Many of us have been to the Lincoln Memorial, but did you know Lincoln had a summer home here in D.C. too?
It’s true. This 175-year-old building just off North Capitol Street next to the Soldier’s Home was lovingly restored and opened to the public in 2008. The 10,000-square-foot, 34-room home is more spacious than one might expect in a “cottage.” But the double front doors with rounded tops that meet to form a point at the top and the gingerbread trim make you think fairies and gnomes might have once lived here.
In fact, George W. Riggs, founder of Riggs Bank, built the home in 1842, and sold the 256-acre property to the federal government in 1851.
President Abraham Lincoln spent all his summers as president here, partly to get away from the White House and partly to enjoy the cooler temperatures this higher-elevation property offered.
The cottage’s peaceful surroundings were even more bucolic when Lincoln lived there. The nearby water tower and visitors center were not yet built, and few trees dotted the landscape. In fact, from the back porch, Lincoln could see the Potomac.
His view from the front was more somber — the Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery. During the Civil War, the cemetery saw 30 to 40 burials per week. The president, plagued by insomnia, was said to wander the cemetery late at night, haunted by the mounting casualties of the war.
Also in his line of sight were the Capitol Building — sans dome — and half the Washington Monument. Work had been halted on both to funnel funds to the war effort.
The inside of the cottage is sparsely furnished with replica period pieces, and this is one of the reasons the National Historic Landmark’s operators like to call it a museum of ideas. The house’s fireplaces, walls, paneling, doors, windows and the glass inside the panes are the originals, however.
The approximate one-hour tour includes the dining room, drawing room, parlor, library and Lincoln’s bedroom. His bedroom did not have a bed in it, since he slept so little, and today holds a replica of the pigeonhole desk at which he wrote the Emancipation Proclamation.
The Lincoln Cottage, also a National Monument and a site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, runs a robust education program that targets children from pre-kindergarten all the way through high school. The gift shop sells not just the expected books and trinkets, but more unusual souvenirs like finger puppets of Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman. And of course: Lincoln Logs.
Lincoln Cottage, Eagle Gate at Rock Creek Church Road and Upshur Street NW; Hours: Monday – Saturday, Visitor Center 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., tours 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Sunday, Visitor Center 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., tours 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Tickets, $15 adults, $5 children; Free parking.