The Gardener’s Cottage at Dumbarton Oaks has also been known as the Gardener’s and Butler’s Cottage, Gray’s Cottage (after William Gray, the first Superintendent of Gardens and Grounds), the Superintendent’s Cottage, and, simply, The Cottage. It was designed and built between 1923 and 1925 as part of the Service Court—which included the garage, greenhouse, and orangery—by the New York City architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White. The final 1925 design of the Gardener’s Cottage is in an English cottage mode and was by William Mitchell Kendall (1856-1941), a partner in the firm, who worked on the building’s design during a period when the architect of the complex, Lawrence Grant White (1887-1956), travelled in Europe. Beatrix Farrand (1872-1959) and White designed the fence and gates fronting the Cottage in 1927-1928. The building permit application for the “Cottage” was taken out on February 3, 1925.
Originally designed as a single dwelling to house the head gardener, Mildred Bliss suggested that it be designed as a duplex to house both Gray and the Blisses’ butler and their families. Twice White wrote Mildred Bliss about this, on May 23, 1923: “The gardener’s cottage has been enlarged and made into a two family house… [for the] gardener and butler,” and on July 12, 1923: “The [gardener’s cottage] has been divided down the middle as you suggested.” [New-York Historical Society, McKim, Mead & White Papers, Bliss House.] Beatrix Farrand was also involved in suggesting practical changes to White during the development of the final floor plan, as is evident in a letter from Farrand to White dated December 8, 1924. [Dumbarton Oaks, Rare Book Library, Farrand Correspondence.] A letter from White to Mildred Bliss dated February 18, 1925, states that the Cottage was being built from the salvaged face brick from the demolished Home for Incurables that had formerly been on the Dumbarton Oaks property.
In a letter dated March 2, 1927, White wrote to Robert Bliss regarding the fencing in front of the Cottage: “Mrs. Farrand made the excellent suggestion of an iron fence on a low brick base, which we have worked out quickly at her request…. The posts on either side of the entrance driveway have been made octagonal and high enough to harmonize with the high brick wall which encloses your place.” White also wrote Mildred Bliss on October 6, 1928: “Mrs. Farrand’s fence in front of Gray’s house is a great improvement. . . .” A 1923 drawing shows that a “wire” fence existed on S Street before the Cottage was built.
Commissioned in 1923 by Mildred Barnes and Robert Woods Bliss from William Mitchell Kendall, New York, NY, through the architect Lawrence Grant White. The building was completed in 1925.
Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, D.C., 1925-11/29/1940.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, House Collection, Washington, D.C.