Trying To Save Hallowed Ground

A 14-room hilltop cottage, three miles from the White House, is probably the most important unknown presidential residence in America, reports CBS News Correspondent Eric Engberg.

Called the Soldiers' Home, and later Anderson Cottage, it's a place preservationists hope can be restored and opened so students of the president who guided the nation through its greatest internal crisis can hear history whisper through the ancient corridors.

It was here that Abraham Lincoln spent his summers as he made the life and death decisions for a nation torn apart. Only a short ride from Pennsylvania Avenue, a president could sit under the old elm and think here. There was a breeze on the hill and the privacy lacking at the White House.

Lincoln's Words
An excerpt from the Emancipation Proclamation, signed September 22, 1962, effective January 1, 1863:

And by virtue of the power and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States and parts of States are, and henceforward shall be, free; and that the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.

And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defence; and I recommend to them that, in all case when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.

And I further declare and make known that such persons of suitable condition will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.

And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind and the gracious favor of Almighty God.

(Source: National Park Service)

"The White House at the time was open to the public. It was a public building," said Gary Scott, a historian with the National Park Service. "You could walk in and seek an appointment with the president. You could wander around the public rooms."

So this cottage became Lincoln's refuge—the Camp David of its time.

Lincolwould commute here daily on horseback, generally alone—until the day a would-be assassin shot off his stovepipe hat. Then, a cavalry escort was quickly added.

The cottage is now used as office space by the Soldiers' and Airmans' Home, a military retirement facility.

Recently, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named it one of the country's most endangered historic places, part of an effort to repair years of basement leaks and other damage with an eye to making it a Lincoln museum.

"Leaking radiator pipes in the 100-year-old heating system are damaging floors and interior woodwork that date to Lincoln's time," the Trust says. It's seeking donations to assist in saving the place.

Certainly, the place is rich in history. In the bedroom/office, Lincoln worked on the document that would free the slaves in the Confederate States—the Emancipation Proclamation. He did so knowing he was opposed by his own cabinet, because, he would later say, "I determined to wait no longer."

The home, where presidents Pierce, Buchanan, Grant, Hayes and Arthur also spent time, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1973. It was built in the early 1840s as a private home and bought by the government in 1851 as part of a 320-acre Soldiers' Home.

The Lincolns called the cottage itself the Soldiers' Home, but it was later renamed for Brevet Major Robert Anderson, who commanded Fort Sumter when the confederacy bombed it to start the Civil War.

Other sites listed as "endangered" by the Historic Trust include: the Dwight D. Eisenhower VA Medical Center in Leavenworth, Kans.; Pittsburgh's Fifth and Forbes Historic Retail Area and Valley Forge National Historic Park, both in Pennsylvania; Okeechobee Battlefield, a Florida site crucial in the Second Seminole War; Red Mountain Mining District in Colorado; California's Santa Anita Racetrack; A Native American school called Wheelock Academy in Oklahoma; the entire Hudson River Valley and all of Nantucket Island; and neighborhood schools across the country.