Petworth News: President Lincoln's Cottage draws strength from the Petworth community in a difficult time

(photo: Carol M. Highsmith)

(photo: Carol M. Highsmith)

President Lincoln’s Cottage closed to the public in mid-March and is not yet announcing a reopening date.  As easy as it was to make the decision to close — for the safety of the veterans who are our closest neighbors, for our team, and for the whole community — it’s hard to not be able to use the Cottage as a place for people to gather around a shared hope and purpose.

We miss our daily interactions like seeing the Petworth Cooperative Playgroup families and having conversations with folks from across the city and around the world about what we can learn from the past and our responsibility to fight for freedom and justice today. We also miss the unique and milestone events.

Two weeks before we closed, we hosted the President of Colombia for an NEH event on the cultural economy. A day or two before closing, a couple from the neighborhood was married here and had Timber Pizza cater the wedding. We love that. I cannot tell you how much we look forward to welcoming everyone back safely.

(photo: Barbara O Photography)

(photo: Barbara O Photography)

Abraham Lincoln chose to live here, in our part of the District, in a time of national crisis. This hilltop was considered a healthier location than the White House, but it was no retreat.  Lincoln was faced with the human cost of war every day.  Along his commute between the Cottage and the White House, he passed military hospitals, caravans of wounded soldiers, and refugee camps where formerly enslaved men, women, and children lived after fleeing to freedom in the District.

The historical record is full of accounts of Lincoln listening to their experiences firsthand.  The Cottage itself is only a couple of hundred yards from the predecessor of Arlington National Cemetery, the Soldiers’ Home cemetery, where over 8,000 soldiers were buried by the war’s end.  (photo: Bruce Guthrie)

(photo: Bruce Guthrie)

This is a community that comes together in ways big and small. We enjoy the celebratory moments for sure — coming together for Family Day, Bourbon & Bluegrass, and events like last year’s Opera in the Park with Petworth Arts Collaborative.  We have also seen this community come together in times of uncertainty.

I remember when we made a last-minute decision to stay open late the night after the last presidential election for an evening of reflection and conversation. Over 100 people — neighbors, families from Creative Minds, and a small group here for a retreat came out that rainy night to be together in the Cottage. It was powerful.

Bourbon & Bluegrass (photo: Lincoln’s Cottage)

Bourbon & Bluegrass (photo: Lincoln’s Cottage)

Our grand opening was in 2008. Being born into an economic downturn influenced our operation from the start. President Lincoln’s Cottage is the only National Monument in the country that receives no federal operating support. We are an independent, 501(c)3 public charity, responsible for preserving the historic buildings and landscape and serving the public 362 days a year. We are doing everything we can to keep our team of 18 people, eight of whom are hourly part-time, employed. That always surprises people who assume we are larger and federally funded. We responsibly have built up a rainy-day fund over the years, but that only takes us so far when our usual income from tours, store sales, and private events has dropped to zero.

Keeping the community safe is our top priority. We donated 100 Tyvek suits from a past project and more than 80 homemade masks to our neighbors at the Armed Forces Retirement Home serve as PPE for medical professionals who work there or to redistribute to the three adjacent hospitals.

In addition, we are focusing on critical preservation.and realigning the team around online programming and resources. In short order, we have developed new programming for families, students, teachers, and other professionals, including our weekly virtual Family Game Nights on Tuesdays.  We hope you can join us—we would love to see you.

And, if you are in a position to help, we’d appreciate your support.  We’re in this together.

Ed Note: Lincoln’s Cottage has continually been a friend of the neighborhood and of Petworth News. From local events like the amazing Bourbon & Bluegrass concerts to free community events, it’s a jewel of the neighborhood. If you can donate to help them through the Covid crisis, it supports your community as much as the Cottage. ~ Drew

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