The Lincoln Memorial may be one of Washington, D.C.’s most-visited sites, but Lincoln buffs should venture a few miles off the mall to Lincoln’s Cottage, the Gothic revival house located on the grounds of the Armed Forces Retirement Home. In Lincoln’s time, the area around the White House was apparently humid and swampy, so the cottage location offered Lincoln and family a refuge and respite from the swamp and stresses of Civil War Washington, particularly during the warmer months.
A group of friends and I visited Lincoln’s Cottage in January 2011. As recommended, we bought tickets online, so we checked in at the Visitor’s Center for an audio/video presentation before the tour. We first sat on benches facing a map on the wall, but quickly had to do a 180 because the “film” was projected on the window shades behind us (please note, we were NOT the first visitors in the room). I don’t know if they still do it that way, but I am sure the guides and guards got plenty of laughs watching visitors face the wrong way, then scramble to turn around.
After the “film,” our guide arrived and humbly prefaced our tour with fact there are thousands of books about Lincoln and he had only read a fraction of those. I am sure he got lots of Lincoln connoisseurs who could come up with some pretty obscure questions and facts!
One highlight of the visit was the statue of Lincoln with his favorite horse Old Bob. Lincoln apparently left Old Bob in Springfield, but sculptors used photos of Old Bob as the model. Other sources say Lincoln had a horse in Washington named “Old Abe” or “Old Robin.” Whatever the horse’s name, I actually never thought about Lincoln riding a horse, but he spent much of his childhood on the frontier in Indiana, so of course he knew how to ride a horse.
Back in Washington, Lincoln rode his horse or rode in an open carriage on his daily commute from the cottage to the White House. Knowing what we do about Lincoln’s assassination, you can see why this seems like a bad a idea, and there are reports of attempted assassination when a bullet went through Lincoln’s hat. Many people at the time apparently cautioned Lincoln about riding so openly through the streets of Washington. (Poet Walt Whitman was one person who remarked about frequently seeing Lincoln riding to and from the White House. That guy is everywhere around this time period. We also encountered Whitman connected to Poe in Baltimore).
You have to take the tour to see inside Lincoln’s Cottage and you can’t take pictures inside. The house did not have much furniture, and it’s always interesting to see how historic homes try to compensate for the lack of furnishings. This tour featured some short films, audio presentations and readings in attempt to bring “history to life.”
During the tour, we picked up some fun tidbits, such as the fact that Lincoln ate a hardboiled egg for breakfast nearly every day. We also got to see Lincoln’s library and bedroom and a reproduction of the desk where he worked on the Emancipation Proclamation.
After the tour, we posed for pictures with Abe and Old Bob before exploring the interesting exhibitions in the Visitor’s Center. There was one display where get could get a picture with your face in Lincoln’s hat (at the time, they emailed it to you). I thought I lost this picture, but recently found it. I think I look rather stern. You also get to pick which background you want.
Here’s a picture of the Visitor’s Center where you will start your visit. You’ll also find the all-important bathrooms and gift shop there. On the right, you can see the rounded room and shaded windows where we watched the opening “film.”
Lincoln’s Cottage opened to the public in 2008 after a major restoration. The National Trust for Historic Preservation now manages the house. While it’s not one of Washington’s most popular attractions, it will definitely be popular for folks looking to learn more about Lincoln’s years in Washington. Plus who wouldn’t want a picture with Lincoln and Old Bob?
Visit the “On the Map” page for more information on visiting Lincoln’s Cottage, including details on admission and amenities.