In December 1851, the U.S. government purchased the Riggs estate, along with a neighboring estate, to serve as the site of the first permanent retirement home for enlisted soldiers. In 1852, retired military residents moved into the former Riggs cottage and it served as their residence until 1857, when the first new structure on the property, Scott Hall — now known as the Sherman South Building — was completed. That same year, General Scott invited President Buchanan to make the asylum his summer residence.
Historical records suggest that high-ranking military officers at the asylum were housed in the Riggs cottage, while President Buchanan stayed in Quarters 2. In a letter to his favorite niece in October 1857, Buchanan wrote that he slept much better at the asylum than at the White House. In 1859, the Army Appropriation Act changed the official name of the asylum to "The Soldiers' Home," and in 1862, the Soldiers' Home welcomed its most famous resident, President Abraham Lincoln, and his family. The Lincolns moved into the Riggs cottage in June of 1862 and lived there from late June or early July until late October or early November from 1862-1864. Lincoln was already making plans for his return to the cottage in the early spring of 1865 when he was assassinated.
After Lincoln's assassination in 1865, President Andrew Johnson was offered the use of the cottage. Johnson declined and the cottage was used as a hospital for the Soldiers' Home until 1876. In 1876, when it looked as though Congress would not adjourn for the summer, President Grant was offered the cottage and made initial arrangements to stay there, but Congress did adjourn and Grant went instead to his regular summer home at Long Branch on the Jersey shore. The cottage resumed its role as a presidential retreat when President Rutherford B. Hayes stayed there during the summer months from 1877 to 1881. President James A. Garfield had accepted an invitation to stay at the cottage in 1881, but he was assassinated before he had a chance to move in. His successor, President Chester A. Arthur, lived in the cottage during November and December of 1882, while the Executive Mansion was being restored. Arthur was the last president to stay at the Soldiers' Home.
So ended an extraordinary era in the history of the Monument. For twenty five years, this cottage at the Soldiers' Home had housed presidents and the countless high-ranking governmental officials and military officers who came to do business with them at their country retreat. The Soldiers' Home served as a kind of 19th century Camp David in our nation's history.
The first dormitory at the Soldier's Home evolved into a composite edifice of three buildings:
Scott Building (Sherman Building South): Built 1852-57 (Barton S. Alexander, architect); clock tower and third floor added in 1869 (Edward Clark, architect)
Annex: Built early 1880s
Sherman North: Built 1889-91
DC Inventory: November 8, 1964 (Joint Committee on Landmarks)
Original section within Soldiers’ Home National Historic Site (United States Military Asylum)