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Staycation: Lincoln’s Cottage

December 16, 2011

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President Lincoln had a lot of famous residences. The White House (obviously), his first married home in Springfield, Ill., and his log cabin birthplace.

One home I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t know about was right here in DC: President Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldiers’ Home.

Solders’ Home was one of those vague neighborhoods I’d heard about, but had no idea where it was or what was there. It turns out that the Solders’ Home — now known as the Armed Forces Retirement Home — is a retirement community for veterans and disabled servicemen and women. In Lincoln’s time, the building was commissioned as a place of convalescence for wounded Civil War soldiers, and a sprawling graveyard behind the building, reminiscent of Arlington National Cemetery, attests to that war’s toll.

When I first walked up to Solders’ Home, I was amazed that this gorgeous building — like a soaring cathedral — existed in the city, yet I’d never viisted.

While the Armed Forces Retirement Home is government-run, Lincoln’s Cottage is run by a private non-profit who, in a brilliant stroke of marketing, offered a Groupon to the cottage. People like me, who never even knew this home was in Washington much less had paid the admission fee, snapped up tickets.

And so, less than four miles from the White House, thousands of visitors are now seeing Lincoln’s ‘country’ home.

In the days before urban sprawl, the journey from cottage to White House took Lincoln about 35 minutes on horseback — the joke is that it takes the same amount of time today by car thanks to Washington’s traffic. (For any curious Washingtonians, he took present-day Georgia Ave.) On his daily commute, Lincoln liked talking to average citizens to get their opinions on current events; Walt Whitman said they exchanged cordial nods.

Summer is the worst time to be in Washington and the Lincolns escaped the heat at the cottage, which got breezes thanks to a higher elevation. Our guide said that in the 1860s, you could see the entire downtown Washington from the cottage (today, trees and buildings block the view).

Inside the house — where you’re not allowed to take photos — there’s not much to see. The house underwent extensive renovation and finally reopened to the public in 2008. So unlike other presidents’ homes, you’re not visiting Lincoln’s Cottage to see authentic furniture and period costumes.

Lincoln’s cottage, instead, is about the stories. Stories of the war, stories of slavery, stories of Lincoln’s friends and visitors. It’s like an hour-long history class, one which I thought was very interesting. (I can see how little kids would get restless, though; there are definitely no battle reenactments or re-enactors dressed in period garb.)

Visiting Lincoln’s Cottage should be a must-do if you live here in DC and want to see a new-to-you historic site. It’s also great for Civil War buffs. Plus, you’re just a mile from Qualia Coffee so leave time to stop by for a latte…


2 Comments leave one →
  1. emgusk permalink
    December 19, 2011 10:47 am

    Even better than coffee, you’re across the street from delicious soul food:


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