Croatia abounds in high-quality limestone. Many Croatians, and foreigners likewise, believe that the White House in Washington D.C. was made of the fine white stone from the island of Brač, Croatia. Is this true?
- NO. No part of the White House was made of Croatian stone. Sorry.
- Croatian limestone is an amazing building material, chosen by famous sculptors and architects.
- A piece of Croatian limestone is a truly authentic souvenir of Croatia.
As early as 1986, some US media stated that “Yugoslavs claim that the White House was built of stone from Brač”.
However, the real impetus to the story was given by an article itn the New York Times written by Steve Dougherty. In 2005, he wrote about the of the Adriatic coast, and mentioned the island of Brac, stating that Diocletian’s Palace and the White House were built of stone from that island.
However, soon afterwards, the newspaper had to CORRECT parts of that article, including the information about the White House:
This correction, however, had no significant impact on the widespread belief. The story about the White House being built of Croatian stone started appearing in travel guides (including Lonely Planet), various blogs and foreign media.
From 1989 to 2016, Mr. Tonči Vlahović was the director of the esteemed and widely known Masonry High School in Pučišća, and he himself studied where this story started.
I was also actively researching where this information came from, looking for some concrete evidence, but unfortunately I did not find it. There are no historical sources. Basically, this ‘evidence’ is mostly anecdotal in nature, and that doesn’t go through in science.
It serves as a nice tourist postcard and advertisement because this myth has caught on well in the media and among tourists – says Vlahović, whom we asked how the story started.
At that time, the time of the construction of the White House, today’s Croatia was under Austro-Hungary, and one of the possible scenarios is that a Hungarian came to Brač who bought stone for three ships that allegedly went to America and again allegedly ended up in the White home. But if the entire White House was built of Brač stone, then Brač would no longer exist.Slobodna Dalmacija
At that time, it would not have been worthwhile for anyone to haul so many stones from Europe to America. What has been proven is that numerous buildings, starting from Diocletian’s Palace to the courts in Vienna and Budapest, as well as churches in Venice, were built of Brač stone, but it has not yet been proven that the White House is among them – says Mr. Vlahović.
The White House
The White House is about 52 m long, built according to the designs of James Hoban. The laying of the foundation stone was attended in 1792 by Mr. Washington, and the first president to reside in it was J. Adams. During the war between the United States and Great Britain (1812-1814). The British, occupying Washington in 1814, set fire to the White House. The restored building (1817) is plastered in white.
Congress gave it the name, White House in 1902, at the request of President T. Roosevelt. It was formerly called the President’s Palace, the President’s House and the Executive Mansion. In a figurative sense, it also marks the president himself with his closest advisers.
Then what is the White House made of? From a stone quarried about an hour’s drive from Washington, in Stafford County.
In 1790s, the stone from that place served to build the White House and Congress. The urban plan for the new city was drawn up by French engineer Pierre Charles L’Enfant, and stone from a nearby quarry at Aquia Creek, flowing to the Potomac river, was one of the main materials. Construction of the White House began in 1792, and the Capitol (the seat of Congress) a year later.
Government Island, a historic 18th- and 19th-century quarry site, provided the stone to build historic buildings in Washington. Today, this 17-acre park is a picturesque historic nature reserve and archaeological site.
Government Island is a scenic heritage trail and is also on the Virginia National Register of Historic Places and Landmarks Register – so Stafford County, Virginia advertises the ‘Government Island’ from which provided stone for the White House.
Historian and author William Seale has written the book “Presidential House” and “White Stone House” for the non-profit White House Historical Association. He told CNN that people were extracting stone, and oxen and ships were transporting it. The main labour force used for the work were slaves.
Oxen would carry heavy stones to the edge of the island. From there they boarded ships and from there the way to Washington. After the stone travelled about 40 miles to Washington, it was carefully carved, measured and even numbered before being installed in the White House.
When the White House burned down in 1814, most of the original stone, CNN reports, “survived,” but they had to paint it white to cover up the cracks. By the way, the first American president initially wanted the White House to be five times bigger than the one that was eventually built. Washington advisers told him it was impossible, stating that they “would never get enough stone.”
A Decisive Answer
In order to clarify this somewhat controversial question, even some Croatian citizens wrote to museums and asked for an answer. So one Croat also wrote a letter to The White House Historical Association. It is a non-profit organisation founded in 1961 by then-First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, and the mission of the association is to protect and promote the legacy of the White House.
“There is a good reason this story of white stone from Brac being used to building the White House is not “common Knowledge” outside Croatia. It is a complete fabrication. The material used to build the White House was quarried in Aquia, Virginia and it is a brown sandstone painted white.
It is a clever story, but no record of Croatian stone at the White House exists. This question comes up from time to time and even the New York Times travel section ran the story. However, after extensive research in the White House building records, no one has discovered a reference to Croatian stone or knows how this rumor started. I suspect it was a tale invented for tourists.”The White House Historical Association
The bottom line
So, the White House wasn’t made of Croatian stone after all. As with some other “proven facts”, it may well simply be “an alternative truth”, aimed to entertain vain tourists. (Tourist guides, as you know, occasionally just make up their stories. Who cares, anyway!)
Actually, Croatia doesn’t really need this kind of “promotion”. Neither does the amazing limestone need it. Take a look!
An Amazing Building Material
No wonder that it is so easy to believe that the most important building in the US would take advantage of this high-quality stone.
Croatian sculptors have long been aware of the extraordinary features of the Croatian limestone. Radovan, the creator of the 1242 masterpiece in Trogir, knew well how to benefit from the ivory-like quality of the Seget Stone.
Ivan Meštrović, the most famous Croatian sculptor, made some of his greatest work in the Brač stone, including the mesmerising Mausoleum of the Račić Family in Cavtat, Croatia. I wrote an article on that masterpiece of Art Deco from 1922.
In fact, Croatian limestone WAS INDEED used to build some famous monuments. For example, Canadian sculptor, Walter Seymour Allward, carefully selected Croatian limestone for the project of Canadian National Vimy Memorial.
Pay attention to the REASONS WHY he chose Croatian limestone:
Allward had initially hoped to use white marble for the memorial’s facing stone, but Percy Nobbs suggested this would be a mistake because marble was unlikely to weather well in northern France and the memorial would have a “ghost like” appearance.
Allward undertook a tour of almost two years to find stone of the right colour, texture, and luminosity. He found it in the ruins of Diocletian’s Palace at Split, Croatia; he observed that the palace had not weathered over the years, which Allward took as evidence of the stone’s durability. His choice—Seget limestone—came from an ancient Roman quarry located near Seget, Croatia.
The difficulties with the quarrying process, coupled with complicated transportation logistics, delayed delivery of the limestone and thus construction of the memorial.The first shipment did not arrive at the site until 1927, and the larger blocks, intended for the human figures, did not begin to arrive until 1931.Wikipedia
Croatian Limestone As The Perfect Souvenir
Apart from the air, sun and the Adriatic Sea, THE STONE is the most obvious feature of many parts of Croatia, especially its coastline.
Ancient roofs, medieval cities, impressive ramparts, terraced gardens, dry walls, fascinating works of art – they’re all made of the ubiquitous limestone.
Although found everywhere, the limestone was nevertheless a precious commodity. For example, in order to fortify the city walls in the time of the Ottoman conquests, the Dubrovnik Republic required a special tax IN STONE of every visitor:
“Die X Martii 1462. Captum fuit de dando libertatem officialibus murorum quod possint angarizare homines venientes in civitatem per portam Plociarum ad portandum de petris pro fabrica murorum prout melius ipsis officialibus videbitur non distruendno macerias nec aliter faciendo damnum.”
“On March 10, 1462 it was decreed to allow the wall officials to require of every person entering the city (of Dubrovnik) at Ploče gate to bring a stone that is to be used for the construction of the city walls, making sure that they do not destroy dry walls or make other damage”.Dubrovnik City Archives
Where To Get It
When you engage in a search for an authentic piece of Croatian limestone, by all means keep in mind the old Dubrovnik decree: “Do not destroy dry wall or make any other damage”.
Choosing an attractive pebble from the beach is an obvious option. Only make sure that you don’t break any law (for example, in some parts of Italy it is illegal to collect beach sand).
However, I don’t know of similar laws in Croatia (except in national parks). Quite the contrary, local people freely use those pebbles to decorate their walls, gardens and pathways.
Being careful not to cause any damage, look for bits of stone that are naturally chipped off .
Cliff sides are especially a generous source of authentic souvenirs.
Remember, it is YOU who will infuse an inanimate object with memories and emotions, thereby making it into a valuable souvenir.
Locating an abandoned quarry is a jackpot if you’re looking for precious Croatian limestone.
These quarries are more common than you think.
For example, the small island of Vrnik just outside of Korčula was packed with quarries.
You can visit the Kava beach on the island of Čiovo, close to Split, or go to the Kamen Mali beach in Cavtat (shown here on the photo), in the Dubrovnik region.