House (Museum) Hunters: Anderson House

By Kai Walther, Program & Operations Manager

Living in DC means ample opportunities to visit all sorts of museums. Working in the museum field gives me even more reasons to explore the city’s historic offerings. Part of my job over the past few months has been to tour various house museums with the goal of learning about education, visitor engagement, and interpretation at the Heurich House’s contemporaries. 

In April I visited Anderson House, a Gilded Age mansion that was owned by rising diplomat Larz Anderson and his wife Isabel. Designed for entertaining during the Washington social season, both American and foreign dignitaries would have made their way through the grand halls. After Larz’ death in 1937, Isabel donated the house to the Society of the Cincinnati, of which her husband was a member. Today, the Society of the Cincinnati, the American Revolution Institute, and Anderson House museum all operate together out of the building. 

Upon arriving for my tour, I was struck by how grand the museum’s entrance hall is. The ceilings and walls appeared to be made of marble, almost reminiscent of the Lincoln Memorial and other monuments on the National Mall. I later learned this was done intentionally to emphasize a sense of patriotism and historic identity. 

The tour itself was a mix of information about the Andersons, history of the Society of the Cincinnati, and significance of the American Revolution. Though it is unsurprising that the tour did not get into these details, I would be interested to know more about the decisions regarding which aspects of the three different tour themes to share. One of the biggest differences between Anderson and Heurich House that I noticed almost immediately was the former’s much greater emphasis on national history and recognizable names. As the Andersons only stayed at this house during the city’s political “winter season” and primarily used it for hosting receptions, dinners, and other large events, it makes sense that the tour would focus on the house’s grandeur, especially as experienced by more notable historical figures. 

Unfortunately, not much information exists about the people who worked in and maintained the house. We were able to see the butler’s pantry, a more “behind the scenes” place where staff would have spent time. Also of note during the tour was Larz’s library. Today the room serves as a meeting place for the Society, but many of Larz’s original books remain. The guide pointed these out and shared some titles, which gave a unique perspective into who Larz was and what he cared about. 

Overall, I enjoyed touring another historic mansion in Dupont Circle, especially one that was built at a similar time to the Heurich House. Anderson House’s threefold attention to the house museum, Society of the Cincinnati, and American Revolution Institute helped contextualize the lives of Isabel and Larz Anderson and clearly communicated its values of patriotic service and commemoration of the Revolutionary War. 

Tours are free of charge and no reservation is required for groups of less than 10 people.  Each tour lasts approximately one hour, with the first one beginning at 10:15am on Tuesdays through Saturdays. Tours begin at 12:15 p.m. on Sundays. The last tour begins at 3:15 p.m. each day.

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