Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Sunday, May 16, 2010

White House on the 'Threatened' List

You, as I, probably read the recent threat made by the terrorists to "destroy the White House," which they termed the bastion of evil and lies.

In such a light, one of the important buildings of American government is seen in the eyes of our enemies. Security measures have been greatly increased. Since September 11, 2001, Homeland Security no longer takes such threats lightly. Let us pray that plots to the safety of an American landmark can be found and defused. Many stand to lose if this threat is, indeed, carried out. A grand edifice could be destroyed. The safety of the family who lives within its walls and a multitude of visitors to its halls would be at great risk.

November 17 is a significant anniversary for the White House and for Washington as the seat of US government. On that date in 1800, Congress convened in Washington, District of Columbia, for the first time. President and Mrs. John Adams moved into the White House, the official residence of the president. Many details of the White House were unfinished at that time, including absence of bathrooms and running water.

Let us review how Washington, District of Columbia, became the nation's capital, and how the White House was built.

President George Washington signed an Act of Congress in December 1790. Within the act was this designation: that the U. S. government would be conducted in a district "not exceeding ten miles square...on the River Potomac."

The Frenchman, Pierre L'Enfant, city planner, worked with President Washington to choose the site and lay it out for the various government buildings. The house for the president would be built at what has become a familiar address: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

As the new federal city began to take form, a competition for plans and building of the White House was announced. Nine different architects submitted their proposals. The plans of Irish-born James Hoban were accepted and he won a gold medal, as well as the go-ahead, for his design. Built into it were both practicality and stately appearance.

The cornerstone was laid in October 1792. President Washington himself oversaw much of the construction of the house. Although he would never live in it, he had a deep-seated interest that it would be a worthy residence for the leader of the United States.

Although the house was not completed when President John Adams and his wife Abigail moved in on November 17, 1800, and builders continued their labor, the dream of first president George Washington was finally a reality.

The White House has survived several catastrophes. During what history terms the War of 1812, the British set fire to the residence in 1814 when James Madison was president. A fire broke out in the West Wing in 1929 when Herbert Hoover was president. Following World War II, when President Truman was in office, a major renovation and overhaul of the house was done. The Trumans lived during this period in the Blair House across Pennsylvania Avenue. Despite the fires and renovations, the same exterior stone walls that were put in place from 1790 through 1800 remain in the house.

The majestic residence has had several names. Known first as the "President's Palace," next as the "President's House," third as the "Executive Mansion," and finally, in 1901, President Theodore Roosevelt gave its current name, the "White House."

Today, although security is tighter than prior to 9/11/2001, visitors can still tour the White House. Not all of its rooms are open for tours. We might wonder just how many rooms it contains. The White House has 132 rooms and 35 bathrooms. These are on six levels, with three elevators and eight staircases to help access the various floors.

On this 206th anniversary of the White House, we as citizens should take pride in its stately elegance. We can visit it to get a feel of the edifice that was conceived in the mind of our first president who rejected being made a king and wanted only representative government "of, by, and for the people."

c 2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Nov. 16, 2006 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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