The Daily Commute

by Matt Ringelstetter

Commuting to work is one aspect of living in our nation’s capital that most residents can relate to—even the most prominent. During the summer months, Abraham Lincoln traveled daily from the Soldiers’ Home to the White House in the mornings, and back again during the evening hours. Waking up early, the President consumed a small meal of toast and eggs, and made it in to work around 8 a.m. While he most likely did not have to deal with the gridlock that is becoming infamous to our city, he did have to travel approximately three miles by horseback surrounded by a noisy Presidential guard—a bumpy and loud way to start the workday. Today, recreating Lincoln’s commute by car can be tricky, as a few of the streets have become one-way, and access near the White House has been cut off for years. By bike, however, one can easily follow the three mile route from Cottage to White House without any directional problems, and that is exactly what I did this morning.Leaving the Cottage and passing through the Eagle Gate, Lincoln turned left onto Rock Creek Church Road. During the nineteenth century, this was a winding dirt road that led to several area wartime hospitals. Living so close to these hospitals and the soldiers who were being admitted to them was a constant reminder to the effects of the war. Today, Rock Creek Church follows the tree lined perimeter of the Soldiers’ Home, and slopes gently downhill, offering a pleasant start to my bicycle ride—especially after riding uphill for a half hour in order to get to the Cottage.

Georgia Ave and Florida Ave

At the intersection of Rock Creek Church and the Seventh Street Turnpike (now Georgia Avenue) the President turned left and headed south towards the city. Along this road, Lincoln would have been greeted by farmers who were delivering fresh produce from their fields in Maryland to markets in downtown Washington, D.C. Today, Georgia Ave. is home to some of the most diverse and eclectic restaurants, shops and people one will find anywhere in the District. This area is also home to Howard University, the number one producer of African American PhD’s in the country. After traveling a mile and a half on the Seventh Street Turnpike, Lincoln and his party crossed Florida Avenue, and what was then the boundary line between Maryland and D.C.

Logan Circle

Another quarter of a mile down the road, the President reached Rhode Island Ave, where he turned his horse right towards Logan Circle, then known as Iowa Circle. It was in this area where the United States Army stationed its Contraband Camp headquarters. Here, escaped slaves received passes that ensured them Army protection. The whole concept of the camps is an extremely interesting one, as these were escaped slaves, but not yet entirely free. Today, Logan Circle is popular among humans and canines as a place to play catch and just generally relax during the warm summer days.

Vermont Ave. at Logan Circle

Turning south onto Vermont Ave. the President was getting closer to the heart of the city. It was at the corner of Vermont and L Street that the poet Walt Whitman lived during the Civil War. Whitman wrote about seeing the President every morning and that the two eventually came to bowing heads in acknowledgement. Today, the corners of Vermont and L are home to a Starbucks and an Au Bon Pain.After passing Walt, Lincoln and his guard reached Pennsylvania Avenue, and his place of employment—the White House. In total Lincoln had about a 30 minute commute, meaning the President probably spent less time getting to work than most D.C. residents today.

Mr. Matt Ringelstetter is a 2007 intern at President Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldiers’ Home

5 Comments

Filed under History, Visitor Tips

5 responses to “The Daily Commute

  1. As a DC resident and a cyclist – I enjoyed that ride. Thanks.

  2. Fascinating! Thanks for posting!

  3. Wow! That was very cool! Thanks for painting us a picture of another era and an old route traveled by an honorable man.

  4. David J McConville

    Great piece of history. I am going to print these directions and cycle the route this summer, if I can get back east. Looking forward to seeing the soldiers home, and riding in the steps of our greatest president.

  5. I’ve lived in DC for the better part of 13 years and I never knew about the cottage until now. I can’t wait to visit, and now I’m thinking I might even want to ride my bike up that way. Great post – thanks for sharing!

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