For a historical experience beyond the usual suspects, drive out to the city limits and tour President Lincoln’s Cottage. Opened to the public a few years back, it was Abe’s retreat. In fact, he drafted the Emancipation Proclamation within these walls.
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Lincoln's summer retreat
Abraham Lincoln's summer cottage in Petworth is far enough off the Washington tourist trail that a lot of locals don't even know how great it is.
Lincoln moved his family there each summer and commuted four miles to the White House by horseback or carriage. From the back porch, he could see the Capitol dome taking shape. Out the front door, the pre-Arlington national cemetery was filling up with Civil War caskets. And just as they do today, retired soldiers lived in dorms a few dozen feet to the east of the cottage.
The restored house opened to guided tours in 2008. The guides are young historians who make the place come alive. My favorite anecdote they shared was the briefest of interactions between Lincoln and Walt Whitman, who lived along the president's commute.
Whitman wrote: "I see very plainly Abraham Lincoln’s dark brown face, with the deep-cut lines, the eyes, always to me with a deep latent sadness in the expression. We have got so that we exchange bows, and very cordial ones. ...
"They passed me once very close, and I saw the President fully, as they were moving slowly, and his look, though abstracted, happened to be directed steadily in my eye. He bowed and smiled, but far below his smile I noticed well the expression I have alluded to. None of the artists or pictures has caught the deep, though subtle and indirect, expression of this man’s face. There is something else there."
Be sure to get a ticket in advance because the tours are small.