The Washington Desk

George Washington’s Desk at New York City Hall  (Photo courtesy of the Public Design Commission of the City of New York)

In May 1947, Hamilton Holt wrote to former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt.  Pres. Holt had known Mrs. Roosevelt and her late husband, Franklin, for a number of years, and both of them had come to Rollins in 1936, when Pres. Roosevelt received an honorary degree.


Eleanor Roosevelt, Hamilton Holt, Franklin Roosevelt, an unidentified man, and Military Aide Col. E. M. Watson at the side door of Knowles Chapel, March 1936

The letter began:

“Rollins has a new Administration Building this year and I have a Beautiful office which I wish to furnish as a private library, with an antique flavor, and with little or no institutional flavor.  I seem to remember that you established some years ago a business for the reproduction of fine antique models.  I am especially anxious to get a replica of the desk that George Washington used that is now in the governor’s room of the city hall in New York.”

This was the beginning of a quest for Hamilton Holt.  The Archives has several letters on file regarding this desk, including one from Pres. Holt to the custodian of New York’s City Hall, asking for photos of the original, as well as its dimensions.  Another letter comes from Schmieg & Kotzian cabinet makers in New York, stating that the firm was “thoroughly familiar with this desk having made one just recently for the president of the First National Bank.”  (This was apparently a much-copied piece of furniture.  The Kittinger Furniture Company in Buffalo, NY, made a version that was used by Franklin Roosevelt and still sold today; see http://www.kittingerfurniture.com/catalog/custom_desks/pages/custom_desks_007.htm. )

Schmieg & Kotzian’s estimate for a replica came to $1,500 (about $15,196 in today’s dollars), not including crating and shipping.  Pres. Holt decided this was “ ‘way beyond my purse,” but did not give up.  He hoped to spend no more than $300-$400, and ultimately acquired a piece that was made locally by a man named Elwood A. Dillingham.

Pres. Holt at his “Washington Desk” in 1948

Pres. Holt only used this desk during his last two years at Rollins.   In April 1949, the president’s secretary, Lida Woods, wrote to tell him that a group of women had offered to raise funds to buy the desk from Rollins so that he could take it with him after his retirement.   Though he appreciated this offer, he felt that the desk should remain at Rollins for future presidents, as was intended.  And so it has.

The “Washington Desk” in President Lewis Duncan’s office

~ by D. Moore, Archival Specialist

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3 Responses to The Washington Desk

  1. Jonathan Miller says:

    What happened to the cubbyholes on either side? When were they removed?

  2. Thaddeus Seymour says:

    Oh, how I open they are found, since I was the culprit who removed them and put them in storage — thirty-five years ago! Gulp.

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