Posts Tagged ‘Sheridan-Kalorama’

ArgyleHouse03

The Argyle House Cat

While riding down Embassy Row in northwest D.C.’s Sheridan-Kalorama neighborhood during this bike ride, I saw what appeared to be a cat precariously perched on the roof of the house located at 2201 Massachusetts Avenue (MAP).  Not knowing if it was stuck or just sitting there taking in the view, I decided to take a closer look.  But upon closer inspection it turned out that it wasn’t actually a cat at all. It was a lone, gargoyle-like statue of a cat. Finding this to be unique to the neighborhood as well as interesting, I decided to try to learn more about the cat and the house upon which it sits.

Commonly known as the Argyle House, but also referred to as the Abercrombie-Miller house or Miller House, it is a Beaux-Arts mansion designed by the associate architect of the Library of Congress, Paul J. Pelz. Constructed around 1901, it was originally built for a wealthy, retired Navy Commander named Frederick Augustus Abercrombie-Miller. A few years after Miller passed away in 1908, the house was sold by his widow, and subsequently changed hands several times after that. During most of the 1920s it was owned by D.C. developer Harry Wardman or his business partners, who between 1923 and 1926 leased it to the Costa Rican and Salvadorean Legations. But like many mansions in D.C. at that time, it was divided into apartments during the Great Depression and rented as a boarding house. Today the Argyle House has been converted into a nine condominium units.

An integral part of the original house is the 500-square-foot, semi-detached garage, which is located adjacent to the alley behind the house, which can be accessed around the corner on 22nd Street.  Built at the same time as the house, it’s one of the first local constructions of its kind designed specifically as a garage to store an automobile instead of a stable house for a horse carriage. From 1986 to 2009 the garage was used by Olga Hirschhorn, widow of entrepreneur Joseph Herman Hirshhorn, and founder D.C.’s Hirshhorn Museum, to store part of her art collection. Hirschhorn named the structure her “Mouse House”, in a lighthearted reference to the house’s cat statue.

So what about that cat statue? It turns out that because Miller had been a Naval officer, the house includes a number of maritime architectural accents.  Among them is the cat on the ledge facing Massachusetts Avenue, which is intended to depict a ship’s cat.  Ship cats were a common feature on many trading, exploration, and naval ships of that time. The cats not only offered companionship to sailors who could be away from home for long periods, but would catch mice and rats aboard the ship, which could otherwise cause damage to ropes, woodwork and other parts of the ship, as well as damage to the cargo and provisions the ship was carrying. The ship cats could also be integral to preventing the spread of disease, which could be carried by the rats and mice, to other parts of the world.

So the Argyle House cat continues to sit there as it has for over a century, with most passersby oblivious to it.  And of those who do see it, most don’t know anything about it or why it’s there.  But now I do, and so do you.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

The Major General George B. McClellan Memorial

The Major General George B. McClellan Memorial

On this bike ride, I stopped by the Major General George B. McClellan Memorial, which is located on a median at the intersection of Connecticut Avenue, Columbia Road, and California Street (MAP), directly in front of The Washington Hilton in northwest D.C.  The statue is part of a group of statues entitled “The Civil War Monuments in Washington, D.C.” which are spread out through much of the central and northwest areas of the city. They are listed as a group on the National Register of Historic Places.

After being named General-in-Chief of the Union Army during the Civil War by President Abraham Lincoln, McClellan drew praise for his military initiatives. However, he also quickly developed a reputation for his arrogance and contempt toward the political leaders in D.C., including toward the President who had named him to the top army post. The general began openly associating with Democratic leaders in Congress and showing his disregard for the Republican administration. In a letter to his wife, McClellan wrote that Lincoln was “nothing more than a well-meaning baboon.”

During McClellan’s brief tenure as General-in-Chief, Lincoln made frequent evening visits to the general’s house to discuss strategy.  The most famous example of McClellan’s cavalier disregard for the President’s authority occurred on a day in 1861 when Lincoln, Secretary of State William Seward, and presidential secretary John Hay stopped by to see the general. McClellan was out, so the trio waited for his return. After an hour, McClellan came in and was told by a porter that the guests were waiting. McClellan headed for his room without a word, and only after Lincoln waited another half-hour was the group informed that McClellan had retired for the evening and had already gone to bed. Hay felt that the president should have been greatly offended, but Lincoln replied that it was “better at this time not to be making points of etiquette and personal dignity.”

Lincoln made no more visits to the general’s home. However, approximately four months later, the President removed McClellan as General-in-Chief of the army. How much the general’s abrasiveness played a part in his removal is open to debate. Many regarded McClellan as a poor battlefield general. Others maintain that he was a highly capable commander, whose reputation suffered unfairly at the hands of pro-Lincoln partisans who needed a scapegoat for the Union’s setbacks. His legacy therefore defies easy categorization. After the war, Ulysses S. Grant was asked to evaluate McClellan as a general. He replied, “McClellan is to me one of the mysteries of the war.” But Robert E. Lee, on being asked who was the ablest general on the Union side during the late war, replied emphatically: “McClellan, by all odds!”

Interestingly, McClellan later ran as the Democrat party’s nominee for the 1864 presidential election against Lincoln. He was soundly trounced in the election, obtaining only 21 electoral votes to Lincoln’s 212 electoral votes. McClellan subsequently held several positions, including governor of New Jersey, before retiring to spend his final years traveling and writing his memoirs.

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