Historic Collections

Arlington House Rocking Chair
Rocking chair (Arlington House - The Robert E. Lee Memorial Collection)


The historic collections of the National Capital Region contain many treasures, from tiny figurines to historic furnishings. Millions of objects have been collected by the National Park Service to document the history of the Mid-Atlantic region over the past few centuries. These include the collections of many important historic sites such as: Antietam National Battlefield; the last home of Frederick Douglass, Cedar Hill; the oldest surviving building in Washington, D.C., the Old Stone House; and the house where Clara Barton spent the last fifteen years of her life and which also served as the early headquarters of the American Red Cross.

Out of the millions of objects in these collections, only a small percentage can be displayed on-site in the parks. The rest of the collections are housed at the Museum Resource Center (MRCE). MRCE provides safe, secure, and environmentally stable storage for these vast collections and offers opportunities for research on objects currently not on exhibit. The facility also supports parks during major phases of restoration, when many of the objects on exhibit or in storage are temporarily moved to the Center. Some objects within the historic collections of the National Capital Region are too large or too fragile to be on exhibit in the parks. These are kept in long-term storage at MRCE, where they can be given the proper care needed for their continued preservation.

Vase from Clara Barton Collection
Porcelain Vase (Clara Barton NHS Collection)

Some of the historic collections housed at MRCE include:

  • The collection from Ford's Theatre National Historic Site including a key to one of the cells housing a conspirator in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and other assassination related objects, bronze casts of Lincoln's hands that were made two days after he was nominated for the presidency, as well as life and death masks of the President;
  • The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park collection featuring equipment used in the building and operation of the canal including an ore cart, blacksmith's bellows, pulleys, ore crushing balls, and saws. In addition, MRCE houses a large collection of natural history specimens from the park including gold ore from a 19th-century played-out mine located in the park;
  • The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Collection which consists of more than 400,000 objects that have been left at the memorial since its dedication in 1982. The majority of the collection consists of small, personal remembrances such as notes, letters, and photographs, but larger objects are sometimes left including a custom-built motorcycle;
  • The Arlington House collection which features objects from when Robert E. Lee and his wife lived in the house such as beds, mirrors, and other pieces of their daily life including a large archeological collection documenting the history of the site from prehistoric times to the present;
  • The collection from Fort Washington Park which consists of many objects from the fort's history including flags, ammunition, weapons, and everyday items documenting the lives of ordinary soldiers such as pitchers, silverware, and buttons from clothing.

Last updated: February 4, 2015