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How Do You Preserve Yet Green an Historic Place?

Posted by Christina B. Farnsworth

Nov 25, 2014 11:22:00 AM

Robert H Smith visitor center

How do you preserve yet green up an historic place? The Robert H. Smith Visitor Education Center for Lincoln’s Cottage in Washington, D.C., offers visitors a “Self-Guided Eco-Tour” to show how the National Trust for Historic Preservation spearheaded efforts to bring an early nineteenth-century building into the 21st century.

The Center and President Lincoln’s Cottage (also called Anderson Cottage) are both on the grounds of the Soldiers’ Home, Washington, D.C. The visitor center is in a sustainably rehabilitated, 1905 Italianate Renaissance Revival style building originally designed by architect William Poindexter.

 natural light

In 2007, the National Trust for Historic Preservation began a sustainable rehabilitation to adapt it for use as a welcome center; it opened in February 2008.

The Robert H. Smith Visitor Education Center is the first National Trust for Historic Preservation Historic Site to receive Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. The Center received 44 credits (out of a possible 69), earning LEED Gold certification in April 2009.

"Thanks to a $1 million contribution and technical expertise provided by United Technologies Corporation, green practices became an integral part of the building’s rehab."

Abundant natural light floods the atrium, reducing the need for artificial light.

UV (ultraviolet) shades in the exhibit galleries let in natural light but not damaging UV rays. Carpeting, paints, adhesives and sealers are all low or no VOC (volatile organic compound). Lighting is energy efficient. A bike rack encourages those who might want to ride to the site. Native landscape reduced the need to irrigate with potable water. The project recycled by reusing 98 percent of the existing walls, roof and floors. Windows underwent “meticulous” restoration to preserve both history and conserve energy.

The setting is beautiful. Established in 1851, The Soldiers’ Home is one of America's oldest veterans' retirement homes. Four of the original buildings still stand and are listed as national historic landmarks. “Two of the buildings, Quarters 1 and Anderson Cottage, served as the summer White House for U.S. presidents -- Chester Arthur, Rutherford B. Hayes, James Buchanan and, most notably, Abraham Lincoln.”

 Lincoln Cottage

Lincoln lived at the Soldiers' Home during the Civil War, spending “one fourth of his presidency.” The war raged just across the Potomac, often in view of the White House, so the Anderson Cottage provided the president and his family a welcome refuge from which Lincoln commuted daily via horseback to the White House.

The Anderson Cottage, built 1842-43, was the home of famous D.C. banker George W. Riggs. The federal government bought the cottage and farm from Riggs to convert the site into the soldiers’ home in 1851 (Full disclosure, Mr. Riggs was a descendent of the Riggs who is said to have paid the passage of my own first Colonial Birchfield relative purported to have arrived in Baltimore in 1662. Birchfield paid off his passage as an indentured servant).

If you want to know more about the history of the 320-acre place and its buildings, click here. Suffice it to say that the buildings are old and did not meet today’s energy standards. Now they continue to be old, but are far more green.

From: President Lincoln Cottage, 140 Rock Creek Church Rd NW, Washington, DC 20011 To: The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20500

Learn more about the VISION House at Mariposa Meadows

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