Clemson House

Anna and Thomas Clemson's House, "The Home" which stood near today's Shepherd Street betwen 31st and 32nd Streets.  Watercolor (circa 1856) from the collection at Fort Hill:  Home of John C. Calhoun & Thomas G. Clemson, Clemson University
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ANNA AND THOMAS CLEMSON

 

In 1853, Thomas and Anna Clemson purchased 100 acres that had been part of the Chillum Cas-tle Manor estate.  Clemson, son-in-law of statesman John C. Calhoun, had been stationed as a dip-lomat in Belgium prior to that time. The family residence was called “The Home” and is believed to have stood near the present-day Baptist Church at the area’s highest point between 31st and 32nd Streets. The letters of Clemson leave no doubt that the house existed prior to his purchase of the estate, but he notes that it was small and would require additions.  Clemson also noted in an 1853 letter that the house was surrounded by a fine grove of trees. A Washington Post article in the 1890s described the long-abandoned Clemson home as follows: “The house is on a high hill and is sur-rounded by several acres of the largest forest trees in this section and was, and is today, one of the most beautiful places around Washington despite the rack and ruin the place is in.”  The Post arti-cle attributes the existence of the large trees to the fact that during the Civil War “Gen. Scott placed a guard over the property for the protection of the family, and the care that the soldier’s took is testified today by the giant oaks that are now there.”  According to the article, all other large trees in the area were cut down. (WP 11/20/1890)

 

In 2009, an ancient diseased oak was removed from the highest point in Mount Rainier. The owners counted over 150 rings—thus making it likely that oak was one of those standing around the Clemson man-sion in the late 19th Century.  Other large old oaks stand in that vicinity.

 

The letters of Floride Clemson and her mother, Anna, provide a window into that time period (see Sources at chapter’s end). The Clemsons socialized with the Cal-verts at Riversdale and the Brookes in northeast Wash-ington (the Brooks mansion still stands next to the Brookland metro station and faces a remnant section of Bunker Hill Road). Besides the Clemson’s home, the letters describe the construction of a brick and concrete octagon-shaped house for the tenant

farmer. The octagon house is gone, but from descriptions in the letters, it stood on the north side of Bunker Hill Road near the “big gully” (which may have been either today’s 31st or 32nd Street).

 

After the Civil War, the Clemsons returned to the South Carolina estate of John C. Calhoun which Anna Clemson had inherited after her mother’s death.  Thomas Clemson left that property to the state of South Carolina for the purpose of establishing Clemson Agricultural College. The  proceeds from the sale of Clemson’s Maryland estate helped support the new school. It’s believed that Clemson was influenced in the idea of founding such a college by the example of his friend, Charles Benedict Calvert, who provided land to found the Maryland Agricultural College near his Riversdale mansion. Clemson was part of a group of gentlemen planters who supported Calvert’s efforts, although he did not serve on the first board of directors.

["Centennial of A Streetcar Suburb:  Mount Rainier:  1910-2010, ed. Bryan Knedler]

 
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