Miller House (Argyle Terrace), Washington DC

Date added: September 30, 2010 Categories: Washington DC House

Frederick Augustxis Miller, the son of Frederick A. M. and Martha Mason Abercrombie Miller, was born in Elkton, Maryland on June 12, 1842. After his education in local schools and Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, he joined the Navy on September 11, 1861 as a master's mate. During the Civil War, Miller participated in several battles, including Donaldsonville and Mobile, Ala. - as well as skirmishes along the Mississippi River. He achieved the rank of lieutenant-commander in 1882; retired from active service as a captain on November 30, 1885; and for his Civil War service was promoted to commander in 1906.

After his retirement. Commander Miller lived in Washington, D.C. where he was treasurer of St. John's Orphanage; director of the Workingman's Club; a director of the Eye, Ear, and Throat Hospital; a regent of the Blind Men's Home; and member of the board of directors of American Security and Trust Company. His social activities included membership in the Metropolitan, Cosmos, and Chevy Chase Clubs.

His home at 2201 Massachusetts Avenue was constructed between 1900 and 1901. Since few houses had been built this far west on the avenue at the time. Commander Miller was considered bold.

"Frederick Augustus one of the staunchest believers in the future of Washington, which he predicts will in the course of a few years not only be the most beautiful city in the world, but is fast becoming the Mecca for the wealth, fashion and culture of the United States. With the courage of his convictions, within the past few years Captain Miller erected at the northwest corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Twenty-second street one of the most beautiful homes in the national capital. No expense was spared in this work, and the house stands boldly forth on the bluff it occupies, as one of the best examples of the architect's (Pelz) art and skill... The hand carving which adorns the newels. cornices and arches are works of art, while in design it is plainly discernible that Captain Miller's beloved profession furnished the theme for the many nautical figures that there abound.., (A History of Washington, Its Men and Institutions, p. 429)

Miller died in 1909 leaving his wife Alice Townsend Miller and three children: Edith, Alice, and Townsend Miller. A letter filed with his will states that "Since the date of the execution of this will [1903] the testator's name was legally changed to Abercrombie-Miller, so that the will is filed as that of Commander Frederick Augustus Abercrombie-Miller, United States Navy."

Countess Alice de Castellane, Commander Miller's daughter, died in 1965 at the age of 80. She had been graduated from the National Cathedral School in 1903 and married to Frederick A. de Peyster of New York in 1907. Having been divorced from her first husband, she remarried in 1930 to Count Bohdan de Castellane of Poland, a former Czarist cavalry officer. They lived in France until the Nazi invasion and then moved to Washington, D.C. The Countess was survived by five children: Frederick A. de Peyster, Jr., Woodbury, N.Y.; James A. de Peyster, Palm Beach, Fla.; Mrs. James Todd, Bedford Village, N.Y.; Mrs. Eric von Raits, Woodbury, N.Y.; and Mrs. J.S. Brittain Walker, Washington, D.C.

William F. Dennis bought 2201 Massachusetts Avenue from Mrs. Miller in 1913 and owned it until 1923. The Evening Star, May 3, 1946 stated that Mr. Dennis, a resident of Washington for more than 35 years had been "prominent in the real estate business" in Washington since 1912. However, the city directories indicate that he and his family lived in the Massachusetts Avenue residence and apparently did not lease it as later owners were to do. Dennis also was a partner in the civil engineering firm of Rinehart & Dennis until his retirement in 1924. He died in May 1946 at the age of 85 - leaving his wife, Clara R.; two nephews, John and Albert Dennis; his son-in-law, Charles N. Riker; and his brothers, Albert and Percy Dennis.

During the 1920's and 1930's the house changed hands several times: James D. Hobbs and Thomas P. Bones in 1923; Gustave Nassauer in 1925; Harry Wardman and Thomas P. Bones in 1926; and Edward R. True, Jr., in 1932.

The residence was leased to the Costa Rican and Salvadorean Legations from 1923 through 1926 and then apparently left vacant until 1934. City directories show that "Mrs. Inez P. Poier" (or Mrs. Inez P. Poirior?) offered furnished rooms in 1935. Building Permit No. 275470, dated January 11, 1945, also shows that 2201 Massachusetts Avenue had become a rooming house - as it has remained to the present (1978).

Oscar Sydney Cox, who bought the building in 1960, was the author of the Lend-Lease Act in 1940. "Mr. Cox, a native of Portland, Me., was one of the most popular personalities on the Washington scene during the war years. His unfailing good humor and ready wit made him a favorite of President Roosevelt and a frequent guest at informal White House dinners." (The New York Times, 10-6-66)

After working for a New York law firm from 1929 to 1934 and with the city's corporation counsel until 193S, Mr. Cox came to Washington where he served in the government until 1945. His government positions were: assistant to the general counsel of the Treasury Department, 1938-1941? general counsel of the Lend-Lease Administration, 1941-1943; general counsel of the Office of Emergency Management, 1941-1943; Assistant Solicitor General of the U. S., 1942-1943; and general counsel of the Foreign Economic Administration, 1943-1945. For his role in providing economic assistance to foreign nations, Mr. Cox was decorated by the governments of France, Belgium, Italy, and the United States.

He then entered private law practice in Washington and was senior partner of Cox, Langford & Brown when he died in 1966. Mr. Cox was survived by his wife, the former Louise Black, of Washington, D. C; two sons. Warren J. Cox of Washington, D. C. and Peter W. Cox of Bath, Me.; two brothers, Sydney of Silver Spring, Md. and Morris of Portland, Me.; and a sister, Mrs. Samuel Goldsmith of Portland, Me.

Overall dimensions: The basement-and-attic, three-and-one-half-story structure measures 44'-0" from sidewalk to eaves. The three-bay east entrance on 22nd Street has flanking two-bay bows. The two-bay (34'-0")south elevation on Massachusetts Avenue has an east-end, first-floor bay window. The west party wall is 66'-0" and the composite east bay of the north elevation (34'-0") breaks back 8'-6".

The basement floor is arranged along a north to south corridor with access to the former northeast kitchen, the east servants' hall and the northwest service stair; the remaining area devoted to mechanical and storage.

The east entrance vestibule and flanking window seat alcoves project into the central front hall which is separated from the west stair by a modlllioned beam on fluted Ionic columns. The south drawing room has access to both the hall and stair, as do the northeast dining room and the northwest service stair and pantry. Bathroom partitioning occupies the southwest corner of the hall and the drawing room is partitioned into three rooms and a corridor.

The second-floor north-to-south corridor gives access to a southwest library and three bedroom suites on 22nd Street. The third floor is arranged similarly. The fourth floor contains servants' quarters.