Tudor Place

The Architect

In 1808, the Martha and Thomas Peter commissioned architectural drawings from Dr. William Thornton (1759-1828) -- a friend and Masonic brother of George Washington -- for the home they would call Tudor Place. Trained as a doctor of medicine, Thornton was self-taught in architecture, as it was not yet a formal discipline in America. Thornton was born in England and raised on the Caribbean island of Tortola. His first commendation as a designer was his highly acclaimed design for Philadelphia’s (now demolished) Library Hall. Following his success in Philadelphia, Thornton went on to success in the nation's capital, presenting design drawings for completed buildings including the first United States Capitol (burned in 1814) and the Octagon House (now a museum). The American Revolution ushered new ideas into fashion in the design and construction of buildings. Independence from England and alliance with France had stoked interest in French tastes and style, for example. This French aesthetic, influenced by Roman classicism, then spread to England (through Robert and James Adam). In America, its effect was to reduce the architecture of antiquity to a more domestic scale, making it comfortable and visually pleasing. Its stress on pure geometrical form was reflected in Thornton’s plans for Tudor Place, whose early versions included two oval rooms and set the circular Temple into larger squares and rectangles composing the house. Thornton made a series of 11 preparatory sketches for the Peters before they settled on a design in 1813. His graphite drawings, including elevations and perspectives, offer insight into the development of an architectural idea from complex, formal beginnings to, ultimately, an elegant and livable home. Most of the drawings are in the Library of Congress, comprising the largest such collection for any early 19th-century residence in the city of Washington. However, Thornton's presentation drawing remains in the archive at Tudor Place.