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Ford's Theatre
511 10th St. NW
Telephone: 202.347.4833 - Box Office
202.638.2368 - Group Rates
Hours: Open daily 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Closed December 25 and the theatre is closed to tours when rehearsals or matinees are in progress, usually Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday.

A History of Ford's Theatre and Petersen House

John T. Ford was an extremely successful theatrical entrepreneur from Baltimore, Md., where he managed the Holliday Street Theatre. In the fall of 1861, he decided to expand his operations to Washington, and upon his arrival in the city he leased the First Baptist Church. He immediately set about turning the church into a music hall, and only three days after signing the lease he opened with a 2 1/2-month run of the Christy Minstrels. This and subsequent productions proved financially rewarding, and Ford was poised for what looked like a long run of successes in the capital when fire destroyed the building on December 30, 1862. Undaunted, he raised money for new construction. The cornerstone was laid February 28, 1863, and the first performance in Ford's "New Theatre" took place August 27, 1863. From then until the theatre closed in the aftermath of Lincoln's assassination, 495 performances were staged. The success was generally attributed to Ford's dedication to quality in the construction of his new building, to the up-to-date equipment that he employed, to the first-rate actors whom he hired, and to the engaging productions that he mounted. The theatre was closed by the Federal Government during the investigation of the shooting and the trial of the conspirators. After their sentencing and hanging, Ford was given permission to reopen. Ford received threats that the building would be burned down, if he reopened it, and so once again the War Department closed it. In August 1865 the department started leasing the building from Ford and began its conversion into a three-story office building. Finally in 1866 the theatre was bought from Ford for $100,000 by the Federal Government.

Ford's Theatre in its Various Stages

The first building on this site was the First Baptist Church, sometimes called the Tenth Street Baptist Church. In 1861 the congregation leased it to John T. Ford who later bought it and turned it into a theatre. After the theatre was bought from Ford in 1866, it was used as office space by the Federal Government. On June 9, 1863, all three floors collapsed killing 22 workers and injuring 68. From then until 1931 the building was used for storage. On February 12, 1932, the Lincoln Museum opened on the first of the old Ford's Theatre building. One year later it was transferred to the National Park Service.

Renovation and Restoration

The Ford's Theatre that we know today is the result of two separate strands coming together. The first is the Lincoln Museum. Its initial collection of Lincoln items was assembled by Osborn Oldroyd and brought to Washington in 1893. The collection was purchased by the Federal Government in 1926 and was installed in Ford's Theatre in 1932. The museum focused attention on the structure and after World War II public interest developed in restoring the theatre to its 1865 appearance. Funds for research and an architectural study were approved in 1960. Four years later Congress approved the full restoration of the building. Responding to the research unearthed by architectural historians, the work proceeded slowly and carefully. The furnishings correspond to those that were in Ford's Theatre in 1865. The items in the Presidential box are reproductions of the original pieces except for the red damask sofa where Major Rathbone was sitting, which is original. The engraving of Washington is the one that hung on the front of the box the night of April 14, 1865. The restored theatre and the newly constructed museum opened to the public February 13, 1968.

The Living Theatre

Besides being a memorial to Abraham Lincoln, Ford's is also an active, legitimate theatre, putting on a full schedule of plays during the year. The Ford's Theatre Society is responsible for the theatrical productions, and over the years has turned Ford's into a center for contemporary American theatre. Its productions have looked at the wide range of American cultural and ethnic diversity and sought to produce the best examples from this diverse heritage. The Society has made Ford's Theatre a vibrant cultural force in the Nation's Capital -- a worthy heir to John T. Ford's legacy of quality productions. For box office information, call 202-347-4833; for group rates for plays, call 202-638-2368.

Ford's Theatre National Historic Site, which includes the theatre at 511 10th Street NW, and the House Where Lincoln Died at 516 10th Street, NW, is administered by the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. For more information, address inquiries to: Superintendent, National Capital Parks -- Central, 900 Ohio Drive, SW, Washington, DC 20242, or call TDD 202-426-1749 or 202-426-6924. The park is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., except December 25. The theatre is closed to tours, when rehearsals or matinees are in progress, generally held on Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday. However, the Lincoln Museum in the theatre's basement and the House Where Lincoln Died remain open. Food, drink, and beverages are not permitted within the buildings.

Text by the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior
© Copyright Thaddeus O. Cooper 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000