Tayloe and his family lived at Octagon House until 1855. Later used as a Union hospital in the Civil War, the building had fallen into decay by 1899, when the American Institute of Architects purchased it for use as its headquarters. Today, visitors can explore the Octagon Museum at their own pace to see what life was like in DC during the 1810s. The house features historical photos, memorabilia, period furniture, and architectural plans for famous American buildings.
Things to know before you go
- Octagon House is a must-do for history buffs residing in or visiting Washington, DC.
- The site is suitable for spontaneous travelers given little need for advance planning.
- Restrooms are not wheelchair accessible, and there is no elevator.
- Smoking, eating, and drinking are not permitted inside.
How to get there
There is limited, 2-hour street parking around the Octagon House, located on New York Avenue at the corner of 18th Street NW. Parking garages are available but few are open on weekends. The museum is a 10-15-minute walk from two Metrorail stations: Foggy Bottom–GWU (serving the Orange and Blue lines) and Farragut North (serving the Red line).
When to get there
Octagon House is open Thursday–Saturday, 1–4pm. Groups of five people or more can book a 45-minute privately guided tour outside of regular open hours. Contact the Architects Foundation for information.
A Temporary White House
During the War of 1812, Colonel Tayloe volunteered the house as a French embassy in order to save it from destruction. When the White House was set ablaze by the British in 1814, Tayloe offered the Octagon House to President James Madison as a temporary executive mansion. Madison used a 2nd-floor room of the house as his study, and it was here that he signed the 1815 peace treaty ending the war with England. Madison and his wife, Dolley, moved back into the White House in 1817.
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