{This is the third post in my year-long D.C. Museums Tour during my Gap Year before I start law school at the age of 40. THIS.}

So what’s been fun and surprising in the month since I started my quest to visit every single museum in Washington, D.C. in one year are the seemingly hole-in-the-wall places. Sure, the Big Name, well known museums are worthwhile, but I’m discovering that the less known places are rich with history, stories, and hidden gems and are even more fun to visit because they are quiet, less crowded, and full of surprises. (I’m sure there’s a life lesson in there somewhere.)

We live close enough here in D.C. to walk from our house to the White House and National Mall, something we love to do as a family to just chill out for a few hours. (I know. It’s truly super dreamy.) When we make the trek, we always go down Massachusetts Avenue, specifically a strip of it known as Embassy Row. Along the way, we pass dozens of embassies. (If you visit D.C. as a tourist, I highly recommend you walk this strip. Pointing out the different flags of each embassy never gets old. And some embassies are really interesting architecturally!) So, Embassy Row being already cool in and of itself, WHO KNEW that a gorgeous building tucked among them that we’d passed multiple times was not an embassy, but rather a gorgeous former home converted into a museum (with free admission, no less!)?

Have you ever heard of the Society of the Cincinnati? I hadn’t either. Anderson House? Not a clue.

Let’s start with Anderson House. First of all, the front of the building itself is beautiful. Grandiose and inviting. But the inside? Even more stunning. If you’ve ever been to Biltmore Estates in Asheville, North Carolina, you’ll appreciate Anderson House. Think Biltmore, but smaller. The Anderson House was completed in the early 1900s. Built by Larz and Isabel Anderson (a couple who had inherited great wealth) for their winter home, the house is rife with “souvenirs” from around the world, stunning pieces of art, furniture, and collectibles that the Andersons had collected during their many travels around the world.

Ms. Isabel Anderson.

The Andersons’ Sunroom. Stunning.

My own home decorating style is fairly eclectic, so I particularly enjoyed the eclectic taste of Isabel. (And I single out Isabel, because I imagine–based on what I learned of her personality–that she was the one responsible. Larz? Much stuffier.) That eclectic style is visible not only in the art and artifacts on display by the Andersons, but in the actual design elements: architecture, floor and ceiling tile, wall murals, columns, light fixtures.

I love floors and ceilings. They’re my thing. Isn’t this floor gorgeous? I want.

The Anderson family has connections to the Revolutionary War (which you’ll learn about when you visit), so several artifacts and art from that ear are also displayed throughout the house.

A Dot Ham.

I mentioned the pros of visiting the smaller, lesser known museums in D.C., and one of my FAVORITE bonuses of these places is that–because they are not very crowded at all—I’ve been able to get personal tours at many places! My husband, Kirk, took a vacation day and was able to accompany me to the Anderson House, and we were escorted (just the two of us) through the house for over an hour by a tour guide who happened to be incredibly knowledgeable, not only of history, but of Larz and Isabel Anderson. She pointed out dozens of aesthetic details of the residence while interweaving historical tidbits and tales. It was not only calming and enjoyable to be in such a stunning home, but the history is absolutely fascinating.

This photo of this ballroom does it such little justice. If I were getting married again, I’d want to have my reception in here.

My goal is to try to find a “lesson” in every museum I visit, but I’m discovering that the lesson usually finds me. At Anderson House I was reminded that wealthy people are not necessarily a bland, homogeneous group of people. Isabel Anderson was not only a woman with intellect and spunk and personality, but she spent years serving soldiers as a nurse and made herself useful to others in society. She didn’t have children of her own, but she wrote numerous children’s books (fellow children’s book author here! Hey hey!). She was a fascinating figure and at one time the wealthiest woman in America. (Who knew, right?)

I was also reminded that money certainly can buy happiness. Sure, we can’t find our sole satisfaction in money, but having means affords one a plethora of opportunities of which the average person can only dream. Travels, art, education, beautiful surroundings? Yes, please.

Also? I’m finding throughout my journeys and just in life in general that we humans will use whatever resources available to us to create beauty around us. Over my life, I’ve been welcomed into huts in rural Ethiopia and into the ballrooms of grandiose mansions, and I’ve discovered that it’s common to all of humanity–no matter the class–that we will make our living spaces places of beauty. Even in the dark rural thatch huts, women lay out beautiful hand-woven blankets on benches and hang leather paintings on mud walls. My seven-year-old tapes drawings to his walls. My teen girls hang pictures and string up lights. We humans crave beauty.

And if you visit Anderson House, you’ll be sure to find it.

This marble door threshold. You guys, it’s so beautiful.

 

As for the Society of the Cincinnati, Anderson House is (obviously) no longer a residence, so instead it serves as the headquarters the Society. Back in 1783, officers in the Continental Army formed the Society of the Cincinnati in order to preserve and perpetuate the memory of the Revolution. (You’ll hear all about that when you tour the House.) As when it was founded, it is still only open to men to join. (You’ll hear more about that, too.) Today the Society’s library is housed in the basement of Anderson House and is actually open to the public for research (appointment required).

You can learn a lot from the Society’s web site, but I hope you’ll take the opportunity to visit Anderson House when you’re in D.C. while you’re strolling down Embassy Row.

 

 

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