Preservation Magazine, Winter 2021

President Lincoln's Cottage Receives a Grand, New Opening

The interior of the restored vestibule at Lincoln's Cottage.

photo by: Jeff Larry

Since 1842, the vestibule of President Lincoln’s Cottage in Washington, D.C., has served as the primary gateway to the summer retreat occupied by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. But until 2007—just before the National Trust Historic Site opened to the public—no one knew that the plaster vestibule walls were once covered in decorative paint meant to resemble wooden wainscoting.

The discovery of the paint after the removal of metal paneling sparked a 10-year, $125,000 restoration of the vestibule, completed in September. After installing a gutter system and taking other steps to prevent further water damage to the plaster, conservators determined that the decorative paint originally emulated walnut and white oak. Working with Jeff Larry, senior preservationist at the cottage, Jacintha Clark and Jeff Johnson of art conservation firm Johnson & Griffiths applied coats of paint, tinted Guinness beer, and varnish to mimic the wood. Larry also brought back the vestibule’s trim, moved the entry doors to their original spot and reconfigured them to swing inward, and replaced nonhistoric concrete flooring with reclaimed wood from an 1850s farmhouse.

“It’s been quite a journey over the past 10 years,” says Larry. “I’m proud we’ve been able to bring back something that Lincoln would have recognized and perhaps found solace passing through after a long day in the Capitol.”

Nicholas Som is a former assistant editor at Preservation magazine. He enjoys museums of all kinds, Philadelphia sports, and tracking down great restaurants.

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