As any student and teacher eager for a mid-winter break can tell you, Presidents Day is a Federal Holiday to honor those who served in the office of President of the United States. Initially created as a Federal Holiday in 1879, specifically honoring George Washington, it wasn’t until 1971—with the Uniform Monday Holiday Act—that the day was moved from February 22 to the third Monday in February, and officially expanded to honor all U.S. Presidents.
Abraham Lincoln by Alexander Gardner at the Mead Art Museum, 1863. Matte collodion print, 1863. Image source: Mead Art Museum at Amherst College.
Somewhere between 1879 and the era of mattress liquidation sales, Lincoln—not only because of his February 12 birthday, but also because of his consistent popularity as one of the most heralded U.S. Presidents—became an unofficial face of Presidents Day.
George Washington Slept Here
With both the man (Washington) and the place (Annapolis) being central figures in the establishment of the United States, it makes sense that Washington tucked-in here more than a few times. Washington’s most notable visit was most certainly in 1783 when, on December 23, he resigned his commission to command the Continental Army in the Old Senate Chamber of the Maryland State House. During this visit he stayed several nights at Mann’s Tavern, which sat at the corner of Conduit and Main Streets. It was destroyed by fire in 1919.
McDowell Hall at St. John’s College where President Washington visited March 1791. Image courtesy of Visit Annapolis & Anne Arundel County
Not all visits were revolutionary in nature. Prior to the war, Washington was here to attend horse races, theatrical productions and various social engagements. In 1791, two years into his presidency, Washington returned to Annapolis for a final time, paying a visit to St. John’s College and addressing its “80 students of every description,” per his March 25 diary entry.
For his visit in the Spring of 1791, President George Washington stayed in George Mann’s residence. Image courtesy of Visit Annapolis & Anne Arundel County
Abraham Lincoln Slept There
Lincoln’s visit—necessitated by finding an alternate route to Fort Monroe, Virginia with the routine Potomac River route being blocked by ice—was strictly logistical. On February 2, 1865, en route to the peace-keeping Hampton Roads Conference, Lincoln and his aides arrived at the Annapolis and Elkridge Railroad depot adjacent to present day Level. From there, he and his understated entourage walked through town to the Naval Academy’s wharf and boarded the steamer Thomas Collyer. Returning February 4, a special train met the party, presumably whisking Lincoln back to the comfort of his very own bedroom in the White House.
A plaque near the site of Abraham Lincoln’s only visit to Annapolis. Image courtesy of Visit Annapolis & Anne Arundel County.
This coming Presidents Day, it is worth taking a bit of time to walk the routes—some of which align with still-cobbled streets—of two presidents who thoughtfully navigated our nation through unprecedented times.