Built in 1891 for the founder of the American Red Cross, the Clara Barton House was located within a newly planned residential community and Glen Echo Chautauqua. Developers Edward and Edwin Baltzley were hoping to attract a wealthy and cultured clientele and believed that an association with Clara Barton (1821–1912) and the Red Cross would lend credibility to their endeavor and promote real estate sales. They offered Barton land and workmen to build the house, allowing her free reign in its design. She chose amateur architect, Red Cross field agent, and close confidant Dr. Julian B. Hubbell to develop the plan. Under her direction, Hubbell laid out a flexible multipurpose space that would serve both Barton and the organization to which she had dedicated her life. In fact, Barton's decision to accept the Baltzleys’ offer was a practical one: the house served primarily as a warehouse for Red Cross supplies from the time of its 1891 completion until 1897. Barton took up permanent residence at that time, also relocating the organization’s headquarters here from its previous site in Washington, D.C.
Because of its multiple functions, the Clara Barton House is a distinctive building with an open two-and-a-half-story gallery to the center and rooms divided by frame partition walls to allow for flexibility. While ornamented with castle motifs to blend with other structures built for the Chautauqua, the house is essentially a massive rectangular box with multiple rooms used for storage, bedrooms, and offices. It was constructed largely from prefabricated wood structural members salvaged from one of three Red Cross buildings erected to shelter individuals rendered homeless by the 1889 Johnstown Flood. Known as the Locust Street Hotel, the prefabricated structure also became the rough model for Barton’s house, to which the Baltzley brothers originally adhered stone facing flanked by tower-like stone piers rising above the low gable roof and center parapet.
After 1897, Barton began renovations to transform what had essentially been a warehouse into a residence and headquarters. Much of the stone, which Barton viewed as unsightly, was removed from the front facade, and additional windows were installed, as was a porch running between the two stone piers. Plumbing and heating were also added and muslin was stretched across the bare wood of the partition walls to make a smooth surface for painting. The unusual interior plan includes a spacious entry hall flanked by a reception room and stairway to one side and adjoining parlors to the other. Beyond the entry is a large interior hall that rises a full two stories with a gallery that overlooks the first floor. Above the open well in the half-story on the third floor is a central room lit by a clerestory and flanked by open galleries that overlook the second-floor hall. Returning to the first floor, a living room and adjoining dining room and kitchen were built to the rear of the house to take advantage of the view to the Potomac River. To either side of the center gallery on both the first and second floors are offices and/or bedrooms (at times occupied by refugees) and closets for the storage of emergency supplies. Barton is said to have loved her spartanly furnished Glen Echo residence for its quiet and lush natural surroundings.
A lifelong proponent of female equality, Barton was among the first women to be appointed to a civil service position, as a clerk in the Patent Office. She distinguished herself during the Civil War, organizing medical and nutritional units to relieve those suffering on the battlefield. This work led her to establish the American Red Cross in 1881 and eventually to extend relief during wartime to include civilians, and those suffering from other disasters. Clara Barton resigned in 1904 at the age of eighty-two and resided here until her death in 1912. At that time, the house passed to Hubbell and was later inherited by his nieces, who converted it into apartments.
Through the efforts of the Friends of Clara Barton, the house was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1965. In 1974 it was taken over by the National Park Service, under whose administration it is currently maintained and interpreted. The house is located to the northwest of Glen Echo Park, with access between the two provided by a pedestrian bridge over the Minnehaha Branch from the parking lot.
“Clara Barton House,” Montgomery County, Maryland. Historic American Buildings Survey, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 2003. From Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (HABS No. MD-300).
Goeldner, Paul. “Clara Barton House,” Montgomery County, Maryland. National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination Form, 1979. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.
Pryor, Elizabeth Brown. Clara Barton, Professional Angel. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1987.