Beautiful, century-old buildings stand as testament to the rich history that makes up one of America’s oldest veterans’ retirement homes. The Soldiers’ Home was established in 1851 as an “asylum for old and disabled veterans.” Four of the original buildings still stand and are listed as national historic landmarks. Two of the buildings, Quarters 1 and the Lincoln Retreat, served as the summer White House for U.S. Presidents — Chester Arthur, Rutherford B. Hayes, James Buchanan, and most notably, Abraham Lincoln.
Lincoln lived at the Soldiers’ Home, in what is now called Lincoln Cottage, during our nation’s most turbulent history, the Civil War. Not only was it a break from the hot, humid city, but also from the intense political pressures of being president. In fact, Lincoln spent one-fourth of his presidency at Soldiers’ Home, and it is believed that Lincoln wrote the last draft of the Emancipation Proclamation. In 1865, Lincoln’s wife, Mary, wrote to her friend Elizabeth Blair Lee, “How dearly I loved the Soldiers’ Home.” The historic Lincoln Cottage was constructed in 1842-43 as the home of George W. Riggs, who went on to establish the famous Riggs National Bank in Washington, D.C. In 1851, the Riggs home and farm land surrounding it was purchased by the government to form the core of what is today the AFRH-Washington.
This Early Gothic Revival cottage served as the first quarters for the “inmates” of the “asylum.” They lived here for approximately five years, until they moved into the Scott (now called Sherman) dormitory to the east of Lincoln Retreat. This building also was the Home’s first hospital, guest house, and is where the women were housed when they were first admitted in 1954.
Congress finally approved a bill in 1851, following the Mexican War. In charge of American troops during the war, Scott now was considered an American hero. He returned with $150,000 that was paid to him by Mexico City, in lieu of ransacking. He paid off his troops, bought new supplies, and offered the remaining money to Congress to establish the Soldiers’ Home.
Since the Home’s beginning, operational funding came from the soldiers (and later, airmen) themselves. A permanent trust fund was established nearly 150 years ago, and was fed by monthly, active duty payroll deductions of 25 cents, when the average pay of a soldier was $7 a month. Fines and forfeitures from the armed forces and the monthly withholding have provided the principal support for the Home throughout its history.
In 1991, Congress incorporated the U.S. Naval Home in Gulfport, Miss., and U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home into an independent establishment in the Executive Branch of the Federal government known as the Armed Forces Retirement Home (AFRH). Each facility was maintained as a separate entity of the Retirement Home for administrative purposes.
In 2001, Congress renamed the U.S. Naval Home and the U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home the Armed Forces Retirement Home – Gulfport and the Armed Forces Retirement Home – Washington, respectively. (History from Armed Forces Retirement Home Website)