Day 62, Saturday, September 15, 2018
President Lincoln and Soldier’s Home National Monument, Washington, D.C.
Visiting the Lincoln Cottage at the Soldier’s Home has been a dream of mine for years. The cottage first came to my attention when I read Lincoln’s Sanctuary, a book by Matthew Pinsker, in 2012. The book documents Lincoln’s use of the home during the summers and early falls of 1862-1864.
Lincoln was bereft after the death of his beloved son Willie in February 1862, of typhoid fever. So that summer, he and Mary moved to a cottage on the grounds of the Soldier’s Home, a retirement home for aged and infirm war veterans. Little did they know, it would be a respite for three summers, and would be where he undertook some of the most important decisions of his Presidency, including firing McClellan and drafting the now famous Emancipation Proclamation in the summer of 1862.
Lincoln’s cottage was only declared a National Monument on July 7, 2000, and opened to the public in 2008. It is still on an active military installation, known today as the Armed Forces Retirement Home, Washington. As a result of its fairly recent designation, many people, even Lincoln enthusiasts, have not heard of this important Presidential site. Interestingly, Presidents Buchanan, Hayes, and Arthur also used the home as a summer retreat during their Presidencies.
The home was built between 1842 and 1843, by George Washington Riggs, who later went on to found the Riggs National Bank. He sold the home and 251 acre property to the government in 1851, when they were looking to establish a home for veterans. Lincoln and his family fell in love with the relaxed atmosphere of the home. It was only three miles from the White House, and afforded the President a relatively easy commute on horseback. Tad made friends with the soldiers who lived there, and was accepted as their mascot of sorts.
Poet Walt Whitman lived along the route of Lincoln’s daily commute, and the two took to greeting each other with a bow each day as Lincoln rode by. And in a sad ending to his time at the home, the President and Mary were actually there before they took their last carriage ride to Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865.
As the cottage is on an active military installation, you have to go through a check point and show ID to get there. While you are onsite, you can only visit the cottage and its Visitor’s Center. There you can purchase tickets and view exhibits, mostly related to the drafting of the Emancipation Proclamation. Outside, there is a statue of Lincoln and his horse. Perfect for selfies!
But the cottage is the real star. Cottage is a bit misleading of a term, since it is actually a fairly large home. It is built in the Gothic Revival style, with ornate gingerbread and gables everywhere. So pretty!
The tour was fascinating, with the docent sharing stories of Lincoln entertaining people in the sitting room, late at night, in his pajamas and slippers. Or writing at the desk; the desk here is a replica of the desk that sits in the Lincoln Bedroom of the White House. The cottage is unfurnished, but you can imagine what it would have been like in Lincoln’s day. I am always in awe when I get to walk in the footsteps of such a great leader. My visit here was nothing short of incredible, and truly a bucket list item fulfilled.