Abbe House, now the Arts Club of Washington
NPS Photo by Shannon Davis
This elegant Federal town house, built in 1808, was home to Cleveland Abbe (1838-1916), father of the United States Weather Bureau, from 1877 to 1909. The house had previously been home to James Monroe while he was Secretary of State and War under President James Madison, and then again for the first six months of his own presidency from March through September of 1817. Abbe purchased the house a few years after moving to Washington, DC, to assume the position of Assistant Chief to the Signal Officer and direct the establishment and growth of the United States Weather Bureau. Abbe, a meteorologist, had recognized that with the expansion of the telegraph system a central location could be established to collect meteorological data from around the country and determine weather patterns upon which to base weather predictions. He worked with the Associated Press to put his idea to work in 1871, and because of his success was asked to head a new government agency concerned with weather conditions.
Entrance to the Abbe House
NPS Photo by Shannon Davis
As head of the Weather Bureau, Abbe not only helped create an institution dedicated to an important branch of the earth sciences, but he also became a skilled and practiced advocate of the benefits of science in elite Washington political and beauracratic circles. Although he made important contributions to the profession of meteorology, publishing approximately 300 papers, Abbe was above all a teacher and propogandist who strove to gain public acceptance of the benefits and value of science. His own life spanned the period from science as natural history to science as sophisticated and specialized individual physical and biological disciplines. In acting as a public spokesman for the interests of science in an age of ever increasing specialization, Abbe helped secure society’s support for an elite activity few Americans understood.
After Abbe’s death in 1916, his family sold the house to the Arts Club of Washington, which has used the house for nearly a century. As the organization grew, the Arts Club established itself as a social and cultural center and it welcomed many of the important artists, musicians, performers and writers who visited the city.
The Cleveland Abbe House is located at 2017 I St., NW. Now the Arts Club of Washington, it is open to the public Tuesday-Friday from 10:00am to 5:00pm and Saturdays from 10:00am to 2:00pm. The Arts Club has three major public galleries, weekly concerts, monthly literary evenings and offers many free multidisciplinary cultural events for visitors. Call or visit the Arts Club website for further information.