Article: Historical Homes

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With our nation’s birthday just around the corner, it got us thinking about some of the great homes in United States history. Specifically, it got us thinking about what it would be like to try to put a price tag on them in 240 years after the Declaration of Independence.

Obviously this is difficult. All we have to go on is inflation, which is a tough nut to crack when you go that far back in time. The Minneapolis Fed branch has a chart that we’ll use just for simplicity’s sake, which means that the at-the-time estimates we find will need to be multiplied by 51.

Clear as mud? Good!

Monticello

Thomas Jefferson’s estate in Virginia is nothing short of a must-visit for any American history buff, or anyone who appreciates a stroll. Looking down on Charlottesville, Va., and the University of Virginia (which Jefferson founded), Monticello features vineyards, cellars, and a cemetery.

Jefferson did keep notes on how much he spent on the construction of the Monticello house and gardens, but obviously they’re not all-inclusive. From the Monticello website, which is kind enough to include an entire page on the cost of Monticello:

In his accounting of building costs for the period of 4 March 1801 to 4 March 1802 (including workmen’s salaries, building materials, and other miscellaneous items), Jefferson noted a total of $2076.29. He calculated his building costs for the following 12-month period to be $3587.92.

Taking the figure of $3587.92, just as an example, and multiplying that by the number of years it took to complete Monticello (28), the total would be $100,461.76.

Multiply that number by 51, and you’ve got a building cost of just over $5.1 million, which doesn’t sound unreasonable (the interior of the home is surprisingly cozy). That doesn’t include the value of the land, however. Once you see it, you’ll know that number is embarrassingly low, were Monticello on the market today.

Mount Vernon

Depressingly little information exists about how much it cost to build the childhood and adult home (and final resting place) of George Washington. The land was in the family’s possession since 1633 and included a number of structures before the final, 11,000-square-foot farmhouse was completed.

So, the best we can do is find similarly sized mansions in the tony D.C. suburbs along the Potomac River (yes, there’s a “Real Housewives” installment based on these folks). This listing, found at the aptly named homesoftherich.net is as good a stand-in as any. With similar square footage and room structure (minus the whopping eight bathrooms… even the Father of our Nation had to use the outhouse). This home is listed for $3.7 million, which would seem to be low for something literally RIGHT on the river with the acreage of Mount Vernon, especially once it was outfitted with amenities like a centralized humidification system, heated toilet seats and, um, a garage. Which begs the question: Would Martha drive a Beemer or a Mercedes?

The White House

Fortunately, the home of James Madison, Abraham Lincoln, Barack Obama and Jed Bartlett has been assessed many times, and the cost of building it in the late 1700s is known. From the White House Wikipedia page (which we’re certain is absolutely infallible, right)?

The initial construction took place over a period of eight years, at a reported cost of $232,371.83 (equal to $3,239,992 today).

So that’s relatively simple, even if it seems a little low for a mansion on a giant lawn in a city where you can’t ride the Metro without getting to know someone in an uncomfortably physical way.

Humorously, Zillow (via the Huffington Post here) estimates the cost of purchasing the White House at more than $319 million, making Bryce Harper after his next contract the only person in D.C. capable of buying it outright.

Who knew a box with a big red button added so much value to your home?!