One of the first homes ever built in the Nation’s Capital, the historic Federal-style Octagon House was designed in 1799 by William Thornton (initial architect of the U.S. Capitol Building) for wealthy Virginia landowner Colonel John Tayloe III. During the War of 1812, Tayloe volunteered the house as a French embassy in order to save it from destruction, and two years later, when the White House was set ablaze by the British, he offered it to President James Madison as a temporary executive mansion. Madison used a second-floor room of the house as his study, and it was here that he signed the 1815 peace treaty that ended the war with England.
Madison and his wife, Dolley, moved back into the White House in 1817, and Tayloe and his family lived on at Octagon House until 1855. Later used as a Union hospital in the Civil War, the building had fallen into decay by 1899, when the American Institute of Architects purchased it for use as its headquarters.
Established as a museum in 1970 and featuring historical photos of, memorabilia from, and plans for famous American buildings, it’s now open just two days a week for self-guided tours. Private events sometimes interfere with this schedule, so be sure to call ahead at (202) 626-7439.
There is limited, two-hour street parking around the Octagon, but the museum is near two Metrorail stations: Foggy Bottom-GWU (serving the Orange and Blue Lines) and Farragut North (serving the Red Line).