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Willard's Hotel
© Abraham Lincoln Online

Abraham Lincoln
at the Willard Hotel

1401 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C.

Located only a few blocks from the White House, the Willard Hotel has welcomed many U.S. presidents, including Abraham Lincoln. The present building, completed in 1904, stands on the site of the original building which Lincoln knew.

In 1850 the hotel property came under the able management of the Willard brothers from Vermont. They redecorated and enlarged the building, helping to make it an influential meeting place for Washingtonians.

During the Civil War, author Nathaniel Hawthorne said Willard's "may be much more justly called the center of Washington and the Union than either the Capitol, the White House, or the State Department..."

The first known visit of Lincoln to Willard's came at the end of his single term in Congress. On January 27, 1849, he attended an evening meeting of subscribers to President Zachary Taylor's inaugural ball, where he was elected to the board of managers.

Lincoln became a hotel guest shortly before his first inauguration as president in 1861. He arrived abruptly on February 23 after an assassination plot in Baltimore changed his travel plans. He was joined soon after by his wife and sons, remaining until his inauguration on March 4.

Politician Thurlow Weed of New York talked Lincoln into staying at the hotel rather than in a rented house for the 10-day period. Weed himself reserved the best rooms available for the First Family (Parlor No. 6), a large, pricey corner suite on the second floor.

George B. Loring spotted Lincoln at Willard's before the crowds did. "I saw him on his arrival, and when he made his first appearance in a public place. I was standing in the upper hall of Willard's Hotel, conversing with a friend and listening to the confused talk of the crowded drawing-room adjoining. As we stood there, a tall and awkward form appeared above the stairs, especially conspicuous, as it came into view, for a new and stylish hat. It was evidently President Lincoln, whom neither of us had seen before. As soon as his presence was known, the hall was thronged from the drawing-rooms. He seemed somewhat startled by the crowd, did not remove his hat, wended his way somewhat rapidly and with mere passing recognition, and took shelter in his room."

During their stay, the Lincolns entertained a wide variety of visitors in their suite and the hotel's public rooms. Among the callers were all three defeated candidates from the 1860 presidential election: Stephen Douglas, John Bell, and John Breckinridge.

Lincoln also met members of the Peace Conference, which was being held at the hotel. Delegates from 21 of the 34 states had convened for most of the month of February, unsuccessfully trying to avoid civil war.

Willard's and the First Inauguration

Lincoln used his hotel stay to conduct official business, complete his Cabinet appointments, and make adjustments to the First Inaugural Address which he had written in Illinois. By the time the inauguration rolled around, the hotel overflowed with visitors, squeezing as many as 10 people into a room.

At noon on March 4, Lincoln left the hotel with outgoing President Buchanan to ride down Pennsylvania Avenue enroute the Capitol. According to hotel records, President Lincoln returned to the hotel after the inaugural ceremonies to watch the parade and enjoy his inaugural luncheon. The menu consisted of Mock Turtle Soup, Corned Beef and Cabbage, Parsley Potatoes and Blackberry Pie.

Later Visits by Lincoln and His Contemporaries

Because Willard's was a social and political hub, Lincoln probably stopped by a number of times while president. However, only a few can be verified: a visit with Mrs. Lincoln on July 6, 1861, to attend a concert by Meda Blanchard, and his review of troops with General Burnside on April 25, 1864.

In 1861 Willard's also hosted Julia Ward Howe, who wrote the words for The Battle Hymn of the Republic in her room early one morning. The diminutive General Tom Thumb and his bride, who visited the Lincolns at the White House, made a brief stay at Willard's in 1863. By 1864 General Ulysses S. Grant was a hotel guest; later, in his presidency, he frequented Willard's lobby where he coined the term "lobbyists."

The hotel maintains a small historical display in a hallway just inside the northeast entrance. Here you can see a copy of Lincoln's $773.75 hotel bill which he paid with his first paycheck as president.

If you are so inclined, you can dine at the "new" Willard Inter-Continental or make room reservations. The reservation phone number is 1-800-327-0200.

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