Monday, February 18, 2008

Presidents Day

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The fully restored former refuge of President Abraham Lincoln was brought back into the public view Monday during a Presidents Day ceremony.

The president spent some of the country's darkest hours in the home where he lived from June to November of 1862, 1863 and 1864.

The Civil War president ordered the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves in those states which had seceded the Union, during his time at the cottage in 1862.

On Monday it was buzzing with preservation enthusiasts.

"We think this is probably the most significant Lincoln site in the country because, aside from the White House, it's the only one that represents his presidency," said Richard Moe, President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which spearheaded the restoration effort.

The project took 10 years and cost $15 million. On the grounds of the Armed Forces Retirement Home about three miles from the city in northwestern Washington, D.C., the cottage sits on a hill overlooking the capital's downtown.

Lincoln and his family lived at the cottage during the warmer months of the year to escape the dust and heat of the low-lying capital. The president commuted back-and-forth from the cottage to the White House daily, often traveling alone on horseback, against the wishes of his advisers.

The president, who was shot by actor John Wilkes Booth at Ford's Theatre on April 14, 1865, and died the following day, survived an 1864 assassination attempt from a sniper on his lonely night-time route back to the cottage. Lincoln was not hit by the would-be assassin's bullets.

Lincoln and his family evacuated from the cottage in July 1864 during a Confederate attack on Fort Stevens, about a mile from the president's summer residence.

Presidents Rutherford B. Hayes and Chester A. Arthur also spent time at the cottage. Hayes stayed there during the summers of 1877 to 1880 and Arthur during the 1882 winter when the White House was under repair.

The cottage, which has been in continual service since 1851, has also served as a dormitory for the Soldiers' Home Band, an infirmary, a guest house, the first dormitory for women, a bar and lounge and most recently the AFRH public affairs office.

President Bill Clinton declared the Lincoln Cottage and 2.3 acres of surrounding land the President Lincoln and Soldiers' Home National Monument in 2000.

Monday's ceremony finished with a rousing rendition of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," and attendees were encouraged to roam through the two-story house at their leisure.

One significant find that has excited visitors is Lincoln's library, which was covered with 23 coats of paint. The paint was removed to reveal lines that were thought to be bookshelves during Lincoln's time.

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