain handsome plaster Cornice in lower Rooms and passages—coping to area—Wall of free Stone 12 inches broad and 6 Inches thick—to receive ends of bannisters, the whole to be done in a Complete and workmanlike manner. Geo. Blagdin

If the frontispiece is done in Stone add 150 Doll[ar]s” (DLC:GW).

3The contract, or agreement, between GW and Blagdin was drawn up by William Thornton on 5 November. Thornton witnessed the signature of George Blagdin and of the architect James Hoban (c.1762–1831), at this time superintendent of the Capitol. The document, which was sent to GW and is in DLC:GW, reads: “ARTICLES of Agreement this Day made and concluded between George Washington Esquire, Lieutenant General, and Commander in chief of the Armies of the United States, of the one Part, and George Blagdin of the City of Washington Stone Cutter of the other Part, WITNESSETH, that the said George Blagdin in Consideration of eleven thousand Dollars to be paid to him by the said George Washington in manner hereafter mentioned doth agree to build on Lot No. 16 in Square 634 in the said City two Brick Houses, three Stories high, agreeably to the ground-plan, Elevation, & the Specification of the particular parts of the said Buildings hereto annexed, signed by the said George Blagdin, and considered as part of this agreement, except the painting and Glazing of the said Houses: the Glazing to be done by the said George Washington previous to the plaistering; and the Ironmongery to be furnished by the said George Washington agreeably to the abovementioned Specification thereof, as the same shall be required in the Course of the Building—it being understood that the said George Blagdin shall furnish the Nails necessary without any further Demand on the said George Washington than is stated for that Item, in the Specification aforesaid. One of the said Houses to be finished in a complete and workmanlike manner, on or before the first Day of November, in the year one thousand seven hundred & ninety nine; and the other to be finished in like manner, on or before the first Day of March in the year one thousand eight hundred. It is further agreed upon by the parties to these Presents that if the said Blagdin should have one of the said Houses finished and compleated before the first Day of November aforesaid, then, and in that Case he shall be allowed as much time for compleating the other after the first Day of March aforesaid as he shall have finished the first previous to the first Day of November aforesaid.

“IN CONSIDERATION whereof the said George Washington doth agree and bind himself his Heirs, Executors & Administrators to pay to the said George Blagdin his Executors Administrators or Assigns the aforesaid Sum of eleven thousand Dollars: that is to say, he will advance Sums sufficient to pay for all materials necessary for carrying on the said Buildings on the delivery of such materials; also Sums sufficient to discharge the amount of all Workman’s Wages weekly or monthly, as the said George Blagdin may require the same; and when the said Buildings are compleated he will pay whatever may remain of the eleven Thousand Dollars after having paid for the Materials and workmanship aforesaid. It is also agreed that in addition to the eleven thousand Dollars before mentioned the said George Washington will pay to the said George Blagdin one hundred and fifty Dollars on Condition of his making the Frontispiece of the front Doors of Stone instead of Wood—and that he will also allow him, the said George Blagdin, one hundred Dollars for making a wine vault in the Cellar, as specified in the plan of the basement Story of said Houses, provided it shall be found that said Vault shall cost that Sum.

“For the true and faithful Performance of the above Agreement in all its parts, he the said George Blagdin, and James Hoban of the said City, architect, his Surety, bind themselves, their Heirs, Executors, and administrators jointly and severally to the said George Washington, in the Sum of four thousand Dollars, to be paid to the said George Washington, his Executors, Administrators or assigns, in Case of the failure of the said George Blagdin in performance of his said Agreement.” There also are in DLC:GW a rough draft and another copy of this agreement.

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