06 September 2013

President Lincoln's Cottage

Some friends had a Groupon to visit a historic site here in town that not many people know of. We arrived at the Soldiers' & Airmen's Home (now called the Armed Forces Retirement Home) in the northern section of Washington DC in time for our 3:00 tour of Lincoln's Cottage. In 1851, the private property that contained the gothic revival style cottage was purchased by the federal government.

The cottage was the first building on the property, and was once an assylum for old and disabled veterans (the Mexican War), then became more of a retirement home with additional buildings and dormitories constructed, most now over 100 years old. The funding for this first veteran's home mostly came from veterans themselves - not the federal government.

The cottage was a Camp David of the time, and Lincoln and Mary Todd were the first president and first lady to use it. Both wrote they liked the mountaintop retreat to get away from politicians, lobbyists, and the Washington summer heat.

During Lincoln's time, troops were stationed on the grounds, and a cemetery was visible burying the civil war dead. So Lincoln never escaped the war - he was always reminded of it in the front yard of his retreat.

Although not a well-known attraction for visitors, I was impressed at the history of the building. Equally impressive were some of the plants around the grounds - especially the large specimen trees that probably date back close to the property's origins.

A southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) must be over 30-feet high (9 m) at the back of the house. The porch held a view down the hill to Washington, the Potomac, and Virginia beyond. The darn trees are now big enough to block that view.

The Beauty Berry (Callicarpa americicana) can get up to 9-feet high (1 m). This one was probably 10-feet.

Instant hydrangeas were unnaturally packed into the circle near the entry walk in an area probably reserved for annuals. But someone forgot to take responsibility for watering them. Has anyone heard of hydrangeas being used for landscape mass plantings as bedding plants? What a shame.

For scale, a 6-foot high friend stands before a 50-foot high holly (15 m). I know not what type. American hollies do not grow that large to my knowledge. The white stone circular structure is an old water tower.

This tree interested the non-gardener friends on the tour, as it was nothing like anything seen before. We later found it is a Blue Atlas Cedar (Cedrus atlantica glauca) native to the Atlas mountains of Algeria. The upper center branches were a little thin, probably due to some heavy snowfall, as Wikipedia says the boughs are not known for their strength. Blue color, very short needles, and cones that resemble a bee's nest all called attention to it.

I save the saddest story for last. This was another tree the non-gardeners were interested in, because it was again unfamiliar. I knew it was a redwood, but not sure of much more. No one believed me. "A redwood in Washington DC?" Further investigation shows it as one of the three true redwood species on earth: a fast-growing Dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) native to China, and a 'critically endangered' species. Although fossil records were known, it was not 'discovered' living until the 1940's. Turns out that it is deciduous!

About 50-feet in height (15m) this one did not look happy and healthy. One of the older buildings is being renovated, and this tree falls just inside the construction area as delineated by the fence. I am sure soil compaction by construction materials and damage to trunk and lower branches by construction is helping it grow better, right?

Hope you enjoyed a trip through a different type of 'cottage' garden.


Les said...
I've heard about Lincoln's retreat on some restoration shows, and it looks like something I would want to see. Whenever I can, I try to push the Dawn Redwood onto people. I love that tree, especially because of its fascinating history.
mdcockermommy said...
I had not heard of this place and am embarrassed to say that since I'm a native Marylander of 50+ years and love history particularly the civil war era and Lincoln. I will have to explore this. Thanks for sharing!
Hartwood Roses said...
Thanks for reminding me about Lincoln's cottage! I was just in NW DC yesterday doing a program for a rose society. What a coincidence to find this post of yours today! (We live in a Gothic Revival house, and it was not a popular or prevalent style in our part of the country. Great to see this!!)