History of the Garden
A garden with a story to tell
Tudor Place and its garden reflect the growth of Georgetown, Washington, and the nation, and changes in the lives of the family who lived here and the men and women who worked for them or were owned by them as chattel. Through six generations of peace and war, nation-building and political upheaval, prosperity and financial hardship, four members of the Peter family owned and preserved the property. Under their stewardship, the gardens evolved from urban farmstead uses to recreational and ornamental purposes, changing along with the wider economy and culture.
In 1805, prominent Georgetowner Thomas Peter, son of the port town's founding mayor, purchased the 8½-acre tract on Georgetown Heights that would become Tudor Place. Thomas Peter financed the purchase with an $8,000 legacy left by George Washington to Peter's wife, Martha Custis Peter, who was Martha Custis Washington's granddaughter. Part of the Rock of Dumbarton land grant, their purchase covered a full city block stretching from Q (then Stoddert) Street to R (then Road) Street. A portion of the northern three acres would be sold in 1855 and another parcel immediately after the Civil War, leaving the 5½ acres seen today.
Employing a prominent architect, Thomas and Martha Peter commissioned a home there befitting a prominent and wealthy family. The estate reflects, since then, a story of family continuity over 178 years, from 1805 to 1983.
Vistas on an urban hub
The founders' Georgetown was a thriving center of tobacco shipping, slave dealing, and other commerce. The Peters were one of several wealthy families leaving the bustling, densely populated area port area -- source of much of their wealth -- for newly built mansions, or “suburban villas,” on the Heights. From there, they enjoyed open views (now mostly obscured by foliage) toward the harbor, the Potomac River, and across it, Virginia.
The Tudor Place landscape began with a combination of ornamental and agrarian uses, worked by enslaved servants in the early years and later by paid staff. Some agricultural uses lasted into the 20th century. By 1960, when Armistead Peter 3rd inherited the site and became its last private proprietor, the garden had shifted to purely recreational purposes.
With a careful fidelity to their forebears, each Custis-Peter generation preserved original design elements as well as many of the earliest plantings, while adapting the landscape to their own needs and changes in the town around them. Consequently, unusual heirloom species dating back a century or more still thrive here, such as the Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow forget-me-nots, Florentine tulips, and grape varieties climbing the North Garden Arbor. Other specimens represent more recent adaptation and uses, such as the hardy replacement boxwood planted in the Knot Garden in 2012. Like the site’s towering trees and other plants and shrubs, all of these are gradually being accessioned into the museum’s holdings as a rare living collection.
To visit the Garden is to walk through history
As you move through the landscape, you will sense the hand of successive owners, shapers, and laborers, and experience living history through the variety of plants that continue to grow, evolve, and thrive in this landscape.