With cabin fever setting in due to our 5 day snowcation, the Engstrom clan decided to head to President Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldiers’ Home to get a little history lesson on our 16th president. Lincoln’s Cottage was the Camp David of his day and was actually used by 5 different presidents as a “summer retreat” even though it is just 3 short miles away from the White House. The Lincoln family spent the most amount of time here at the cottage and you learn during the tour why the quiet and tranquil location of the retreat was so important in guiding the President’s important Civil War decisions.
There are two distinct parts to visiting the cottage, The Robert H. Smith Visitor Education Center and the cottage itself. The Visitor Center is a great resource and should not be missed. There is no fee to browse the exhibits and gift shop and you can easily spend an hour here even with kids in tow. There are two short films, “view finder” type toys for kids to use, and a room full of computers to research information on President Lincoln. My second and third graders particularly liked the film titled, “Lincoln’s Commute” about how he would ride to and from the White House to the cottage each day on horseback. The gift shop has a great variety of picture books about Abraham Lincoln and many toys for kids. The Visitor Center is open Monday through Saturday from 9:30am to 4:30pm and Sundays from 10:30am to 4:30pm.
In order to access the cottage itself you must purchase tickets for a tour. Tour tickets are $15 for adults and $5 for children and there is almost always a Groupon or Living Social deal running for 2 for 1 adult admission. Active duty military receive a discounted tour price of $12.50. Tickets for tours can be reserved ahead of time (online or by phone) and it is highly recommended to do so on weekends. While the tour takes place in the cottage it is focused on the Lincoln Presidency more than the structure itself. There is very little furniture in the home. Tours begin at 10am Monday through Saturday and at 11am on Sunday. The last tour of the day is always held at 3pm.
Our cottage tour had 6 kids ranging from 4 to 15. Older children (third grade and up), with a little knowledge of President Lincoln seemed to get the most out of the visit. The tour is led by a tour guide with the use of a tablet for both sound clips and video clips displayed in different rooms of the home. They do a nice job keeping things interesting and interactive but on the whole it is a predominately auditory experience. My kids were most interested in seeing the life size statue of Lincoln and his horse “Old Bob” on the grounds of the cottage.
Girl Scout Brownies and Juniors can purchase a special $8 ticket to the cottage tour which includes an activity booklet and a special badge upon completion of the packet.
President Lincoln’s Cottage is available for field trips, private events and even birthday parties for kids ages 5 and up. The gift shop sells snacks and drinks and there is a nice picnic area in a gazebo out front. The grounds of the cottage are stunning and it is easy to imagine why this spot located a mere 3 miles from the White House would have been a place of retreat and reflection for a war time president. Visit this “hidden gem” included in Washingtonian Magazine’s recent 2014 list for a great history lesson with the family!
Photo courtesy of Kim Engstrom.