Ford's Theatre is best known as the site of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865 by John Wilkes Booth, a Confederate sympathizer and actor. Originally named Ford's New Theatre, Ford's was built by Baltimore theater entrepreneur John T. Ford on the site of the First Baptist Church. Built in 1833, the church had been abandoned in 1859, and Ford had converted the building into Ford's Atheneum in 1862, but the Atheneum had burned later that year.
Construction on the structure that still stands today began in 1863 with James J. Gifford serving as the builder and architect. It was modeled after the design of Baltimore's Holliday Street Theatre. Following Lincoln's assassination in 1865, Ford briefly retained the notion of continuing to use the building as a theatre, but outcry from the American public forced him to abandon the idea. The still-unfinished building was seized in July of 1865 by order of the Secretary of War, and its interior was torn out in August of 1865.
The building was subsequently converted into a three-story office building housing the Army Medical Museum and Surgeon General. Rather than being recognized for its historical significance, the building was used for a variety of government purposes over the course of several decades. In 1893, a section of the interior collapsed, killing 22 people, and alterations to the building, including the facade, followed in 1894.
After many years of serving as storage space, Ford's Theatre was transferred to the ownership of the National Park Service in 1931, and in 1967, the building was restored to its 1865 appearance. Currently, the building continues to stage plays and operate as a theatre, in addition to hosting a museum relating to the Lincoln assassination.
The National Historic Site also encompasses the Peterson House, located across the street, where Lincoln died the morning after he had been shot at Ford's Theatre. Purchased by the U.S. government in 1895, the Peterson House was also transferred to the National Park Service in 1931 and has since been restored to reflect its appearance at the time of Lincoln's death. It is open to the public as a historic house museum.
DC Inventory: November 8, 1964
DC Historic Site designation: June 19, 1973
National Register and National Historic Site designation: October 15, 1966 (documented January 21, 1982)