Sunday, February 23, 2014

President Lincoln's Cottage at the Soldier's Home

Around 1842, John Skirving designed a cottage that was built for George W. Riggs. The Gothic-Revival style home was built on a hill, overlooking downtown Washington. In 1851, the Federal Government purchased the estate to establish a home for veterans.

The cottage still exists on the grounds of the Armed Forces Retirement Home (AFRH) in northwest Washington, DC about three miles from the White House. The AFRH is an active federal retirement community for retired and disabled veterans with at least twenty years of service. In July 2000, Lincoln’s cottage was designated the President Lincoln and Soldiers’ Home National Monument. The newly opened National Monument is the most significant site related to Lincoln’s presidency other than the White House. The Cottage, operated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation through an agreement with the Armed Forces Retirement Home, opened to the public in 2008.

During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln lived in that cottage on the grounds of the Soldiers’ Home from June to November to escape the heat and distractions of life at the White House. The tranquil surroundings at the Soldiers’ Home provided refreshing breezes and relative privacy during Lincoln's difficult time as President. Even in this peaceful setting, Lincoln could not escape his wartime responsibilities and personal tragedies. President Lincoln developed the Emancipation Proclamation while living in a Gothic Revival Cottage at the Soldiers’ Home in Washington, DC. Lincoln’s first visited the grounds three days after his inauguration and last rode out to the site the day before his assassination. While living at the Cottage for thirteen months from June-November of 1862-1864, Lincoln regularly commuted to the White House.

The Lincoln's at the Cottage
Lincoln, his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, and their youngest son, Tad, lived in the cottage in the summer and early fall from 1862-1864. The President and his family moved from the White House to the cottage between mid-June and early July each year, and stayed until the cooler weather of early November. The yearly relocation was significant and servants transported some nineteen wagon loads of the family’s belongings, including toys, furniture, and clothing.

Lincoln and Allen
The Lincolns were remarkably accessible to the public while living at the Cottage and entertained both invited guests and unexpected visitors at nearly any time of the day or night. The President paid little heed to formality and was quite willing to sit and chat casually with anyone who dropped by. The President enjoyed reading, reciting, and discussing poetry, particularly when the subject seemed pertinent to current events. He took time to play with his son and read his favorite books, but he also used the Cottage as a quiet setting for important meetings, visits from well-wishers, and solitary reflection as he pondered decisions of profound national importance.

John Hay
On some summer evenings, President Lincoln indulged his curiosity about machines, gadgets, and scientific discoveries. One night in August 1863, President Lincoln and John Hay rode from the Soldiers’ Home to visit the U. S. Naval Observatory. Astronomer Asaph Hall showed them the moon and the star Arcturus through the Observatory’s largest telescope. On August 24, 1864, Lincoln and a group of government officials witnessed a demonstration in which Samuel Morse, an inventor best known for his role in the development of the telegraph and Morse Code, transmitted a signal from a tower at the Soldiers’ Home to the roof of the Smithsonian Institution.

Lincoln's Guards
Lincoln's friends worried that the President was in danger at the summer home. They feared that Lincoln was insufficiently protected from assassins or kidnappers at the Cottage. In spite of the danger, Lincoln was uncomfortable with the having personal escorts and guards. He declared that “it would never do for a president to have guards with drawn sabers at his door, as if he fancied he were, or were trying to be, or were assuming to be, an emperor.” Over his objections, Guards from Company K of the 150th Pennsylvania Volunteers were stationed at the Soldiers’ Home in 1862.  

During the months President Lincoln lived in the cottage at the Soldiers’ Home, he commuted every day to the White House. The President woke early in the morning, ate a frugal breakfast of toast and an egg, and rode into Washington by 8 a.m. By the end of the summer of 1862, Secretary of War Stanton forced Lincoln to accept a military escort of a cavalry officer and about twenty five to thirty additional men. The 11th New York Cavalry served as his escort in 1863. Later in the war, the Union Light Guard from Ohio, also known as the Black Horse Cavalry, guarded Lincoln on his commute. The President complained about his escorts, particularly because he thought they were noisy and possibly too inexperienced for their new duties. In August 1864, a sniper attempted to assassinate the President as he traveled by horseback to the Cottage alone late at night. Concerned by this and other threats to the President’s life in 1864, the War Department stepped up the President’s security force and required him to be escorted by a personal bodyguard at all times.

(Source: Lincoln's Cottage)


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