President Abraham Lincoln spent the final four years of his life in the Nation’s Capital. During his time here, he left a lasting imprint—on buildings where he lived and worked, and at the theater where he was shot. Today, you can visit these sites that preserve the memory and ideals of this American hero.
Start your tour at Fords Theatre, the infamous site of Lincoln’s assassination. John Wilkes Booth, an actor, shot Lincoln in the head while the President and First Lady were seated in the Presidential box. There’s a museum below the theater that explains how Booth and the conspirators planned the murder. Across the street is The Peterson House where Lincoln died. If you have time, visit the Aftermath Exhibits at the Center For Education and Leadership attached to the Peterson House to learn what the impact of Lincoln’s death had on the country and his legacy of leadership ever since. The National Park Service has created an important tribute to his legacy here.
Leave the museum and head left (south) on 10th Street, NW. Turn right on E Street, NW, which becomes Pennsylvania Avenue at 13th Street, and then continue walking past Freedom Plaza to the Willard Intercontinental Hotel. Lincoln and his family stayed here prior to his first inauguration, and the hotel’s History Gallery displays Lincoln’s hotel bill.
Willard Intercontinental Hotel – Lincoln and his family stayed at the Willard for 10 days prior to his first inauguration. It was said during his presidency that the Willard was more the capital of Washington and the Union, than the White House or the Capitol. Lincoln used the hotel to conduct official business. He and the outgoing President Buchanan rode from here together to the Capitol on the way to Lincoln’s inauguration and returned afterward for the Presidential Luncheon. The present building stands on the original site Lincoln knew. While you’re here, stop in the northeast entrance to see a copy of Lincoln’s bill for $773. 75 he paid with his first paycheck as President. (Washington.intercontinental.com) 1401 Pennsylvania Ave. Washington DC 20004.
Leave the hotel toward 15th St, and go north on 15th St. for six blocks. You’ll pass the US Treasury on your left, and the White House Gift Shop on your right, where you can stop to buy some Lincoln memorabilia. After McPherson Sq., 15 St. NW merges with Vermont Avenue. Continue across K St. on Vermont Ave. one and a half blocks to Lincoln Restaurant. Go north on 14th Street for six blocks. You’ll pass the White House Gift Shop on your right side, where you can buy some Lincoln memorabilia, then continue north past Franklin Square on your right, to make a left on L St. NW, then make a right on Vermont Ave., walk a few feet to 1110 Vermont Ave. (.6 miles) This themed restaurant honors the 16th president with tables and floors embedded with more than 1 million Lincoln pennies. Lincoln-fans can order his favorite foods—oysters, gingerbread, and chicken fricassee.
Walk south on Vermont Ave for three blocks, passing through the middle of McPherson Square, named for one of Lincoln’s Generals during the Civil War, to enter Lafayette Park. In the last two centuries Lafayette Square has been used as a zoo, slave market, and soldiers’ encampment, and is now a pedestrian-only National Park in front of The White House. Make a slight left onto 15th Street heading south. Walk three blocks, and turn right in front of the Treasury Department on Pennsylvania Ave; this road is blocked off to cars.
Lincoln moved into The White House after his inauguration on Monday, March 4, 1861. While he lived here, his beloved son Willie died. His wife Mary Todd Lincoln renovated and redecorated the “shabby” house when she moved in. A second floor bedroom is named The Lincoln Bedroom, though he never slept here, rather it was his office. The White House Museum states that there are been ghostly sightings in this room. To escape the constant flow of visitors and swampy heat, President Lincoln regularly rode his horse to the Lincoln Cottage (via the same route you just walked on Vermont Ave). Lincoln’s youngest son Tad kept his pet goats on the White House lawn, by a statue of Thomas Jefferson. You can’t enter the White House without a pre-arranged appointment but you can visit the White House Visitor Center where you can learn a lot about White House history and the families who lived there.
Pass by the North Lawn of The White House and the Executive Office Building, to walk south (left) on 17th Street, NW. You’ll walk three long blocks past the Executive Office Building on your left and the American Red Cross building and DAR Constitution Hall on your right. Turn right on Constitution Avenue. You’re at the National Mall. When you arrive at the National Mall on Constitution Ave, enter the grounds of Constitution Gardens, near the World War II Memorial, to meander along shady paths. You’ll see the Vietnam Veterans Memorial as you walk toward the Reflecting Pool at the base of the massive marble Lincoln Memorial
.The Lincoln Memorial – The 16th President of the United States is “enshrined in this temple, as in the hearts of people for whom he saved the Union;” the words written above the statue of President Abraham Lincoln sitting immortalized in marble. This neoclassical temple, despite its majestic trappings, was designed to remind people, that a man of humble beginnings could lead a country through its most challenging times. At the top of the stairs, between the white pillars, Lincoln’s statue faces forward toward inspiring views of the Washington Monument and Reflecting Pool. His words are engraved into the walls. The Gettysburg Address, Lincoln’s famous speech, written in 1863 after one of the bloodiest battles of the American Civil War, is preserved in its entirety. On the opposite wall, Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Address, delivered March 4, 1865, asked the nation to reunite at the conclusion of the war; was written only a month before his assassination.
If you’re lucky enough to arrive in the evening, when the lights on the National Mall illuminate these stunning vistas, sit and rest awhile to reflect on Lincoln’s achievements, and how thanks to him, the United States remain united and slavery was abolished in the United States of America.
Optional Detour: The Lincoln Cottage at the Soldier’s Home –You can visit the Lincoln Cottage at the Soldier’s Home a few miles from downtown Washington (it requires either a metro or bus ride, because it’s too far to walk from this area but it’s totally worth seeing). This Gothic-Revival style cottage offered the Lincoln family an escape from the oppressively hot summers at The White House. It was in this house that President Lincoln developed the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln’s time at the Cottage served as bookends for Civil War — he first visited the grounds three days after his first inauguration and last rode out to the site the day before his assassination. While living at the Cottage for 13 months from June-November of 1862-1864, Lincoln regularly commuted to the White House. The Cottage is on the grounds of the Armed Forces Retirement Home, a facility for retired service personnel since the end of the Civil War. There’s a small museum and visitors center where you’ll start your tour of the Cottage with a knowledgeable guide who will share stories of Lincoln’s time here. There’s also an impressive view of the Capitol Dome from the top of the hill. (Lincolncottage.org) 140 Rock Creek Road, NW Washington DC 20001
All images are my originals. Please ask before using them.