The National Hotel Collection consists of five large register books listing the guests at the National Hotel in Washington, D.C. from 1851 to 1854. The hotel was the first hotel in the nation's capital approximating the size of a modern hotel. It was located at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 6th Street.
The registers are in chronological order. The register entries list the names of the guests, the days they stayed, and their room numbers. The signature of each guest is preserved in the registers. Although the registers cover only the years from 1851 to 1854, they provide primary source material about the hotel and its guests during this period in American history. One of the registers is the "Ladies' Register," which lists the last name of the women staying at the hotel. In the "Ladies' Register" women's first names were not used.
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The National Hotel, situated at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 6th Street in Washington, D.C., was a long standing landmark in Washington, D.C., housing hotel visitors and serving as a residence for numerous American public officials. Many members of Congress lived there or stayed there throughout the years. The hotel was the site of many social functions. It was reputed to be the best hotel in the nation's capital. A number of U.S. presidents stayed there, including Andrew Jackson and James K. Polk.
In 1826, John Gadsby, who operated a tavern in Alexandria, Virginia, purchased six Federal-style town homes and combined them into a large hotel. The row houses had been named "Weightman's Row" after Roger Chew Weightman, the mayor of Washington, D.C. from 1824 to 1826.
In 1841, Solomon Northrup, a free-born African American, was kidnapped at the National Hotel and sold into slavery. In 1844, Gadsby's family sold the hotel, and it was subsequently expanded. In the 1850s, many Southern-born Congressmen lived at the hotel. Most notably, Henry Clay lived in room 116 of the hotel beginning in 1849. He died at the hotel on June 29, 1852 with his son Thomas beside him.
In 1857, a mysterious illness afflicted hundreds of guests at a banquet honoring President-elect James Buchanan. The illness actually came to be called "National Hotel disease." While the cause of the outbreak is not known for certain, it is possible that it was dysentery or typhoid fever caused by the poor ventilation and sewerage systems at the hotel. The disease did not return to the hotel after 1857.
During the Civil War, the Union War Department's news censor had an office at the hotel although some pro-Southern guests continued to stay there. John Wilkes Booth stayed in the hotel in room 228 prior to his assassination of President Abraham Lincoln at Ford's Theatre.
A fire damaged the hotel in 1921. In 1929, the Washington, D.C. government bought the hotel. The hotel closed in 1931 and was demolished in 1942.
- Kelly S. Walters, "Outbreak in Washington, D.C.: The 1857 Mystery of the National Hotel Disease" (Charleston, SC: History Press, 2014).
- "Streets of Washington, D.C." Blog Post, accessed 9/12/22. http://www.streetsofwashington.com/2009/11/national-hotel.html
- "Lost National Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue" Blog Post, accessed 9/13/22. https://ghostsofdc.org/2014/02/14/lost-national-hotel-pennsylvania-avenue/
2.5 Cubic Feet (2 boxes)
This collection is in chronological order.
The collection has been kept in its oversized archival-quality boxes.
Part of the Georgetown University Manuscripts Repository