It’s true: George Washington never lived here. President numero uno held office from 1789 to 1797; construction of the White House was not completed until 1800.
Wait a sec: “Completed?” Wrong word, as the President’s House’s first occupants, John Adams and first lady Abigail, would have ever so graciously pointed out. Its exterior was finished but only six of 36 rooms were habitable when the Adamses moved in, at the very end of Adams’s time in office. (Thomas Jefferson defeated him in the 1800 presidential election.)
Abigail, who hung her laundry to dry in the East Room, found the White House cold and drafty and the surrounding federal city itself “romantic but …. a wilderness.” Perhaps Abigail and John were not all that sorry to leave the White House after a mere 4 months.
In the ten score and sixteen years since, the White House has endured countless calamities, from torching by the British during the War of 1812, to assaults by individuals who have fired on the White House from a distance, jumped the fence, trespassed on the grounds, even crashed state dinners. And yet, here she stands, steady, sturdy and gorgeous.
Take a look and consider the history contained within these walls (and they are the original walls, by the way): This is where Thomas Jefferson negotiated the Louisiana Purchase, Abraham Lincoln deliberated every Civil War decision, and FDR delivered his fireside radio chats to pump American spirits after the Depression and throughout World War II.
And today: Who is President Obama meeting with in the Oval Office?
All tours are self-guided and arranged through your member of Congress. Contact your representative at least three weeks and no more than six months in advance of the time you hope to book your tour. International visitors should contact their country’s embassy in DC.
Unless you’ve planned ahead and signed up for a tour, you’ll have to content yourself with an amble around the exterior, best seen from the Ellipse to the south; and a visit to the White House Visitor Center (stop by whether or not you’ve reserved a place on a White House tour).
Metro: Metro Center on the Red, Blue, Silver, and Orange Lines (12th and F St. exit) or Federal Triangle on the Blue, Orange, and Silver Lines.