On this day in 1800, President John Adams becomes the first acting president to take up residence in Washington, D.C. Unfortunately the White House, or President’s Mansion or President’s House as it was called then, was not yet finished, so Adams moved into temporary digs at Tunnicliffe’s City Hotel near the also half-finished Capitol building.
The final site for the nation’s capital had been chosen by George Washington while he was still president in 1790. Construction on the President’s House began in 1792, but was not completed until late 1800. Historian David McCullough has reported that when Adams first arrived in Washington on June 3 he wrote to his wife Abigail (who was at their home in Quincy, Massachusetts) that he was pleased with the new site for the federal government and had explored the soon-to-be President’s House with satisfaction. He expressed weariness, however, at being unsettled. “Oh! That I could have a home! he exclaimed to Abigail. Rolling, rolling, rolling, till I am very nearly rolling into the bosom of Mother Earth.” On November 1, Adams finally moved into his official residence, with the plaster and paint still drying and the building surrounded by weeds.
Abigail Adams arrived in Washington later that month and was the first first lady to take up hostess duties in what would become the White House. She gamely accepted the new building’s lack of amenities, writing to a friend that she had to hang her washing in what would become known as the East Room.
John and Abigail did not live long in the new presidential residence. Adams was defeated in the election of 1800 by Thomas Jefferson, who became the second occupant and the first widower to live in the mansion. During Jefferson’s tenure as president, Dolley Madison, wife of the then-Secretary of State and future President James Madison, performed official White House hostess duties.