Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

December 10, 2012

Presidential history lesson

By Gelene Simpson
Corsicana Daily Sun

— What would you say is the oldest presidential residence still in existence? If you said it was the Deshler-Morris House in Germantown, Pa., you would have been 100 percent correct. But I’ll bet you didn’t. I know I didn’t. I learned if from reading the DAR Magazine American Spirit back in 2002. George Washington resided there in 1793 and 1794. It was first occupied by its builder David Deshler and later by Gen. Howe after the battle of Germantown. The house did not become the temporary residence of Washington until a yellow fever epidemic hit Philadelphia in 1793. The second owner, Col. Isaac Franks charged $131.56 for Washington’s stay.

The residence is called “The Germantown White House” because the President conducted national business there and actually took his family there in 1794. While there, Washington posed for the artist Gilbert Stuart.

The house is kept in excellent repair. Samuel B. Morris purchased it in 1834, and his descendants cared for it “until 1948 when it was donated to the National Park Service and became a remote site of Independence National Historical Park.”

Because of its historical significance, the house was restored to the appearance it had when Washington resided there. The house retains its “original pale gray stucco” which gives it a European flair. Also “authentic” are its “yellow-beige shutters.” A tour through the interior of the house reveals original fireplaces and many period furnishings, including a “red camelback couch” said to have belonged to the Washington family. Of course, there are many original portraits and window treatments popular in that day, including venetian blinds. Can you believe it?

A person can almost imagine Washington working at his desk in his office on the second floor and hearing hoof beats of a horse and rider approaching. Maybe the President would glance up and see through the window close by, the blinds being open to let in the light, that a messenger had arrived.

The messenger would dismount, tie the horse to the rail, grasp his letter pouch and stride up the steps to the front door of the stucco villa which gave the appearance of being constructed of granite blocks.

Some of the 19th century special features of the home are an outhouse in the backyard. This accommodation was referred to as a “necessary” or “privy.” It contains “four separate rooms” and provides 10 seats. This should give “history enthusiasts” something to talk about for a while.

Personally, I am more interested in the “beautifully landscaped garden,” also located in the backyard of the house. The focal point of the garden for many visitors to this historical home is a holly tree planted in 1999 by a local DAR chapter to commemorate the bicentennial of George Washington’s death. The National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution always includes the date of his death on the DAR Calendar each year. This is another traditional way to show respect for a founding father of our country.

And don’t forget that Corsicana is a George Washington Bicentennial City. We had our commemoration in 1999 also with a special ceremony and music by the Collins Middle School Band, directed by Mr. Dick Felts. The City of Corsicana was presented a flag which had flown over the capitol, and the colors were posted by the AFJROTC Color Guards, directed by retired Lt. Col. Bobby J. Payne, USAF, instructor.

The ceremony was sponsored James Blair Chapter, Daughters of the American  Revolution. Mayor Wilson Griffin made the proclamation of Corsicana as a George Washington Bicentennial Community, and District Judge John Jackson gave the tribute to George Washington.

The Elizabeth L. Gillispie Genealogy Room at Corsicana Public Library contains early scrapbooks and genealogical research as well as many reference books and other historical items donated by members of James Blair Chapter, DAR.

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Gelene Simpson is a Daily Sun columnist. Want to “Soundoff” on this column? Email: soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com