Analostan Island (now known as Theodore Roosevelt Island), a 70 acre island situated on the Potomac River opposite present-day Georgetown, was once the beautiful summer home of George Mason's fourth son, John Mason. In 1717, George Mason III, father to George Mason of Gunston Hall, purchased the island from Mr. Francis Hammersly who had acquired the island by marrying a Miss Brandt, heiress of Captain Randolph Brandt. Captain Brandt had originally received the island in 1680 from Lord Baltimore as reward for his services in protecting the colonies against hostile Indians.1
The island has had many names. Before 1680, during Lord Baltimore's ownership, the island was commonly known as My Lord's Island. Upon receiving the island Captain Brandt renamed it Barbadoes. The name changed yet again after the Masons purchased it in 1717; for after that point, the island was commonly referred to as Mason's Island.2
The island remained undeveloped as it passed through three generations, from the Hammerslys to George Mason of Gunston Hall. In 1792, George Mason bequeathed the island to John, thus passing it to the fourth generation of Masons. John had always referred to the island as Analostan Island, and it was under this name that the island came to be known. Hence, when contemporaries talked of John they referred to him as John Mason of Analostan Island.3
During the 1790s John began constructing his summer home on the island. After completion, this residence became a favorite attraction for an assortment of politicians and well-connected people from Washington D.C. Included among the prestigious guests were Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, and Louis Phillipe, Duc d'Orleans, who later became the King of France.4
When guests visited the island they were at first glance struck by its beauty. (descriptions: David Baillie Warden and Anne Newport Royall)Surviving images show the house was built in the classical style with arched windows and a small portico. Historian Willard Webb describes the house John Mason built as, "one story, with a full basement; the main floor included a drawing and dining rooms, (and) three bed chambers . . . while the kitchens and storage rooms were located in the basement. There was a large brick terrace along the south front of the house and the small entrance portico on the north front faced Georgetown."5
The house not only served as a summer home and a popular social attraction but also as the center of a small working plantation. John Mason kept an extensive garden that must have been beautiful for John employed an English gardener of some renown. He published one of the first garden books in America.6 John also grew such crops as cotton and maize and raised fowl and sheep, the latter being imported Merino for which he became well-known, winning a number of prizes in local agricultural competitions.7
House Catches Fire
During the winter months the Masons would return to their winter house in Georgetown, leaving the island house in care of servants. In June of 1806, after one such interval in Georgetown, a catastrophic incident occured. Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to Anne Cary Randolph, describes the Mason house catching fire: "one wing was burnt down and the middle nearly so. They saved their furniture. Suspicions arising that it was done by one of his house servants who wished the family to go back to Georgetown, he was arrested and on his way to prison with the constable, he jumped out of the boat and drowned himself. I understand the family will continue through the summer in the remaining wing."8
In 1833 John was forced to sell the island and his Georgetown property. According to Webb, local tradition attributed the sale to the Masons tiring of the climate and the summer mosquitoes. But as Webb argues, the more likely cause was John Mason's financial problems, which, according to Webb, were considerable at the time. These problems forced John to give notes on the house to cover his debts, and consequently, when he could not meet these notes, in 1833, the bank foreclosed on both his island and Georgetown properties, forcing him to move to Clermont, his newly acquired home.9
After the Mason's departure, the property was advertised for sale in 1834, and again in 1836. In 1842 Colonel John Carter finally bought it, and cultivated the island for commercial purposes. When he died in 1850 the house was put up for sale and purchased by William A. Bradley, postmaster for the City of Washington. During the 1850's, Bradley leased the property to Jacob Powers who used it for commercial gardening.. Bradley also built wharves and a dancing saloon in an attempt to attract people to his island resort. Yet his plans were interrupted; once the Civil War broke out Federal troops occupied the island. Later during the war, the now-abandoned residence that had once housed a king and presidents was seen "consumed in flames." After the war, still owned by Bradley, the island was again used for entertainment. The Washington Gas Light company bought the island in 1913. In 1931 they sold it to the Roosevelt Memorial Association, who built the monument that can be seen there today, and restored much of the island to its natural state.10
1. Mollie Sommerville, "General John Mason," Iron Worker XXVI No. 2 (Spring 1962): 3-11.
2. Sommerville, "John Mason," 3.
4. Willard Webb, "John Mason of Analostan Island," Arlington Historical Magazine 5 (October,
5. Webb, "John Mason of Analostan," 34.
6.John Gardiner and David Hepburn, The American Gardener, containing ample directions for working a kitchen garden, every month in the year; And copious instructions for the cultivation of Flower Gardens, Vineyards, Nurseries, Hop-Yards, Green Houses and Hot Houses. (City of Washington: Printed by Samuel H. Smith, for the Authors, 1804). On the title page Hepburn is designated as "Late Gardener to Gov. Mercer and Gen. Mason."
7.Webb, "John Mason of Analostan," 33.
8.Thomas Jefferson to Anne Cary Randolph, 29 June 1806, in The Family Letters of Thomas Jefferson, edited by Edwin Morris Betts and James Adam Bear Jr. (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1986) p. 286.
9. Webb, "John Mason of Analostan," 35.
10. Nan Netherton, "Delicate Beauty and Burly Majesty: The Story of Theodore Roosevelt Island" (Washington, D.C.: National Park Service, 1980) p. 40-95.
For detailed information on the location and architecture of John Mason's house, along with drawings and photographs of the ruins, visit the Historical American Buildings Survey http://memory.loc.gov/ammen/hhhtml/hhhome.html and search for Analostan.
Pictured: John Mason's House, Photograph taken of original Watercolor Print in the Library of Congress; Analostan Island, Picture from Mollie Sommerville, "General John Mason of Analostin Island," Iron Worker XXVI No. 2 (Spring 1962): 3-11. Adapted from "A Map of the City of Washington" by Robert King, 1816.