Detangling the definition of Dumbarton

Photo by Dumbarton House/NSCDA
Historic Georgetown
Historic Georgetown
Georgetown may be riddled with organizations named "Dumbarton," but many people -- even residents -- can be understandably confused about how they fit together. There's Dumbarton House, Dumbarton Oaks, Dumbarton Street, Dumbarton Bridge, Dumbarton Church and Dumbarton Concerts. Their shared name originated from a Scotsman reminiscing about his homeland long ago, but their organizational ties ended there.

Karen Daly is the executive director of The National Society of Colonial Dames of America.
Karen Daly in front of Dunbarton House (Photo by: Katie Manning) Karen Daly in front of Dunbarton House
The history buff with curly hair and green eyes said Dumbarton House"appeals in a way that you can't get from an art museum with art just hanging on bare walls."  She cheerily helps unravel the mystery from her office located inside Dumbarton House.

Daly "wanted to connect art with people. Everyone can relate to what they see when they walk in. It is still a house," she said.

According to Daly, the former Maryland colonial government presented 793 acres -- part of which is in Georgetown -- to Scotsman Ninian Beall as a bonus for a job well done in 1703.  The sloping terrain of Georgetown reminded him of the hills of Dumbarton Rock, Scotland. He named the property accordingly.
Dumbarton Rock, Scotland (Photo by: dumbarton1) Dumbarton Rock, Scotland

Georgetown grew as a port city and experienced a building boom. Dumbarton was subdivided. Homes started popping up.  Early D.C. residents considered hilltop-estate homes "more fashionable because they were away from the hustle and bustle," said Daly.  

Some say Georgetown is the Betty White of the District.  It may be older than the rest of Washington, but it remains timelessly hip, according to Daly.  She said, "Georgetown was the most fashionable place to live in the new capital city" and still is.

Dumbarton Church, Dumbarton Street and Dumbarton Bridge on Q Street were named after the original property.

Dumbarton Church, located on Dumbarton Street, hosts a music series called Dumbarton Concerts.

Harvard University now owns Dumbarton Oaks on R Street. It is a research facility.
Twisted branches at Dumbarton Oaks gardens (Photo by: Katie Manning) Twisted branches at Dumbarton Oaks gardens
The 53 acres include a garden, a Byzantine and Pre-Columbian art museum, and impressive landscape architecture.

Daly said the Dames, a society of about 15,000 women related to colonists with "distinguished" records, revamped Dumbarton House --on Q Street -- into a historic museum home.

As Daly gave a well-researched tour of the museum, she gestured toward a favorite oil painting depicting Georgetown's former grassland and farms that is now covered by row houses and shops.   Charles Peale's work called "Portrait of the Benjamin Stoddert Children"  hangs in the dining room on an over 200-year-old canvas.  Before turning away, she brought her index finger less than an inch away from-- but not touching -- a  tiny dragonfly carved into the metal frame. A frame expert recently discovered the detail.

As she continued winding through the house, Daly's expression lit up up as she described the thrill of uncovering an unexpected swatch of cloth hidden under an antique sofa. She seems to treasure discovering new details about historical pieces.
Stoddert Children Portrait by Charles Willson Peale (Photo by: Dumbarton House/NSCDA) Stoddert Children Portrait by Charles Willson Peale

Dumbartons of Georgetown (Photo by: Google maps) Dumbartons of Georgetown

Daly invites those interested in finding out the history of their neighborhood to attend their Christmas Traditions in Washington Event on Saturday, December 4, from 4 to 8 p.m.. The event will also shuttle guests to tours at Tudor Place and Anderson House. For $15, guests can eat, drink and enjoy music  at all three historic locations.

Read more here.

0 Comments For This Article

Katie Manning

Dumbarton House, owned by The National Society of Colonial Dames of America, is a historical house museum. It is located on 2715 Q Street.

Dumbarton Oaks, owned by Harvard University, includes a mansion and Dumbarton Gardens. It also houses a museum of Byzantine and Pre-Columbian art. It is not affiliated in any way to Dumbarton House.

Dumbarton Oaks is located between R Street and S Street at 1703 32nd Street.

Karen L. Daly

Greetings, Anonymous,

You are correct that Dumbarton House and Dumbarton Oaks are two separate institutions. While Dumbarton Oaks is a research facility of Harvard, Dumbarton House is a historic house museum and headquarters of The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America.

As the article tries to explain, the only common link among all the "Dumbartons" in Georgetown is their name. Thus Dumbarton House, Oaks, Bridge, Church, etc. are not connected organizations.

Visit us at Dumbarton House to learn more about this early period of Georgetown & Washington history. We're open for touring Tuesday-Sunday year-round. More information about tours & programs can be found at

Karen L. Daly
Executive Director, Dumbarton House

Kelly Carr

Many years ago I referred to the street I lived on as "Dumbarton Street" and was immediately corrected by a long time Goergetown resident and architect that the correct name for my street was "Dumbarton Avenue". Was he incorrect?