President Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldiers’ Home (Washington, DC)
While millions visit D.C. each year, many fail to realize how close they are to a wonderfully preserved site that is four miles northeast of the White House: President Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldiers’ Home.
In the summer of 1862, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln and his wife Mary were dealing with the stress of war, the loss of their son Willie, and the constant interruption of politicians, military personnel and everyday citizens stopping by the White House to get a moment of Lincoln’s time. Summers in Washington were guaranteed to be hot and humid, with people constantly becoming ill from the polluted Potomac River that many soldiers now camped in the city were using as a place to bathe or a public restroom. There was no time in the Lincoln’s lives for a vacation but they decided that they needed a place of sanctuary. The place they chose was the Old Soldiers’ Home, a 34-room Gothic revival “cottage” that was used by the previous President, James Buchanan, to also escape the Washington summers.
The tour begins at the visitor center, which contains displays on the history of the site and a short film. A tour guide will then take you through many rooms in the house, each which comes with a story about Lincoln that lends a lot of insight into what Lincoln was like outside of the White House and his interaction with family members, house staff and the soldiers that were on the property. Though there are only a few pieces of furniture in the home, the guides do a wonderful job explaining the use of each room. Unlike most home tours, visitors here are engaged; they are asked questions and are encouraged to give their opinions on the information provided while on the tour.
The home is open every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day (see their website for hours). TCWP recommends that you allow for 30 minutes (minimum) in the visitor center before taking the home tour. The tour lasts approximately an hour, after which you can then head back into the visitor center to continue to look at the displays or spend time in the gift shop. There is a fee for the tour. You can purchase tickets on site, or you can also buy them online so you can guarantee the day/time you want to attend. There are discounts for active military personnel and Girl Scouts; you can also become a member, which discounts the ticket cost by 50%.
Photography is allowed outside of the home, but is not allowed inside.
Because of the location, TCWP suggests planning your travel route ahead of time. The home is on a large multi-use property that has a single entrance on Randolph Street; there is parking on the property by the visitor center. There are also routes by rail an bus. For further instructions, please go to the website or call for more information.
This 34-room home served as the Lincoln’s getaway from the White House; it was close enough to Washington City to still conduct the business of running the country and fighting a war, but it was far enough away to give the family a bit of normalcy. At a time where happy moments were few, the Lincoln family seemed happiest here at the Soldiers’ Home. Visitors can tour the home and hear stories about the Lincolns’ time there, which included constant interactions with active and wounded Union soldiers that surrounded the property.
300 Randolph Street N.W.
Washington, DC 20011
Photography: The Civil War Project (March 2012)