The Cottage Tour: A Unique Visitor Experience

By Leslie Bouterie

At President Lincoln’s Cottage, visitors are treated to a unique and engaging tour experience. To meet the expectations of the modern museum visitor for a personal, informative, and exciting visit when they tour a historic site, tour groups at President Lincoln’s Cottage are limited in size, and a multimedia, interactive interpretation approach is utilized by paid, professional tour guides, known as historical interpreters.

All tours begin in the Visitor Orientation Theater of the Robert H. Smith Visitor Education Center, where visitors are welcomed and view a brief introductory video. Afterwards, they are escorted to the Cottage. Visitors are pleasantly surprised to find that there are no velvet ropes or glass partitions barring entry to the original rooms, as there are in many other historic homes. Tour takers are invited to enter the rooms and to sit on period furniture (not original to the Lincolns), enabling them to easily imagine themselves as special guests of the Lincoln family in the authentic cottage.

During the tour, through the use of audio clips, visitors hear the words of Mary and Abraham Lincoln, of others who lived and who worked here, and of guests who visited. Visitors also view video images of many historical figures and events of the day which help them to place the stories in the context of the turbulent Civil War times. Some visitors are, at first, surprised by the presence of digital media in the Cottage.  This modern methodology, used only when it could enhance the experience, enables the historical interpreters to “bring the stories to life” with vivid descriptions of the family’s daily life at their country retreat and moving explanations of Abraham Lincoln’s personal and wartime challenges and the important work he accomplished while in residence.  The integration of modern technology with the expertise of dynamic tour guides brings a unique depth and richness to the visitors’ touring experience.

After taking the Cottage tour, enthusiastic visitors shared these comments (selected from visitor survey responses):

“This was a fantastic tour! Our tour guide was wonderful…and knowledgeable. I loved the combo of the guided tour and media (audio/visual) to give us the whole story.” – a visitor from Virginia

“Our tour guide was excellent and the multimedia support gave wonderful variety to the presentation. I am an educator and fully appreciated the impact of the presentation.” – a visitor from Maine

“I really enjoyed the “storytelling” aspects of the tour. Last week I had visited the White House and enjoyed the furnishings, but felt disappointed, like it wasn’t enough. Visiting the Lincoln Cottage was the opposite – few…furnishings, but a very interesting storytelling experience”. – a visitor from Washington, DC

“The use of a tour guide, video clips and audio segments worked extremely well. Our tour guide…was excellent- very knowledgeable and informative.” – a visitor from Virginia

The popularity of the multi-media tours of President Lincoln’s Cottage continues to bring many visitors, and even repeat visitors, to the site.  Meanwhile, constructive criticism received from our visitors is regularly reviewed by staff so that adjustments may be made when possible and when compatible with the President Lincoln’s Cottage mission.

Entrance to the Cottage is exclusively with a guided tour, and as the tours are limited in size  and availability, advance booking is highly recommended. Reservations may conveniently be made through Etix via a link from our website: http://www.lincolncottage.org/visit/tickets.htm or phone: 1-800-514-ETIX.  A limited number of walk-up tickets are available for purchase on-site the day of the tour. 

Ms. Bouterie is a Lead Interpreter and Private & Corporate Events coordinator at President Lincoln’s Cottage.

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Filed under Testimonials, Visitor Tips

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