Boundary Castle

Boundary Castle

While on a bike ride along 16th Street near Florida Avenue (MAP) in northwest D.C., I found an old, sturdy brownstone retaining wall and what appears to be an ornate entry gate leading to nowhere.   I later found out that they were once part of a property known as Boundary Castle. Also sometimes referred to as Henderson Castle or Prospect Castle, Boundary Castle was a mansion located on the border of D.C.’s Adams Morgan and Columbia Heights neighborhoods, and was the family home of John Brooks Henderson and Mary Foote Henderson.

John was a former U.S. Senator from Missouri. He was initially appointed to the Senate in 1862 to replace Trusten Polk, who had been expelled from Senate for his support of the South in the Civil War. He was later elected and served one full term. He was best known for authoring the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery. He was also remembered for breaking party ranks, and along with six other Republican senators voting for acquittal in the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson. After leaving the Senate, he and his wife Mary moved back to St. Louis.

While back in Missouri, Mary founded the St. Louis School of Design and authored “Practical Cooking and Dinner Giving” and “Diet for the Sick, A Treatise on the Values of Foods.” Meanwhile, John was busy buying up enormous quantities of supposedly worthless bonds that Missouri counties had issued after the Civil War. Purchased at ten cents on the dollar, the bonds became valuable when the courts ordered counties to pay their full face value. In 1889, after accumulating a massive fortune, the Hendersons moved back to D.C.

Upon arriving back in D.C., the Hendersons needed a fitting place to live, so they had a massive, Romanesque Revival-style mansion built. The house was designed by Massachusetts architect Eugene C. Gardner, and was supposedly modeled after a castle Mary had seen in Europe. The sprawling was made from Seneca sandstone, the same material used in the Smithsonian, and boasted 30 rooms. They named it Boundary Castle.

The Hendersons also bought up approximately 300 lots outside the northern boundary of the city in the area, then known as Meridian Hill, in the hope they could develop the area into the center of Washington society during the height of the Gilded Age. Their interest in the immediate neighborhood also coincided with the City Beautiful Movement of the early 20th century. This reform philosophy of North American architecture and urban planning flourished during the 1890s and 1900s with the intent of introducing beautification and monumental grandeur in cities. However, it promoted beauty not only for its own sake, but also to instill moral and civic virtue among urban populations.

With a genuine interest in civic improvement, Mary frequently lobbied Congress for various projects to improve and beautify the Meridian Hill area. In 1900, she supported a plan by architect Franklin W. Smith to construct a colossal presidential mansion on Meridian Hill to replace the White House. However, this plan never came to fruition. She was, however, successful in lobbying Congress to support the acquisition of the land and its eventual development as Meridian Hill Park. She also had lavish palaces and mansions built on the properties they owned to be rented or sold to government officials and diplomats.

Real estate development was not Mary’s only interest during this time, however. She also became an impassioned advocate for healthy living, and wrote another book entitled ” The Aristocracy of Health: A Study of Physical Culture, Our Favorite Poisons, and a National and International League for the Advancement of Physical Culture.” She was known to throw lavish dinner parties, which were always strictly vegetarian, and alcohol-free. It was also during this time that Mary famously decided to dispose of the plentiful and expensive wine collection John had accumulated over the years. She had her butler and others bring the wine bottles up from the castle’s cellars and smash them on a large rock in the front lawn. Newspaper accounts of the incident reported that there was so much wine that it ran down into the gutters of 16th Street.

John passed away in 1913 at the age of 86. Mary remained in Boundary Castle for the next 18 years, before passing away in 1931 at the age of 88. After her death, Bondary Castle was rented by a man named Bert L. Williams, who reopened it as the Castle H Tennis and Swimming Club. In what would have been abhorrent to Mary, he also turned the castle’s ballroom into a stand-up bar. As early as 1935, there had been talk of tearing down the old castle, but it hung on until January 1949, when it was finally razed. Wealthy neighbors Eugene and Agnes Meyer had purchased the mansion in order to get rid of the rowdy club. Today, the site is home to 216 townhouses known collectively as Beekman Place.

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Comments
  1. Really interesting essay. Never knew about this place. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

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