Students Visiting Our Nation’s Capital Should Include A Tour Of The White House

Arguably one of the most distinctive places to visit while in Washington, D.C., is the White House, the official residence of the president of the United States and the seat of executive power for the nation.

The White House, officially named by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1901 (having previously been called the President’s Palace, President’s House, and Executive Mansion), is at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and is the oldest public building in the District of Columbia.
It was in 1790 that President George Washington signed an Act of Congress that called for a defined district in which the federal government would operate. Given that the president needed to live in the district, plans to create a “President’s House” began, with architect James Hoban winning a design competition for the new home. The cornerstone for the White House was laid on Oct. 13, 1792.

Curiously, George Washington, while instrumental in the building of the White House, was the only president in history not to live there, the first residents being President John Adams and his wife, who moved into the home in 1800.

When the British burned the White House in 1814, only the walls were left standing and Hoban, the original architect, supervised the reconstruction.

In 1902, the building was extensively remodeled with an Executive Office Wing (commonly called the West Wing) added. While presidents since have added personal touches to the White House, the exterior stone walls have remained unchanged for over 200 years.

The modern White House has six levels and 132 rooms, with two of the levels serving as the president’s private residence; there are also two basement levels and two public levels.

More than 6,000 visitors a day tour the White House, with some of the more popular rooms being the Blue Room, the Green Room, the State Dining Room, and the East Room, which is the largest room in the White House.

Student group travelers typically begin in the Blue Room, with its eye-catching arrangement of fresh flowers resting on a marble-top table that was purchased by James Monroe in 1817. The Blue Room was the site of the White House wedding of President Grover Cleveland on June 2, 1886. It remains the only time a president has exchanged wedding vows at the White House.

The Blue Room is the center of the State Floor of the White House and has been the traditional place for presidents to formally receive guests.

The Green Room, which first earned its name from the green canvas covering President Thomas Jefferson had used to protect the floor in its role as a dining room, was the site of the nation’s first declaration of war, against the British. The War of 1812 would lead to the burning of the White House by British troops in 1814.
The Green Room has been used as a small parlor for hosting guests and informal conversation.

The State Dining Room at the White House was greatly expanded during the 1902 renovation, the room previously only able to hold 40 guests for dinner. The work included removing a staircase, and presidents since then have used the State Dining Room to entertain guests.

One of the earliest uses of the East Room was as a White House laundry, a request by Abigail Adams, wife of President John Adams, who moved into the home in November 1800, only to find the mansion largely unfinished and unfurnished. Because there was no fence around the house to protect a clothesline, Mrs. Adams hung her laundry in the secure but unfinished East Room.

When Thomas Jefferson took office in March 1801, he turned the south end of the unfinished East Room into an office. His successor, President James Madison, used the room as his Cabinet Room.

Today, the East Room is a multi-purpose room which, over the years, has been the site of weddings, funerals, press conferences, receptions and receiving lines as well as for the signing of various pieces of legislation.

Another historic room in the White House is the Cabinet Room, the site of both routine meetings to serious deliberations, including the Cuban Missile Crisis under President John F. Kennedy’s watch and the immediate discussions on the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The Oval Office remains the one room in the White House that is most closely aligned with the office of president. It was in 1909 that President William Howard Taft first used the Oval Office. Previously, President Theodore Roosevelt, who had arranged for the building of the West Wing in 1902, had a rectangular office. Taft’s contribution to the White House included relocating the office and changing its shape to oval, like the Blue Room.

The idea of an oval shape for a room of this importance goes back to the time of George Washington, who had two rooms in his home in Philadelphia modified for formal receptions. As Washington’s guests formed a circle around him, he would stand in the center to greet them. Because no one was standing at the head or foot of the room, everyone was an equal distance from the president.

President Taft’s sense of symbolization included the president being the center of the administration, and with the Oval Office in the center of the West Wing, Taft was said to be more involved with the day-to-day operation of his presidency than were his predecessors.
A tour of the White House simply underscores the importance of the president’s official residence in the minds of students.

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