10 Facts about the Cottage Architecture

By Erin Carlson Mast

This is the 2nd installment of “100 Things to Know about President Lincoln’s Cottage.”  Today’s list focuses on architectural history.  The previous list of 10 addressed basic information about the site.
1. The Cottage is an authentic historic home with an incredible wealth of surviving fabric.  Visitors get to walk the rooms, touch the banister, and peer through the very same windows that Lincoln knew.
2. The Cottage was built between 1842-1843 for George Washington Riggs, who then sold his estate to the federal government in 1851.
3. John Skirving was the architect of the Cottage along with William Degges.
4. Two sections (eastern on the far left and western to the far right of the image below) of the Cottage were added for G. W. Riggs after the main section was built, with the western addition added last around 1848.
5. The south porch (veranda) was extended by the Soldiers’ Home around the early 1870s, later fell into disrepair, and was restored to its Civil War era appearance as part of the restoration of the Cottage by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
6. President Lincoln’s Cottage is in the Gothic Revival style (see A.J. Downing’s Cottage Residences, 1842).  The word “cottage” here being a reference to the style more so than the size.
7. Features of Gothic Revival architecture exhibited by the Cottage include decorative barge boards (gingerbread trim), diamond-shaped window panes, asymmetrical layout, a stuccoed facade, and peaks and finials along the roof line (see image below).
8. The Cottage has basement, first, second, and attic levels with a total of 34 rooms including hallways, though the Lincolns seem to have used a fraction of those rooms while occupying it as a seasonal residence.
9. The stucco on the facade of the Cottage is called “pebble-dash.”  “Pebble” refers to the river rock that give the mixture its texture and “dash” to the process of thrusting the mixture onto the structure.
10. The chimney pots (terracotta pots on top of the chimneys, see image above) were replicated based on a photo of the Cottage in Mary Todd Lincoln’s family photo album.  Chimney pots are used to improve draft.
Ms. Mast is the Curator at President Lincoln’s Cottage.
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