IF YOU HAVE visited America’s “Other Washington” and taken the popular tourist trip 10 miles south to Mount Vernon, your mind’s eye can see the mansion of our first president and first lady, George and Martha Washington. Though its construction and expansion coincided with the beginnings of our egalitarian democracy, the manor overlooking the Potomac River was, and remains, majestic — 10 times the size of the average home in mid-1700s colonial Virginia.
We needn’t trek 2,800 miles to get an in-person approximation of the experience. Here we have what The Seattle Times once called “Seattle’s Own Mount Vernon,” embodied in the 94-year-old Rainier Chapter House of the Daughters of the American Revolution. A faithful reproduction of George and Martha’s famed residence, it simultaneously salutes its eastern counterpart and our state’s namesake.
When this replica was dedicated on April 11, 1925, in a ceremony attended by Gov. Roland Hartley, The Seattle Times favorably compared it to the original, “lacking only its water border and great expanse of grounds.” Today it retains a striking stature, surrounded by a city streetscape bearing three other treasures: the Loveless Building, the Cornish School and the Women’s Century Club (site of the former Harvard Exit movie house), all part of the Harvard-Belmont Landmark District atop Capitol Hill.
It also recently scored a coveted countrywide standing. On March 20, the Rainier Chapter House became listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This is not merely a promotable honor. It also paves the way for valuable tax credits and grants. To celebrate, the 167 chapter members are inviting the public to a plaque unveiling on Sunday, June 2.
These women, all descendants of Revolutionary warriors who struggled for independence from Britain, embrace an inspiring legacy. Their ancestors formed the chapter in 1895 and raised money after World War I to build their elegant local headquarters. They even scoured attics to find items to sell at Pike Place Market. As a result, Seattle’s DAR chapter was the only one in the nation, at the time, to own the ground for its building.
Daniel Huntington, then coming off nine years as Seattle’s municipal architect, infused a classical design, with wood siding grooved to resemble stonework. The edifice was erected in just four months, after which chapter members filled it with period furniture, dishes, art and historical objects. They also began an enduring tradition: renting the facility, including its second-floor ballroom, to groups seeking immersion in a sumptuous past.
If George and Martha themselves were to appear on its doorstep today, they might momentarily mistake Rainier Chapter House for their home. Their clue otherwise would be our urban milieu.
Check out Paul Dorpat and Jean Sherrard’s blog at pauldorpat.com for info on their latest book, “Seattle Now & Then: The Historic Hundred.” “Now” photographer Jean Sherrard shares his 360-degree videos at the YouTube channel Seattle Now & Then 360.