The Cutts-Madison House

Posted on November 7, 2019

Washington, D.C is full of history and intrigue. Our nation’s capital is an amazing place to visit; you can see incredible examples of architecture, view famous landmarks and experience ghosts and spirits. That’s right, ghosts. Washington, D.C. is well known for being home to many historical and otherworldly figures.

This house is named after the two families involved with purchasing it, building it and occupying it. The Cutts’ and the Madison’s were two well-known names in Washington, D.C. society. These two families are at the center of the Cutts-Madison house.

History of the house

The house was constructed in 1818–1819 by Richard Cutts. He had the house built for himself and his wife, Anna Payne Cutts, who was the sister of Dolley Madison. The house had two stories and was designed with a gabled roof, dormer windows, and chimneys at the north and south ends of the house. The exterior of the home was originally covered in grey stucco.] The front of the house faced Lafayette Square. The lot on which the house sat was big; there was extensive space on all sides. Dirt roads bordered the house on the west and north sides, and a large garden with flowers and fruit trees occupied the east and south sides of the house. The garden of the home extended south as far as the Tayloe House on the south end of the block. The home was considered to be one of the more pretentious homes in the city at the time.

The city graveled the street in front of the house in 1823.

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Who was Dolley Madison and how did she come into possession of the house?

Dolley Madison’s sister was married to Cutts. He was able to secure a mortgage to build the house. But on August 22, 1828, the bank holding the mortgage sold it to former President James Madison for $5,750. When James Madison died in 1836, Dolley Madison held the mortgage to the home. Unfortunately, her husband’s death had left Dolley Madison in a financially difficult position, so to reduce her expenses she took up residency in the house in November 1837.Presidents James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson , Martin Van Buren,William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, James K. Polk and Zachary Taylor all visited her in her home, as did John C.Calhoun,Henry Clay and Daniel Webster. Dolley Madison continued to have financial struggles, though.

Dolley Madison also owned Montpelier, which was her husband’s country estate and farm in the Piedmont of Virginia. Sadly, Montpelier was also having financial difficulties and Dolley moved out of the Cutts–Madison House in 1839 to live once more at Montpelier and see if she could save the estate. Even though Dolley Madison rented out the Cutts–Madison house, it was not enough to save Montpelier. She eventually moved back to the Cutts–Madison House in 1843, and sold Montpelier in 1844.

After her return to the Cutts–Madison House, the house was set on fire one night when arsonists put lit matches into the shutters in the rear of the house, and Dolley Madison had to be awakened and saved from death by a servant. The fire was quickly put out, and thankfully the damage to the building was not extensive.

Dolley Madison lived in the house on Lafayette Square until her death on July 12, 1849. Her only surviving child, John Payne Todd from her first marriage to lawyer John Todd, inherited the property, On April 3, 1851, Todd sold the house and property to Charles Wilkes.

A fearless woman

Dolley Madison was raised a Quaker and tried to live those principals. Her first husband was also a Quaker and chosen for her by her father. After he died, Dolley met James Madison. They were complete opposites but remained married for 42 years. Dolley is best known for saving the portrait of George Washington at the beginning of the War of 1812. When the British burned and destroyed Washington, D.C., Dolley recognized the need to rebuild it in order to give the country a sense of pride. She personally made it a point to visit people in town and was instrumental in getting the city up and running again. Her devotion to the country and her pride in America, made her a favorite among the public.

When former President James Madison died, Dolley was grief stricken. She would remain inconsolable and missed him terribly.

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Who was Charles Wilkes?

Rear Admiral Charles Wilkes purchased the home in 1851 and he made some changes to the home. Wilkes moved the entrance from Madison Place NW to H Street NW, and he turned the porch on the west side of the house into a window. The gable roof was eliminated next and a flat roof installed, along with an out-building added in the rear, and a bay window added on the south side. Wilkes also lowered all the windows on the first floor down so that they now reached the floor.

During the 1850s and 1860s, the house had a number of notable addition to the Wilkes’s. After being named Special Envoy to Central America, Sir William Gore Ouseley rented the house in 1858 on his way to the region and entertained lavishly while living at the Cutts–Madison House. General George McClellan used the house as his Washington-based headquarters after the First Battle of Bull Run during the Civil War. McClellan first occupied the house on July 26, 1861, and left in late October for new headquarters at a house at the corner of H Street NW and 15th Street NW. After the Civil War was over, the Cutts–Madison House was briefly used by the French Claims Commission.

Wilkes mortgaged in the house in 1855. That mortgage passed through several hands over the next 15 years until George B. Warren secured it in 1870. Upon Warren’s death in 1880, the mortgage was assigned to his daughter, Phebe Warren Tayloe. She unfortunately died in 1882, and her niece Elizabeth H. Price became the new mortgage holder. Price sold the mortgage in December 1884 to Edward Tayloe Perry. Meanwhile, Charles Wilkes had deeded the house to his wife and three daughters in 1870. Wilkes died in 1877, and in 1886 the Wilkes family sold the house to the Cosmos Club for the sum of $40,000.

How is it haunted?

Many people have reported seeing the ghost of the former First Lady still in residence at her former home. People have reported seeing a woman in colonial dress, sitting in a rocking chair and looking out over the property.

Dolley Madison was such a large and prominent feature in the Washington, D.C. circuit, that people theorize that her ghost still lingers today. After all, she spent most of her life at the Cutts-Madison home, as well as dying there.

In the late 19th century, men who were leaving the Cosmo Club (what the Cutts-Madison home would become) could be seen tipping their hats to the lady sitting in the rocker on the front porch.


Dolley Madison was a quiet woman who lived a large life. She was full of pride for her country and love of her city. The house she lived in, and ultimately died in, saw many famous presidents and statesmen visit. Dolley Madison also spent a lot of time and energy reenergizing Washington, D.C. after the war. It was her efforts that brought the capital back to life.

It is very possible that Dolley Madison’s spirit still sits on the front porch of her former home today. She could be waiting for her husband. Or she could just be happy to view the city she loved so much in our nation’s capital.

A trip to visit the Cutts-Madison House is one that would please both yourself and Dolley Madison.