The Lincoln Cottage

July 2008


If you’re planning on visiting Washington DC this summer, be sure to visit the newly opened Lincoln Cottage. The Cottage opened to the public on February 18, 2008, eight years after being proclaimed a National Monument by President Bill Clinton.


The house was built in the Gothic revival style in 1842–1843 for George Washington Riggs (of Riggs National Bank). In 1851, the 34-room home, surrounding structures, and hundreds of acres of grounds were designated as a secure and honorable place for retirement for homeless and disabled war veterans following the Mexican-American War. Today, the entire site is known as the United States Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home. Four of the original structures stand, including of course, the Lincoln Cottage.


Lincoln was one of the first commuting presidents, traveling the three miles between the White House and the Cottage on horseback each morning and each evening. That is, until he was shot at one night in August 1864. Lincoln pooh-poohed the apparent attack, claiming it was a stray hunter’s bullet that ripped a hole through the brim of his stovepipe hat. After that, he made the trip riding in a carriage with a military escort.


The Lincoln family resided at the Cottage from early summer to late autumn each year to escape the heat and dust of DC proper. Lincoln spent over one quarter of his presidency there, using the site as a retreat, sanctuary, and private office. Many late-night meetings which changed the course of history took place at the Cottage. Matthew Pinsker wrote the comprehensive book Lincoln’s Sanctuary in 2003, using letters and memoirs to construct a timeline of not only political meetings taking place at the Cottage but also of Lincoln as a family man, being a father to two young sons (and later only one) while leading the country during a time of war.


Much evidence supports that Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation while residing at the Cottage. Today, standing in the Emancipation room on the second floor is a reproduction of the drop-lid walnut paneled desk known to have been used by Lincoln both at the Cottage and the White House during the time he wrote the Emancipation Proclamation. The original desk stands today in the Lincoln bedroom of the White House.


Fellow Washington resident Walt Whitman would observe the president making his commute most mornings and exchange a cordial bow. Whitman recorded his observations of Lincoln’s melancholy nature and depth of thought in 1863, “…far beneath his smile I noticed well the expression…None of the artists or pictures has caught the deep, though subtle and indirect expression of this man’s face. There is something else there.” And indeed there was.