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16th President of the United States, 1861-April 1865
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President Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldiers’ Home
U.S. Military Asylum; The Old Soldiers' Home
Washington, DC

Detail of the mural "View of the Soldiers' Home in Lincoln's Time"   by William Woodward, 2007
Detail of the mural
"View of the Soldiers' Home in Lincoln's Time"
by William Woodward, 2007
President Lincoln's Cottage

Four presidents of the United States escaped the heat and humidity of summer in Washington, DC at The Old Soldiers' Home on a hill three miles from the White House.  During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln spent June to November, 1862-1864 in a 34-room Gothic Revival "cottage" there.  He reportedly made his last visit to the house, on April 13, 1865, the day before his assassination.  He found cool breezes and quiet, but he brought his wartime responsibilities with him.  Lincoln was staying in this house when he wrote the final draft of the Emancipation Proclamation in September 1862.  Frederick Douglass, the famous African American abolitionist and writer, called the proclamation “the immortal paper, making slavery forever impossible in the United States."

Wealthy Washington, DC banker George Riggs completed the “Corn Rigs” cottage at his 250-acre summer retreat in 1842.  The irregular shape of the house, its many gables, latticed windows, and elaborate gingerbread trim mark it as Gothic Revival, a style considered particularly appropriate for country “cottages.”  In 1851, Riggs offered to sell his property to the United States Government, which was looking for a place to create a home for retired and disabled veterans of the United States Army.

Originally proposed in 1827, plans for a military asylum stalled until General Winfield Scott designated part of the money Mexico City paid to avoid invasion during the Mexican War for that purpose.  An army committee purchased the Corn Rigs estate in 1851 and opened the house to its new residents the same year.  By 1857, the retired soldiers moved into a large new stone Gothic building near the cottage.  The Old Soldiers' Home invited President Buchanan to make his summer residence on the grounds of the United States Military Asylum, and Buchanan spent a few weeks out of at least two summers there during his presidency.  By the beginning of the Civil War, there were four buildings on the grounds.

President Lincoln visited the Old Soldiers' Home three days after his first inauguration, presumably on the recommendation of President Buchanan.  He and his family occupied the house from between June and November in 1862, 1863, and 1864.  Each summer the White House staff transported some 19 cartloads of the Lincoln family's belongings to the cottage, though there is no record of exactly what they brought.  Located on one of the highest hills in the District of Columbia, the grounds offered solitude and respite from the swampy heat and wartime congestion of the capital.  In July 1862, Mary Lincoln wrote a friend, “We are truly delighted with this retreat . . . the drives and walks around here are delightful."

Abraham Lincoln Signing the Emancipation Proclamation
Abraham Lincoln Signing
the Emancipation Proclamation
J. Serz, 1864 print
Library of Congress

Lincoln did not escape the Civil War and his burden of leadership.  Every morning he rode to the White House to carry out official business, returning to the Old Soldiers' Home every evening.  The cavalry units that accompanied him with drawn swords and the hospitals, cemeteries, and camps for former slaves he passed on his route served as constant reminders of the war.  When Confederate General Jubal Early attacked Fort Stevens, on July 12, 1864, Lincoln brashly went to observe the battle, even though his family had been evacuated from the Old Soldiers' Home (about one mile from the battle) to the White House for the four days of the battle.  He became the only president ever to come under hostile fire while in office.  That same summer, one of John Wilkes Booth’s plots proposed kidnapping Lincoln along his commute, and a sniper attempted to assassinate him on his way to the cottage. 

Lincoln conducted the business of the war even at his retreat.  He met with political friends and enemies and discussed military strategy.  During his first summer at the cottage, he also formulated his thoughts about emancipation.  He prepared a draft of the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves in the Confederacy while living there.  Most of the war news during the summer of 1862 was bad, and he wanted to wait to make the announcement until after a Union victory.  On September 17, Union forces turned back a Confederate invasion of the North at the decisive and bloody battle of Antietam.  On September 22, while still living at the cottage, Lincoln published the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, announcing his intention of freeing all the slaves in the rebel states on January 1, 1863.

DCPS Third Graders visit
DCPS Third Graders visit
President Lincoln's Cottage, 2008
President Lincoln's Cottage

Lincoln was not the last president to take advantage of the healthy breezes at the cottage.  President Hayes spent the summers of 1877 to 1880 at the house. President Chester A. Arthur stayed there during renovations at the White House in the winter of 1882 and spent summers there as well.

The significance of President Lincoln’s cottage faded from memory after the mid-20th century, while the Old Soldier's Home continued to adapt the house for new uses.  In 2001, the Soldiers’ Home officially became the Washington Unit of the Armed Forces Retirement Home.  It is the nation’s only retirement community for Regular Army and Air Force enlisted personnel, warrant officers, and disabled soldiers and airmen.  The Secretary of the Interior designated the U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home, consisting of the cottage and the other three buildings constructed before the Civil War, as a National Historic Landmark in 1973.  President Clinton declared the President Lincoln and Soldiers’ Home (the cottage and 2.3 surrounding acres) a National Monument in 2000.  The National Trust for Historic Preservation began a thorough restoration of the cottage in 2001 and opened President Lincoln's Cottage to the public for the first time in history on President's Day in 2008.

Plan your visit

President Lincoln's Cottage, a part of the U.S. Military Asylum; The Old Soldiers’ Home (now called the Armed Forces Retirement Home), located at the intersection of Upshur Street and Rock Creek Church Road NW, Washington, DC, has been designated a National Historic Landmark.  Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation operates President Lincoln’s Cottage as a historic house museum. For more information, visit the President Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldiers’ Home website or call 202-829-0436, Ext. 31231. Tickets are required and advance purchase is strongly recommended.  An admission fee is charged.  Tours are offered daily, year round. All tours begin at the Robert H. Smith Visitor Education Center, adjacent to the cottage, which features related exhibits and media presentations.  The site is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. In order to protect the privacy of the 1,200 residents of the Armed Forces Retirement Home, access to President Lincoln's Cottage and its immediate grounds is by guided tour only.

President Lincoln's Cottage is the subject of an online lesson plan, President Lincoln's Cottage: A Retreat. The lesson plan has been produced by the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places program, which offers a series of online classroom-ready lesson plans on registered historic places. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places home page.

The U.S. Soldiers Home, Corn Rigs (President Lincoln’s Cottage) has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.

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