Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Sofa Bed In the Trees

1871 advertisement (Wikipedia)
If you were to visit Washington, D.C. in the spring of 1884, and it was a hot day, you might want to go out just north of the city to visit a 45 year old gentleman called Mr. Hayward, who was a respectable Pension Office clerk. But here was a man with a different lifestyle indeed: he lived in a tree house. A New York Times reporter went off to check out this unusual domicile in April 1884, being "desirous of ascertaining what could induce a man to build himself a residence in a tree."

Mr. Hayward explained that ever since contracting some unnamed disease in the Civil War, he needed to keep cool in the summer. So in 1883, he put up a tent in his back yard. But then he worried that a "tramp" would steal it, or that it would leak during a good rain. So he stuck the tent in a tree on Mount Pleasant*, having first got permission (they don't say from who). Well, he didn't stop at a tent: he built a whole tree house: a 12 by 7 1/2 foot platform built between two large trees, an A frame, and a tent over the whole thing. Instead of a sleeping bag, Mr. Hayward enjoyed the comfort of one of the modern sofa beds (modern for then, of course) such as you see on the left in the 1871 ad. Not quite as comfortable as the modern beds of today, which as you can see, are wide and sleek-looking, just right for an airy contemporary bedroom - but better than real camping, wouldn't you say?

Rock Creek Park (Wikipedia)
Mr. Hayward had some more modern furniture up in his tree house, too: a nice carpet, a wooden chest, a wash-stand, a rocking chair, a looking glass and even an oil stove (for warmth, not to cook on - he ate his meals at an obliging neighbor's). Over the door he had the American flag and an engraving of General Ulysses S. Grant. He called the place Airy Castle, and stayed there all year round (hence the oil stove, for winter). When the Times man interviewed him, Mr. Hayward had just bought some land nearby, also on Mount Pleasant, and was about to start building Airy Castle 2.0 - this time in an "octagon shape."

I will try and find out some more about Mr. Hayward and his tree castles and when I do, I'll come back and tell you some more about him (and them). I like to think of him up in a tree, lounging on his tufted, incongruously fancy Victorian sofa bed, listening to the wind and "the birds singing all around me."

[Source: "A House in the Tree Tops," New York Times, April 20, 1884.]

*Mount Pleasant is now a neighborhood in Washington, D.C. - it was a "streetcar suburb" back in the 1880s, and it's also home to Rock Creek Park (not founded until 1890), where I imagine the trees for the tree house were located. The article refers to the slopes of an actual Mount Pleasant, which must be one of the "wooded hills" mentioned in the National Park Service link above.


DearHelenHartman said...

Interesting bit of history. The bed, well, I guess sofa beds were never comfy (ours sure isn't!)

Marcheline said...

I've heard of people building houses in trees before (and then came movies like "Avatar" and etc.)... but it always seemed like a bad idea to me. First, for the health of the trees, and secondly - what happens in a windstorm when one tree leans one way and the other tree leans the other? Trees move too much to provide what I would consider enough stability to anchor a dwelling.

Bill said...

Thank goodness I didn't learn about Mr. Hayward when I was a kid with a treehouse. I hoisted everything I could get my hands on (including the dog) up in that tree, and a sofa-bed would have sent my mother around the bend.