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White House History

White House History

Photo: White House in 1860.

White House history began when President George Washington signed an Act of Congress in December, 1790 declaring the federal government would reside in a district "not exceeding ten miles square on the river Potomac."

President Washington, together with city planner Pierre L'Enfant, chose site for the new residence, which is now 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. As preparations began for the new federal city, a competition was held to find a builder of "Presidents House." Nine proposals were submitted and Irish-born architect James Hoban won a gold medal for his practical and handsome design.

Construction began when first cornerstone was laid in October of 1792. Although President Washington oversaw construction, he never lived in it. It was not until 1800, when White House was nearly completed, that its first residents, President John Adams and his wife, Abigail, moved in.

White House has a fascinating history. It survived a fire set by the British in 1814 and another fire in West Wing in 1929. Throughout much of Harry S. Truman's presidency, interior of White House, with exception of third floor, was completely gutted and renovated while Truman family lived at Blair House, right across Pennsylvania Avenue.

Presidents have expressed their individual style in decorating and receiving the public during their stay. Thomas Jefferson held first Inaugural open house in 1805. Many of those who attended swearing-in ceremony at U.S. Capitol simply followed him home, where he greeted them in Blue Room. In 1829, a horde of 20,000 Inaugural callers forced President Andrew Jackson to flee to safety in a hotel.

After Abraham Lincolns presidency, Inaugural crowds became too large for White House to accommodate them comfortably. However, not until Grover Cleveland's first presidency did this unsafe practice change.

President Cleveland held a presidential review of troops from flag-draped grandstand built in front of White House. This procession evolved into official Inaugural parade we know today.

   
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