Civil War to Civil Rights
— Downtown Heritage Trail —
"The churches are needed as never before for divine services," President Abraham Lincoln
So said President Lincoln from his pew in New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. While other churches were occupied by the federal government for offices and hospitals during the Civil War, Lincoln insisted this church remain open for worship. The pastor, Dr. Phineas D. Gurley, was the president's spiritual guide through the war and during the fatal illness of Lincoln's young son, Willie, who on his deathbed left his small savings of $5 to the church.
President Lincoln regularly traveled the short distance from the White House to attend this church, a congregation founded by Presbyterian carpenters on the grounds of the White House in 1793. Lincoln's hitching post remains outside; his pew still stands in this somewhat enlarged, 1950s replica of the original church. President Lincoln also found solace in the church's midweek Bible classes. He sequestered himself in an adjacent room with the door ajar lest he disturb others with his presence.
A document in Lincoln's handwriting, proposing that the federal government end slavery by paying owners to free their slaves, is displayed in the church's Lincoln parlor. The plan was carried out only in Washington, D.C.
The church dominates an area now called Herald Square, named for the Washington Times-Herald
newspaper that once occupied the white building at 1307 New York Avenue. Here, publisher Eleanor Medill "Cissy" Patterson created the nation's first round-the-clock newspaper, becoming one of the most powerful women in the country. Socialite, businesswomen, and political activist, she was a dominant force in the city's political and social life until her death in 1948.
above and left
President Lincoln, seen here with his family in a portrait by William Sartain, attended New York Avenue Presbyterian Church regularly (National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; National Portrait Gallery) . Left, a version of the Emancipation Proclamation (Smithsonian Institution - Gift of Marvin Sadik).
New York Avenue Presbyterian Church as it looked when the Lincolns attended (National Archives). The president used the hitching post, left
, that remains on New York Avenue. (Richard Bush).
Eleanor Medill "Cissy" Patterson at her desk as publisher of the Times-Herald
for which this square is named (C. Bettmann /CORBISS).
headline, November 1940: "Roosevelt Wins!"] (The Washington Post Company.)