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 lost his life. Visitors can tour the sites; some that stand today as memorials to his legacy. As you move from site to site, you’ll learn about the life and accomplishments of this Great American hero.
Let’s start at the Lincoln Cottage. This is a place where you will truly feel the essence and intellect of the man and the troubles he faced. You will see his desk, the yard where his children played and watch a film about his time here:
Directions: Enter the Soldier’s Home via Rock Creek Church Road entrance near Grant Circle in northwest Washington. It’s several miles to the Cottage from downtown Washington, so it’s best to take public transportation or a car. The Cottage is not far from the Georgia Ave./Petworth Metro station. Take the H8 bus from the Metro to the entrance of Soldier’s Home.
- The Lincoln Cottage at the Soldier’s Home – 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
The next stop is where his life ended, at Ford’s Theatre. The National Park Service has created an important tribute to his legacy here, in the museum below the theatre and across the street at the Center For Education and Leadership. You can also visit the house where he died. The National Park Service has done a fantastic job explaining the impact Lincoln had on future leaders in our country and around the world.
Leave the grounds, and walk south on Rock Creek Church Road to Quincy Street to the Metro (15 minute Walk) at the Georgia Ave./Petworth Metro Station, or take the H8 bus to the Metro. Board the Green or Yellow Line to Gallery Place/Chinatown, and Exit toward G Street NW. Walk two blocks west on G Street, NW to 10th Street, NW and turn left (south). Ford’s Theatre is on left (east) side of 10th Street.
- Fords Theatre, the Peterson House and the Center for Education and Leadership – This infamous theater is the site of Lincoln’s assassination. While watching a performance with wife Mary Todd Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth, an actor, shot Lincoln in the head while the President and First Lady were seated in the Presidential box. First, you’ll visit the museum below the theater, which explains how Booth and the Confederate-sympathizing conspirators planned the murder. After a presentation in the theater by a park ranger, you’ll cross the street to The Peterson House, to see the bedroom where Lincoln died. From there, you’ll enter the Center for Education and Leadership’s lobby with its breathtaking 34-foot tower made of books about Lincoln. There are four levels of this museum with exhibits that chart the moments after the assassination, and galleries that explain Lincoln’s lasting legacy. (fords.org) 511 10th St. NW, Washington DC 20004 202/347-4833
Leave the museum and head right (or 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 1401 Pennsylvania Avenue. (.4 miles)
Next stop is the Willard. It’s a grand hotel and you can feel the spirit of our forefathers in the nooks and crannies of this hotel. Lincoln and his family stayed here. Many US Presidents have, so check out the museum in the back of the lobby.
- 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.
As we walk toward Pennsylvania Avenue and it’s time to shop and a stop for lunch at the 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)
- Lincoln Restaurant – This Lincoln-themed restaurant has tables and floors embedded with more than 1 million Lincoln pennies. The wall décor was inspired by the Great Emancipator, and the white leather chairs resemble Lincoln’s seat at his memorial. Lincoln-fans will delight in this salute to the 16th US President, where they can order Lincoln’s favorite foods—oysters, gingerbread and chicken fricassee. Celebrate with the Gettysburg Address Signature Cocktail, Abe’s Moonshine, or a Lincoln sour. President Obama dined here after his second Inauguration. 202/386-9200 for reservations. (lincolnrestaurant-dc.com)
It’s time to visit the home where Lincoln once lived. Walk south on Vermont Ave, and 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. Enter Lafayette Park to see The White House.
- The White House – 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, the White House had an “open door policy” during the years of his presidency, and because of the swampy heat, President Lincoln regularly rode his horse to the Lincoln Cottage. Lincoln’s youngest son Tad kept his pet goats on the White House lawn, by a statue of Thomas Jefferson.
Leave Lafayette Park, and the North Lawn of The White House, to walk right or south on 15th Street, NW. You’ll walk three long blocks by the grounds of The White House on your right until you arrive at Constitution Avenue. Go left on Constitution Ave. for 1 and 1/2 blocks to the north entrance of the National Museum of American History where Mary Todd Lincoln’s dress is on display and there are several exhibits explaining the Civil War celebrating its Sesquicentennial this year.
National Museum of American History – Enter the building, and ask for directions to the exhibit The American Presidency A Glorious Burden, where they have a life mask of Lincoln’s face made in 1865, along with his gold watch on display. Other treasures owned by the Smithsonian are Lincoln’s top hat, shawl, office suit and campaign materials, but these artifacts may not be on display. In the First Ladies Gallery, you’ll find Mary Todd Lincoln’s mourning dress and silver tea set.
Walk out the south entrance of the museum, and go right (or west) on Madison Dr. NW. Stay on the National Mall. Go one block and enter the grounds of the Washington Monument. Walk up and over the hill toward the World War II Memorial, and continue past it to the Reflecting Pool in Constitution Gardens Park. Walk along the Reflecting Pool past the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Three Soldiers statue, toward the massive marble monument that resembles the Greek Parthenon, at the foot of the Pool. (2 miles). It’s our last stop now, and time to reflect at the Reflecting Pool and walk the impressive stairs of the 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.