Changes in the House
While its principal footprint remained largely unchanged, the house’s interior configuration and uses evolved as needs changed over time. In the 178 years that elapsed between its completion in 1816 and its transfer to foundation ownership, the house had just four proprietors, all in one family line. Their periods of occupancy and management provide a way to understand changes in the house’s structure and uses.
I. The Founders, 1805-1854
Martha Custis Peter (1777-1854) and her husband Thomas (1769-1834) had eight children at Tudor Place, five of whom survived to adulthood. Peter tradition holds that the house was completed in 1816, but research indicates that construction work was underway two years later. In an 1818 letter to his wife at Gore Place in Waltham, Massachusetts, Christopher Gore wrote of his visit to Tudor Place, “The house is surrounded with the identical stage poles and scaffolding that you saw last year, but Rome was not built in a day.”
II. Britannia Peter Kennon, 1854-1911
Britannia Peter Kennon (1815-1911) was not yet 40 but already 10 years a widow when she inherited the property during a time of national upheaval. When Civil War erupted in 1861, she was staying with relatives, having rented out the estate in 1858. (The arduous journey she made to reclaim it, traveling with her only child through the battle front, is recounted in Tudor Place and the Civil War Home Front.) Britannia’s decision to save her home from Federal confiscation by taking in Union Army boarders led her to create new living quarters for herself and her daughter above the stable and carriage house, in the East Wing’s second floor.
After her mother’s death in 1854 and in accordance with the deceased’s wishes, Britannia sold the property’s uppermost 1½ acres to fund the care of her late sister’s children. After the Civil War, she sold another 1½-acre parcel on the northern boundary, bringing the estate’s total size to five and one half acres. Proceeds from the second sale likely financed ambitious renovations she undertook in the late 1860s to the Main House. These included the introduction of gas for light and cooking and construction in 1876 of a new kitchen, housed in a one-story brick addition to the West Wing. The original kitchen space was altered to serve as a Servants’ Hall.
III. Armistead Peter, Jr., 1911-1960
Following Britannia’s death in 1911, on the eve of her 96th birthday, her grandson, Armistead Peter, Jr. (1870-1960), purchased his siblings' shares to become the estate’s third owner. He and his wife Anna (“Nannie”) Williams Peter (1872-1961) soon undertook a major modernization, with Armistead’s brother, Walter Gibson Peter, as architect. The project entailed significant interior renovations, including the installation of steam heat and electricity, an electrified servant call system, changes to stair configurations in the east and west wings, the additon of a cement floor with drainage system in the cellar, updated bathrooms, and replastering. Outside, a perimeter drainage system, roof repairs, new cement-based stucco, and the addition of skylights to the hyphen roofs completed the renovations. Updates to Britannia’s 1876 kitchen highlight the new concern for hygiene and care in handling foods, as seen in the installation of two task-specific sinks and expanded storage areas. A new state-of-the-art stove, a combination coal-and-gas range by Duparquet (shown in the house today in reproduction), was a major introduction and permitted greater ease in cooking. Upgrades to the estate also included a new garage to house the owners’ Pierce-Arrow automobiles.
Of all changes to the house since the implementation of Thornton’s plan, these were the most dramatic, comprehensive, and enduring. Yet the essential character of Martha and Thomas Peter’s original house remained intact.
IV. Armistead Peter 3rd, 1960-1983
By the 1950s, with his father in poor health, Armistead Peter 3rd (1896-1983) was already substantially in control of the property. He and wife Caroline Ogden-Jones Peter (1894-1965) undertook significant structural repairs to the house and improvements around the estate. An astute preservationist, Mr. Peter pioneered excellent measures to secure the house without removing or damaging original fabric. For example, rather than remove original fabric to repair first-floor joists, he sistered new timbers to either side of the originals. This technique preserved important structural members for future analysis and dating. He also expanded the cellar under the East Wing.
It was outside the house that Armistead and Caroline undertook new construction, building a Summerhouse, a Tea House inspired by their travels in Asia, and an imposing new 31st Street gate. From 1965-1968, they also enlarged the garage where he kept his favorite car, a 1919 Pierce-Arrow roadster he had restored in the 1970s. The project expanded the structure’s upstairs, which he used as an artist’s studio. The upper floor of the original garage was also home, from 1969 to 1987, to Tudor Place gardener Angelo Lancellotti, his wife Bruna (who worked for a time in the estate’s kitchen) and their four children.