Classive Tradition: Summerhouse District of Columbia

Summerhouse is the second site of the first chapter of The Classive Tradition, a personal consideration of civilization as revealed in the monuments and memorials, objects and sites of Washington, The District of Columbia. The book is two-thirds complete, and ready for sharing. Hope you enjoy this quaint preview.

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Trees, bushes, flowers, weeds native to the marshes of this place prosper near the base of a hill where would grow a nation greatest in all the world, because at liberty.  London, Paris, Rome, Athens, each enjoyed liberty, each achieved greatness, each is surrounded by hills, except London whose country is surrounded by the mote of the Atlantic Ocean.  You will notice that many of the world’s great cities are centered upon a defensible hill, a founding acropolis, Jerusalem, Beijing, Edinburgh, the Acropolis of Athens, of course, with its great Parthenon dedicated to Athens’ tutelary goddess, Athena Parthenos, “Athena the Virgin”. 

Vintage photograph of Summerhouse, The District of Columbia.

Not far below where we are standing rests the Capitol Reflecting Pool near what was once mosquito-rich, marshy levels.  Rome too grew above marshy levels upon a hill, the Palatine Hill where in a cave Romulus and Remus were suckled by the she-wolf Lupa, and there at cave’s entrance a sacred spring alike the spring of Summerhouse, here beside us (see, below).  In truth, the grotto spring of our Summerhouse is not graced by a nymph (well, not likely) alike the spring openings at the foot of the Acropolis, at the cave mouth of the Palatine, and yet we do fell something of fertility, of Earth offering forth primal life.

There is primal life, and there is something else within the walls of Summerhouse, a feel of womb, of man framing, protecting nature, managing Earth’s abundance for the health of all, for Nature herself.  Punctuating the wall, a gate where we pass through Classive time, ancient to modern, a pass through place as though through the city walls of Athens, of Rome, of Florence, a passing from hinterlands into a universal civil: Nature, Heaven and Earth, the sacred waters, and here we might recline, be quiet at home in peace where we contemplate our place in all that is. 

Olmsted’s Summerhouse Grotto seen through the window grate. Image credit: Architect of the Capitol

Too, you will notice that your passage through the arch of Summerhouse is a returning, a triumph, alike the passage of armies beneath the Arc de Triomphe, yet personal, intimate, a passing into a chapel with its centered Baptismal Font prominent, inviting rebirth and refreshment.  There, just there, a confessional screen, window to the well-source of life, the home of the nymph, sprit of the place, a life-giving spring cool upon summer’s hot, August day.

August, the month of Imperator Caesar divi filius Augustus, yes, Augustus Caesar, Augustus’ month.  You might like to know: in every moment, in each word, you live through memory from time out of mind, by imagination into art.  This place, this federal city, Washington, The District of Columbia, is a work of art, of civic art.  All these hundred miles around did spring, well-source from the mind of an artist, Pierre Charles L’Enfant.  If fact, all we who live in this District, live in a work of art.  All of us in these United States are formed by the idea of this place, Washington, The District of Columbia.  You might say, citizens of our nation live through a work of art, know themselves by a work of art, alike those persons who in spots of color decorate Panini’s pictures, or alike the hundred-thousands actors who have played their lives through 500 years of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (“July”, from “Julius” … Julius Caesar’s month, a summer month).

Summerhouse District of Columbia
Summerhouse on the Capitol grounds. Image credit: Architect of the Capitol

Before this spot was a work of art it was the property of Cecil Calvert, Second Lord Baltimore* (1663), a forested, marshy land small in use though large in ambition, a place named, “New Troy”.  You will remember “Troy”, Homer, Achilles and Hector, Helen and Penelope, the Trojan Horse, the city in flames, Aeneas on his back carrying old Anchises, leading the Trojans by Zeus’ direction to find a new home; being waylaid at Carthage with Dido, her dying curse, and Aeneas coming at last to Latium, defeat of the Etruscan King, and the founding of Rome, a New Troy.  Yes, all works of art are born of memory, as you are born of memory in art, as was this place born of memory, of England, of Rome, of Athens, of Troy.

Up there, over these trees, L’Enfant when scouting this acropolis above the forested marsh met a man, a Mister Jenkins who was just then tending his little orchard.  L’Enfant was pleased with Mister Jenkins and with the place, mentioning both by letter to Washington and Jefferson.  Soon, Jenkins’ name was remembered on a map (see, below).  Yes, L’Enfant thought this, “Jenkins’ Hill”, to have an excellent prospect, to be capable of every improvement, and thought it a pedestal suitable to a monument, and drew it so in his “Plan of the City”.  Here, now, looking from this well-spring Summerhouse of New Troy up the acropolis of Jenkins’ Hill, we see the dome of a monument, one of three monuments, The United States Capitol Building, The Library of Congress, The United States Supreme Court Building, three great works of art, each in expressing the fundamental principles that form Classive Civilization, Knowledge, Conduct, Governance.** 

Summerhouse District of Columbia, Capitol
Antique view of the Capitol Building showing Jenkins Hill, now Capitol Hill. Image credit: Architect of the Capitol

There, Capitol Hill.  Come.  Let us see.

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* Cecil Calvert, Second Lord Baltimore (1605 – 1675), first Proprietor of the Province of Maryland, ninth Proprietary Governor of the Colony of Newfoundland, second of the colony of Province of Avalon; by Title, “First Lord Proprietary, Earl Palatine of the Provinces of Maryland and Avalon in America”.  Earl “Palatine”, derives from the Latin palātīnus, “relating to the palace”, “palace”; as in Rome’s Palatine Hill, “palace hill”.



Recently discovered beneath Augustus palace is the cave of the she-wolf Lupus, of Romulus and Remus; decorations would later have been added, engineered as was Lacus Curtius, et cetera. Klyppsydra, site of the nymph Empedo, has been long known.

The Lupreal Cave, Palatine Hill, Rome.
Site of the Klepsydra, Acropolis base, Athens.
Early map of Washington, DC showing Jenkins Hill.

** The Library of Congress Building expresses “Knowledge”, The United States Supreme Court Building expresses “Conduct”, The United States Capitol Building expresses “Governance”: these buildings express the fundamental characteristics of Classive Civilization. 

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Summerhouse District of Columbia

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