By Jeffrey Larry, Preservation Manager
In 1985 renowned paint historian Matthew Mosca visited Lincoln’s Cottage, then known as Anderson Cottage, to assist the Soldier’s Home in identifying significant wall and trim finishes that could be dated to the Lincoln era of occupation. Among his many findings was evidence of decorative painting on the walls of the Cottage vestibule that appeared to imitate black walnut paneling. Mosca suggests in his report that the finishes in the vestibule may have been part of the “repairs, and refitting & furnishing” that Mary Lincoln requested and are listed in an 1864 invoice as totaling over $3000.00
The Soldiers Home however did not have the resources to follow up on this discovery and at some point the walls were covered with protective metal panels. Twenty two years would pass before the decorative painting was rediscovered when the metal panels were removed during the National Trust’s interior restoration of the Cottage.
Robert Lautman, 2000
The landscape surrounding President Lincoln’s Cottage is historically significant for its association with the life of the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. The Cottage is located on the campus of the Armed Forces Retirement Home (the AFRH—historically known by many names, including the Soldiers’ Home) in the northwest quadrant of Washington, District of Columbia.
The character of the landscape surrounding the Cottage is representative of its varied history. In 1842, the property was the rural, private estate of George W. Riggs. The Federal Government approved purchase of the land in 1851 for the foundation of a home to care for veterans, called the U.S. Military Asylum. The establishment of a military asylum on the grounds of the once private estate brought a shift in form and program to the landscape that continues to evolve today with the changing needs of the AFRH. Today, the 276 acre landscape features a mix of historic and modern buildings, rolling hills, wooded paths, and sweeping views of Washington, DC.
During the restoration of President Lincoln’s Cottage, archaeological testing was conducted to see what kinds of evidence were left behind by the Lincoln family and other residents of the Cottage. Through archaeology, the “trash” left behind by past peoples can be used to learn more about them. Archaeologists excavated shovel test pits (round, systematically dug holes) on the Cottage lawn and in and around the north driveway. Test units (1m x1m squares) were excavated in targeted areas along the north façade of the Cottage and in the driveway. Many of these targeted areas were chosen based on historic photographs and maps that showed evidence of other outbuildings around the Cottage.
Some of the test areas yielded few artifacts due to significant ground disturbances over the past century. But others contained a considerable number of artifacts, dating from before President Lincoln’s time at the Cottage to well after his presidency.
In cooperation with the Armed Forces Retirement Home, the National Trust for Historic Preservation continues to preserve and develop President Lincoln’s Cottage for the public.
The Preservation of the Cottage addresses conservation issues with an emphasis on interpretive objectives. This is the most significant historic site directly associated with Lincoln’s presidency, aside from the White House, and the only site in the country through which Lincoln’s presidency may be explored in the context of his terms in office.
The planning and scope of work for the preservation of President Lincoln’s Cottage was divided into distinct phases of investigative research, planning, and development.
The Preservation and restoration of the Cottage and rehabilitation of the Visitor Education Center has been fully documented with digital photographs, reports, and architectural design and as-built plans. An exterior restoration slideshow is available on site in the Robert H. Smith Visitor Education Center. An online photo-history of the 7-year restoration is in development.
The Exterior restoration of President Lincoln’s Cottage was completed in April 2005. The Cottage Exterior page gives an overview of this phase of the project.
Interior preservation of the Cottage and renovation of the Robert H. Smith Visitor Education Center were completed prior to opening the site in February 2008, with additional landscape work taking place in spring 2008.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation was able to preserve and develop President Lincoln’s Cottage with the generous support of public and private partners. For a list of supporters and information on how you can donate to the project, please click here.
We would like to give a big thanks to Penn Mutual for sponsoring our March 31st Preservation Day and for making it such a big success! Dozens of Penn Mutual volunteers took time out of their weekend to help with an array of projects including laying sod, planting, mulching, paving, waxing, and painting. Veterans of the Armed Forces Retirement Home were invited to watch the volunteers get their hands dirty. Additionally, the volunteers also prepared and distributed 250 gift bags to the veterans here at the home. Make sure to visit the Cottage soon to see the beautiful changes to the property!
In the meantime, take a look at these pictures showing these fabulous volunteers in action on our Facebook page!
Is your company, organization, or friends interested in sponsoring a preservation project at President’s Lincoln’s Cottage? Contact Sahand Miraminy at SMiraminy@savingplaces.org for more information!
Erin Carlson Mast, Director of President Lincoln’s Cottage, thanks the volunteers for their hard work.
From left to right: President Lincoln’s Cottage and Scott Building.
By Shira Gladstone
In 1851 George W. Riggs sold his 256 acre property, located 3 miles north of the White House in Washington, DC, to the federal government for around $57,000. It was there where the Military Asylum, as the Armed Forces Retirement Home (AFRH) was first known, was established that same year. While four U.S. presidents (Buchanan, Lincoln, Hayes, and Arthur) used the hilltop campus as a seasonal retreat, the primary purpose of the Home has always been to care for our nation’s veterans.
By Jeffrey Larry
Every so often a new discovery allows us to better understand not only what the Cottage looked like during Lincoln’s time but how it changed and looked at other times during its long architectural history. Recently we discovered a circa 1860 painted photograph of Janet Riggs, the wife of original owner George Riggs, standing in front of the north elevation of the Cottage. A digital copy of this photograph, from the Maryland Historical Society, will arrive in a few weeks so stay tuned for a future blog entry about this exciting new addition to our collection.
Another discovery, found during the interior restoration of 2007, was evidence of decorative painting, on the interior plaster walls of the vestibule that was made to look like walnut paneling.
By Scott Ackerman
In June 2010, I was fortunate enough to receive a scholarship from the Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT) to attend their annual conference, held this year in Lexington, Kentucky. The first day of the conference was devoted to a welcome lunch and panel discussion about Kentucky’s unique role in the Civil War. Panelists Ed Bearrs, Kent Masterson Brown, Richard McMurry, and Garry Adelman debated Kentucky’s role in shaping Union and Confederate military strategy, and Lincoln’s role in the treatment of Confederate partisans operating in Kentucky and Kentucky civilians came under particularly heavy scrutiny. Following the lecture panel, I decided to use some of my free time to walk around downtown Lexington, and visited Mary Todd Lincoln’s childhood home, the Lexington Historical Society, and the campus of the University of Kentucky. Continue reading
By Jeffrey Larry
The rehabilitation of the Robert H. Smith Visitor Education Center (VEC) at President Lincoln’s Cottage was completed in January, 2008. Though the deterioration of mortar joints on the building was mentioned in pre-construction proposals, no extensive repairs to mortar joints were undertaken. It was believed that repairs to roofing and flashing were sufficient in addressing areas of water infiltration. After approximately 1 year of service it became apparent that water continued to enter the building causing plaster damage and peeling paint.