The cornerstone 222 years ago – White House Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin

Today, the White House Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin tells the story of the White House as it was described in 1800, 1869 and the current dimensions.

In his book The Sights and Secrets of the National Capital published in 1869, Dr. John B. Ellis described the White House:

“The Executive Mansion is situated on Pennsylvania Avenue, near the western end of the city, and is surrounded by the Treasury, State, War, and Navy Departments.

“The grounds in front are handsomely ornamented, and in the rear a fine park stretches away to the river.

“The location is attractive, and commands a magnificent view of the Potomac, but it is not healthy. Ague and fever prevails in the Spring and Fall, and renders it anything but a desirable place of residence.

“The building is constructed of freestone painted white — hence its most common name, the ‘White House.’

“It was designed by James Hoban, and was modeled after the palace of the Duke of Leinster.

“The corner stone was laid on the 13th of October, 1792, and the house was ready for occupancy in the Summer of 1800. It was partially destroyed by the British in 1814.

“It has a front of one hundred and seventy feet, and a depth of eighty-six feet. It contains two lofty stories of rooms, and the roof is surrounded with a handsome balustrade.

“The exterior walls are ornamented with fine Ionic pilasters. On the north front is a handsome portico, with four Ionic columns in front, and a projecting screen with three columns.

“The space between these two rows of pillars is a covered carriage way. The main entrance to the house is from this portico through a massive doorway, which opens into the main hall.

“The garden front has a rusticated basement, which gives a third story to the house on this side, and by a semicircular projecting colonnade of six columns, with two flights of steps leading from the ground to the level of the principal story.

He went on to describe various rooms such as the East Room and the Red Room.

He also provided a description of the house by the first First Lady.

“THE FIRST MISTRESS OF THE WHITE HOUSE. Mrs. John Adams came to Washington with her husband in November, 1800, and at once took possession of the Executive Mansion. Her impressions of it are thus described by herself in a letter to her daughter, written soon after her arrival.

“She says:

“The house is upon a grand and superb scale, requiring about thirty servants to attend and keep the apartments in proper order, and perform the ordinary business of the house and stables — an establishment very well proportioned to the President’s salary.

“The lighting the apartments, from the kitchen to parlors and chambers, is a tax indeed, and the fires we are obliged to keep to secure us from daily agues, is another very cheering comfort. To assist us in this great castle, and render less attendance necessary, bells are wholly wanting, not one single one being hung through the whole house, and promises are all you can obtain.

“This is so great an inconvenience, that I know not what to do or how to do.

“The ladies from Georgetown and in the city have many of them visited me. Yesterday I returned fifteen visits.

“But such a place as Georgetown appears! Why, our Milton is beautiful. But no comparisons; if they put me up bells, and let me have wood enough to keep fires, I design to be pleased. But, surrounded with forests, can you believe that wood is not to be had, because people cannot be found to cut and cart it. …

“We have, indeed, come into a new country,

“The house is made habitable, but there is not a single apartment finished, and all within side, except the plastering, has been done since B. came. We have not the least fence, yard, or convenience without, and the great unfinished audience-room I make a drying-room of, to hang up the clothes in. …

“If the twelve years, in which this place has been considered as the future seat of government, had been improved, as they would have been in New England, very many of the present inconveniences would have been removed.

“It is a beautiful spot, capable of any improvement, and the more I view it, the more I am delighted with it.”

Down through the years, several administrations renovated the White House – some for structural issues, some to add space and some for upgrading the facilities.

Today, the White House Museum lists the grounds and statistics:

A main residence and architectural wings on the east and west sides
4 stories, plus a basement and sub-basement 55,000 ft² (5,100 m²) of floor space (67,000 ft² including the wings)
132 rooms and 35 bathrooms
412 doors
147 windows
28 fireplaces
8 staircases
3 elevators (main, pantry, and a lower-levels elevator under the Grand Staircase)
several gardens
a tennis court
a basketball court
a putting green
a bowling alley
a movie theater
a jogging track
a swimming pool

The White House structure still stands proudly 222 years after James Hoban and the Masons laid its cornerstone on October 13, 1792.

In the image, the White House Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin shows against the background of the White House circa 1870.

White House Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin