The Kalorama mansion once stood at the intersection of 23rd and S Streets, NW

The Kalorama Estate: A Brief History

Text and Renderings by
Stephen A. Hansen

The Kalorama mansion in Washington, DC once stood at what is now the intersection of S and 23rd Streets, NW. [map
The Kalorama estate. Map by Matthew Gilmore
] The story of the house begins around 1750 when a 26 year old Anthony Holmead came from Devon, England to inherit his uncle Anthony’s vast landholdings.  Rather than settle in his uncle's manor house
Holmead Manor, circa 1740. Historical Society of Washington, DC
located at what was to become the 1300 block of 13th Street, the young Anthony built a new house for himself on part of one of his tracts of land known as Widow’s Mite overlooking Rock Creek. It was a simple house consisting of two stories and constructed of imported English brick to better withstand fires (Figure 1).

During the Revolutionary War, a number of French army soldiers crossed Rock Creek and camped on the grounds of the Holmead house, using the kitchen as their headquarters. Holmead's young daughter at that time, Loveday Holmead
Lovdeay Holmead Pairo
Pairo, who would eventually inherit a portion of Widow's Mite, would peep at the officers through a crack in the kitchen door. Mrs. Holmead was concerned that the soldiers might steal her chickens, although none were taken.

In 1794, Holmead staked out a long narrow parcel of land (app. 56 acres) a short distance to the east on a higher knoll on what is now Mitchell Park and build a larger house for himself that he called Rock Hill
Rock Hill, circa 1795.
. Holmead constructed a long fence between the two properties and sold his first house and about 40 acres of adjacent land to native Marylander and District Commissioner Gustavus Scott
Gustavus Scott.
. Scott named the property Belair and added gardens and landscaping.

In 1803, Scott died bankrupt due to real estate speculation in the new Federal City, and his widow sold Belair for $16,000 to William Augustine Washington
William Augustine Washington
, George Washington's nephew, former aide-de-camp, and an executor of his uncle’s will. Washington added a dining and drawing room onto the east side of the original house. In 1807, Washington sold the estate to poet, statesman, and friend of Thomas Jefferson, Joel Barlow
Joel Barlow
at a loss for $14,000.  Washington moved to Charleston, S.C. where he died a short time later.

Barlow changed the name of the estate from Belair to Kalorama, Greek for “fine view,” as he felt the name Belair had been already given to many places in Maryland and Virginia. Barlow added onto the house and engaged the services of architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe.
Architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe
It is uncertain the extent that Latrobe was involved in changes to the house, although the east wing bore similarities to other Latrobe houses (Figure 2).  It is known that Latrobe advised on the columns for the front porch and may have designed the gatekeeper's house
Gate and gatekeeper's house
as well.

Thomas Jefferson often visited Kalorama to consult with Barlow on foreign policy matters as well as gardening and agriculture. Barlow was also an intimate friend and supporter of inventor Robert Fulton
Robert Fulton
who was experimenting with designs for a new steamboat. Having no children of their own, the Barlows invited Fulton to live with them, which he did throughout the course of ten years. When Fulton finished his experimental model of his steamboat, the Clermont, Barlow had Rock Creek below Lyons millpond dammed up for Fulton to try out his model.

Upon the resignation of the American minister to France, president Madison persuaded Barlow accept the appointment and travel to France to try to arrange a commercial treaty with the Napoleonic government. Tragically, Barlow died of exposure on Christmas Eve 1812 while following Napoleon over the frozen fields of Poland. His widow Ruth returned to Kalorama where she was joined there by her sister Clara
Clara Bomford
and her husband Col. George Bomford
Col. George Bomford
. She died in 1818 at the age of 62. The estate was divided between two adopted nephews, Thomas and Stephen, and Mrs. Barlow’s two sisters Clara Bomford and Sally French.

[Next page]

Figure 1. Anthony Holmead's house as it probably appeared in 1750.

Figure 2. The east wing added by Joel Barlow and possibly designed by Benjamin Latrobe.

Figure 3. The conservatory added onto the front of Holmead's
original house by George Bomford circa 1825.

* Stephen Hansen is an historic preservation specialist and Washington historian and is principal at DC Historic Designs, LLC in Washington, DC. He can be reached at shansen [at] dchistoricdesigns [dot] com. Feedback and comments are welcomed.

For another recreation of a lost early Washington house, see Analostan.


Also by Stephen Hansen

Kalorama Triangle: The History of a Capital Neighborhood. History Press. 2011.

Available from
Amazon, Barnes & Noble, History Press, and at local book stores around DC.