Cellar Kitchens (1801-1817)

Research & Collections

While Madison, Jr. unified the house with the changes in 1809-1812, the household was still divided two—his own, which he shared with Dolley, and that of his mother, Nelly Conway-Madison.  This can be seen in the architectural elements of the two cellar kitchens: the northern kitchen, affectionately known as “Dolley’s Kitchen,” and the southern kitchen likewise known as “Nelly’s Kitchen.”

Dolley’s Kitchen

The northern cellar kitchen is by far the most “modern” of the kitchens in the main house, and included a set kettle for the production of sauces and gravy that were such a vital component of preparing French dishes.  Unlike the clay floor in the 1760s Cellar, or even the wooden floor in the 1797 Cellar, archaeologists identified a laid-brick floor set into a diagonal herring-bone pattern.

Substantial quantities of rodent burrows found in the kitchen—originally underlying the herringbone brickwork—indicate that the kitchen saw heavy use throughout its lifespan.

Much of the evidence for the 19th-century operation of the kitchen survived underneath a farmer’s concrete floor poured by the duPonts in the early-20th century.  Without such accidental conservation, much of the evidence for life and activities within the cellars would be lost.

Nelly's Kitchen

The southern kitchen is far simpler than its northern cousin, and is more in keeping with traditional food preparation techniques with the absence of the set kettle.  As with “Dolley’s Kitchen,” the kitchen was floored with laid brick, but in a side-by-side configuration of a running bond pattern.

Another absence from the south cellar kitchen is that of rodent nests and burrows, which may suggest that the kitchen saw less activity throughout the year.

Of the two kitchens, “Nelly’s Kitchen” was the most altered by the duPonts.  A gymnasium was excavated into the center of the floor for Marion duPont-Scott’s actor husband, Randolph Scott.

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Archaeologists uncover brick impressions in Dolley's Kitchen, revealing that the original brick floor was laid down in a herringbone pattern.  Note the rodent burrows on the right of the picture.

Archaeologists carefully removing remains of duPont era concrete floor in Dolley's cellar kitchen to reveal herringbone brick impressions.