Hidden treasures can be found at Hillwood Museum in D.C.

Russian icons fill a room at the Hillwood Museum, once the private home of the late Marjorie Post.
Russian icons fill a room at the Hillwood Museum, once the private home of the late Marjorie Post.

Washington, D.C., with its federal buildings, monuments, documents and photos, brings the nation’s history to life. Every American needs to visit our capital city. But stay an extra couple of days to enjoy treasures not on the beaten path — places I call D.C.’s hidden delights.

Hillwood Museum
First on my list of hidden delights is Hillwood Museum and Gardens, a 25-acre estate not very far from downtown. Hillwood was once the private home of the late Marjorie Post, heiress to the Post cereal fortune.
Post, born in 1887, was her father’s sole heir. After his death, she became a collector, par excellence, of the finest French and Russian decorative art, furniture, china and other objects, many of them with direct ties to monarchs. The Hillwood is a spacious mansion with wide halls, elegant staircase and large, welcoming rooms filled with Post’s treasures. The home remains much as it was when Post and her family lived in it.
My favorite parts of Hillwood are the rooms housing Russian icons, vestments, chalices and other church items. Post bought them in Russia in the 1930s, when the communist government wanted to rid the country of everything connected to the church. At that time Post was married to Joseph Davies, whom President Franklin Roosevelt had appointed as ambassador to Russia. While in Russia, both Davies and Post became fascinated with Russian Church objects. They had the money to buy them and they did.
In Ambassador Davies’ book, “Mission to Moscow,” he wrote this entry on March 21, 1937: “The ’party’ in some sections is putting on a drive to destroy all except the most artistic icons, priests’ robes, chalices and the like. It seems a pity that these should be destroyed. I have made a request that we be allowed to purchase some of these sacred relics and I think the permission will be allowed us. If we can do so, we will save for ultimate sacred purposes some at least of these beautiful things of the religious life of old Russia.” Permission was granted.
I have often visited Hillwood’s rooms housing sacred objects. I agree with Hillwood’s executive director who said that the Icon Room is the most exciting room in the house. Another exciting room is the Russian Liturgical Gallery. It contains chalices and censers from the 1600s, an altar cloth from 1855, and many other church objects the communists were glad to sell.
For the rest of her life, Post continued collecting Russian objects, including icons. She gained the reputation of assembling one of the finest small collections of icons in the United States. I once attended a special icon exhibit at the Hillwood, featuring not only Post’s collection but the collections of two other ambassadors.
One of the beautiful icons in Post’s collection is the Mother of God “Surety of Sinners.” The icon’s engraved plaque makes clear that the icon had once belonged to the son of Nicholas II. My favorite icons in the Hillwood collection, though, are 16th-century icons of St. Basil the Great, St. John Chrysostom and a large icon of St. John the Evangelist.
The Hillwood is located at 4155 Linnean Street. It is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call Hillwood at (202) 686-5807.

Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collections
Another fascinating collection of church items, including icons, may be enjoyed at Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collections, 1703 32nd St. NW, in Georgetown. I was especially interested in the Byzantine Collection, comprising more than 1,200 objects from the fourth to the 15th centuries. A marvelous, large 13th-century icon of St. Peter would have made my visit worthwhile, even without all the other wondrous objects. Both Dumbarton Oaks and Hillwood also have glorious gardens well worth seeing.

President Woodrow Wilson’s home
A couple of other interesting places not on a routine Washington tour are in downtown D.C., next door to each other. If you enjoy old homes, visit President Woodrow Wilson’s home at 2340 S Street NW. He was the only president who chose to live in Washington after he left office.

Textile Museum
Next door is the Textile Museum, with textile hangings, rugs, chair covers, cushions and other materials from the late Roman Empire, colonial Peru, Victorian Britain and other countries.
Washington, D.C., America’s hometown, has treasures too numerous to mention in one small article. When you visit, you’ll probably unearth hidden delights of your own.

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