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Lincoln’s Cottage, Predecessor to Camp David, Reopens

Camp David, some 60 miles northwest of Washington, D.C., has been a presidential hideaway since 1942. But where did the commander in chief seek respite before that? Abraham Lincoln’s summer retreat was the Soldiers’ Home, which reopens to the public on February 19 following a $15 million restoration. The 34-room Gothic Revival structure, now known as President Lincoln’s Cottage, opened as a residence for retired and disabled veterans in 1851. Lincoln drafted an early version of the Emancipation Proclamation there and occasionally hosted Cabinet members and visiting dignitaries. Because the Soldiers’ Home was only three miles from downtown, Lincoln commuted to the White House daily. Presidents James Buchanan, Rutherford B. Hayes and Chester Arthur also made the Soldiers’ Home a seasonal getaway.

Madison’s Trash Is Treasure

Archaeologists have discovered a treasure trove of trash at James Madison’s house, Montpelier, in Orange, Va. An excavated garbage pile known as a midden contains discarded items ranging from rib bones to fine china. The study is significant because, unlike many of the other Founding Fathers, Madison left behind few clues into his personal life. Perhaps the most remarkable finds are several ornate porcelain plate fragments, which may have been part of a set Madison purchased from James Monroe and which once belonged to Marie Antoinette.

FDR Memorial Reconsidered

New York City leaders have renewed a 30-year campaign to erect a memorial to Franklin Roosevelt on the East River island that bears his name. The city has no official monument to the native New Yorker. While some proponents think the memorial would stop the building of luxury condos, a survey revealed that most island residents oppose the idea, in part because of its estimated $40 million price tag. There is also strong support for developing green space on the island. The concept for the FDR memorial was hatched in the early 1970s as a way to beautify the island and attract tourists. In 1973 city planners renamed the island after Roosevelt. It formerly was known as Welfare Island because of its many hospitals and correctional institutions.

Declaration Ownership Disputed

When Anna Plumstead died in 1994, her family found a copy of the Declaration of Independence tucked away in the attic of her Wiscasset, Maine, home. Printed in Salem, Mass., in 1776, it was one of the original versions distributed throughout the colony to announce America’s break away from England; at the time, Maine was part of Massachusetts. A Virginia collector eventually bought the document for $475,000, but now Maine wants it back, claiming that a public document always remains a public document. How did this original Declaration of Independence end up in Plumstead’s attic? According to Maine State Archivist David Cheever, a local minister gave it to the town of Wiscasset. Plumstead’s father—the town clerk—apparently stored it in his house, where it stayed hidden until 1994.

Black Civil War Naval Hero Honored

The U.S. Army commissioned the cargo transport USAV Maj. Gen. Robert Smalls (right) at a ceremony in Baltimore last fall. In 1862 Smalls (inset) was a slave onboard the Confederate troopship Planter when he commandeered the vessel and surrendered it to Union forces at Charleston Harbor. He went on to become the U.S. Navy’s first black captain in 1863. After the war, Smalls served five terms (1875-86) as a Republican congressman from South Carolina.


Originally published in the April 2008 issue of American History. To subscribe, click here