Hot Town: Summer in the Nation’s Capital
by Erin Carlson Mast
On days in Washington when the heat index climbs to 100 and beyond, it’s easy to wonder, “Without AC and modern refrigeration, how did the Lincolns stay cool at the Soldiers’ Home?” In fact, the elevation of the Soldiers’ Home grounds and resulting cooler air and breezes are one of the reasons the Lincolns came here to live during the hot season. The Soldiers’ Home grounds are approximately 300 feet above sea level and the third highest area in Washington, DC. One nineteenth century report claimed it was 10 degrees cooler at the Soldier’s Home than in the city center.
In addition to location, the Cottage was also designed with many architectural features that allowed the occupants to regulate light and temperature. The front doors and back veranda jib doors can be flung open to allow for cross-ventilation. Intertior black-out and exterior louvred shutters control light–and therefore temperature–to varying degrees. Double-hung sashes allow the occupant to pull the top sash down to allow hot air to roll out of a room–a simple method of cooling that many people still use today. The veranda provides excellent shade and takes advantage of every breeze that passes by–and it’s easy to imagine Lincoln taking advantage of the veranda on a day like today.
Ms. Erin Mast is the curator at President Lincoln’s Cottage.