It is little known that for fully a quarter of his presidency, Abraham Lincoln didn’t live in the White House. He and his family chose to reside at a cottage on the grounds of a home for retired soldiers in northern Washington, D.C. At that time this was a rural area, and amid the pressure of the Civil War, their sorrow over losing their 12-year-old son Willie, and the fact that the White House was a wide-open bedlam where the President could be besieged by public petitioners at any time of day or night, the Lincolns found the quiet green oasis a place of peace and comfort. They slept there just days after their first inauguration, and on the night before the President was killed. Lincoln made some of his most momentous decisions there, including formulating the Emancipation Proclamation, and he read the Bible, poetry, and Shakespeare on its breezy porch. One historian described the Soldiers’ Home cottage as “The only place we are certain Lincoln was happy during his Presidency.”
After being largely forgotten for generations, the cottage was preserved and opened to the public by a private nonprofit, the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Funds were raised to restore the building and interpret it for visitors, with real-estate developer and philanthropist Robert Smith being the primary donor. United Technologies Corporation provided $1 million and technical expertise to help create the nearby visitor center. Matthew and Ellen Simmons, Save America’s Treasures, and many other foundations and individuals also contributed. Lincoln’s Cottage opened for fascinating public tours in 2008.
- President Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldiers’ Home, lincolncottage.org