Historic Sites and Buildings
Known at various times as the United States Military Asylum and "Old Soldiers' Home" but officially designated today as the U.S. Soldiers' and Airmen's Home, the institution is primarily of importance as the only retirement domicile in the Nation for Regular Army and Air Force enlisted personnel, warrant officers, and disabled soldiers and airmen. Its origins, establishment by Congress in 1851, operation, financing, and evolution, as well as the building complex, are treated in other appropriate books in this series. Its pertinence to this volume, however, is the use of the original quarters"Corn Rigs," or Anderson Houseas a sort of early "Camp David," or Presidential retreat, by Buchanan, Lincoln, Hayes, and Arthur.
The soldiers' home opened on December 24, 1851, in a building on 17th Street NW., while the board of commissioners considered sites for a permanent location. That same year, they purchased from George W. Riggs, prominent Washington banker, his 200-acre estate near Rock Creek Church and an adjoining one of about 58 acres owned by Charles Scrivener. One of the highest points of land in the District of Columbia, its elevation is more than 300 feet.
In June 1852 the home's occupants moved into a house on the Riggs property that he had constructed in 1842-43. It was called "Corn Rigs" from the estate's cornfields and the Scottish word for a ridge or furrow. Later, the building was renamed Anderson House, or Cottage, after Gen. Robert Anderson, of Fort Sumter renown, to commemorate his early advocacy of and part in creating the soldiers' home, whose founder was Gen. Winfield Scott.
In 1857, when the new Main (present Sherman South) Building was completed, the veterans moved into it. Beginning in that year and intermittently until 1884, with the approval of hospital authorities, the following Presidents and their families utilized Anderson House as a summer home to escape the heat of downtown Washington: Buchanan (1857-60), Lincoln (1861-64), Hayes (1877-80), and Arthur (1882-84). Possibly Grant occasionally occupied the residence; and Garfield apparently planned to move in during the summer of 1881, but he was assassinated before he could do so.
Lincoln, enjoying the peace and seclusion afforded by the house, reached many critical decisions there about the conduct of the Civil War and wrote the second, or final, draft of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation (September 1862). Because of numerous threats to his life, a military guard escorted him back and forth to the White House. He was less cautious on July 12, 1864, when he became the only President to come under hostile fire while in office. On that occasion, he traveled 2 miles north from Anderson House to witness Gen. Jubal A. Early's attack on Fort Stevens, which culminated his 2-day thrust against Washington's defenses.
When Anderson House was vacant during the summer of 1866, the hospital of the soldiers' home was relocated there until the spring of 1876, when the Barnes Building, which houses the present hospital, was occupied. Beginning 10 years later and lasting for more than three decades, Anderson House served as quarters for the home's band members. From the early 1920's until the 1950's, the house reverted to its original use as a general barracks and until recently provided living quarters for women occupants. After they were switched into a dormitory in one of the new buildings in 1969, Anderson House was renovated and converted into a guesthouse and supervisors' lounge.
The building is a 2-1/2-story, brick structure in the Gothic style. In 1897 the walls were coated with gray stucco. Bargeboards decorate the ends of the gabled roof. A wide, five-bay, one-story porch, whose roof is surrounded by a wrought-iron railing, extends across the front of the residence. The center and two southwestern bays protrude from the other two bays. The steps lead up the side of the center bay, which is decorated with a triangular pediment. Extensive white-colored latticework covers much of the porch.
The rooms are large and the ceilings high. The interior remained unchanged from the time of President Lincoln until 1923, when small squad rooms were constructed to accommodate the occupants. When the women were residing there, a small elevator was constructed on the southwest corner of the building to handle those who were disabled. Anderson House is not accessible to the public.
Last Updated: 22-Jan-2004