Lincoln Home
Historic Furnishings Report
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The Lincoln house on 8th and Jackson Streets in Springfield was the only one Abraham Lincoln ever owned. Following their marriage on November 4, 1842, the Lincolns began housekeeping in rooms at the Globe Tavern. Other young couples in Springfield also had begun married life at the Globe, including two of Mary Todd's relatives, the John Todd Stuarts and the William Wallaces. In fact, the Lincolns moved into the same rooms which the Wallaces had occupied for three years. [1]

The Lincoln's first child, Robert Todd, was born at the Globe, August 1, 1843. Soon after the birth of their child the Lincolns moved. They spent the winter of 1843-1844 in a rented three-room cottage at 214 South Fourth Street while they looked for a house to buy. In January 1844, Lincoln began the transactions to buy the Reverend Henry Dresser's (the same Reverend Dresser who had performed the Lincoln's marriage ceremony) 8th Street home. In May of that year, the Lincolns completed negotiations, paying Dresser a total of $1,200 for the 8th Street house and one downtown lot and building valued at $300.

Between 1842 and 1861, Lincoln rose in stature from a local lawyer to a national political figure. During this period, his income also increased significantly. At the time the Lincolns purchased the 8th Street house, Lincoln's income from his law practice has been estimated as better than average for a Springfield resident. According to Harry E. Pratt, in his work on the personal finances of Lincoln between 1840 and 1850, Lincoln earned about $1,500 to $2,000 a year. [2] His income increased during the 1850s and in at least one year he earned more than $5,000. [3] A more recent study of Lincoln's legal career, by John Paul Frank, maintains that Lincoln may have earned even more during this time. Frank bases this belief on the large number of cases Lincoln handled -- many of which he believes should have earned Lincoln substantial fees. [4] By the 1850s, Lincoln was earning enough money from his law practice to supplement his income by loaning out small- to medium-sized sums to his friends and neighbors at 10 percent interest. [5]

Nonetheless when Lincoln purchased the 8th Street house, it must have represented a substantial initial investment for the recently married couple. The house was then a small story-and-a-half cottage. In 1856, the Lincolns decided to enlarge it. There are several possible explanations for the Lincolns' decision to make changes in their house at this time. They had three growing boys whose well-known mischievousness probably made the house seem small indeed. [6] Bob was 12, Willie, 5 (born December 21, 1850), and Tad, 3 (born April 4, 1853) at the time of the enlargement. Their other son Edward, born February 1, 1846, died ten months before Willie was born on December 21, 1850. The larger house also would help to increase Lincoln's social standing in the community and allow Mary to entertain their friends on a grander scale. [7]

The Lincolns made improvements on their house, although exactly what was done at this time is somewhat conjectural. The house was enlarged; four bedrooms at the rear of the house may have been added; and alterations may have been made to the two rooms on the north side of the first floor to create a double parlor, which could be separated into front and back parlors by closing folding doors. [8]

Before the renovations, the use of the second floor was probably reserved for bedrooms for the Lincoln family, with Mary and Abraham in one room and the boys in the other. One anecdote told in 1903 by Gibson Harris, Lincoln's law clerk during the years 1845 to 1847, suggests this arrangement:

Mr. Lincoln sometimes told at the office the sayings or doings of his children. One such account I remember as well as if I had heard it last week. He came in, an hour or so after dinner, smiling beyond even his wont and said he was lying down at home, having left his boots in the second-story hallway, when all at once he heard a tremendous clatter on the stairs. He jumped up, hurried to the head of the stairs, and looking down, saw Bob (Robert Todd Lincoln, aged three) getting up on all fours from the floor of the hallway below, unhurt but sadly bewildered. "The youngster had got into my boots," he said, "and in trying to walk around in them had fallen down-stairs. You ought to have seen him, Gibson -- he looked so comical with the bootlegs reaching clear up to his little body." [9]

On at least two occasions before 1856 relatives of the Lincolns made lengthy visits. Harriet Chapman, a cousin of Mr. Lincoln, was one of those who stayed for an extended visit; she arrived soon after they had moved into the 8th Street house and remained a year and a half. [10]

Another visitor to the Lincoln household was Emilie Todd, Mary's younger half-sister. Emilie spent six months with the Lincolns in 1854-1855 to get a taste of Springfield society. [11]

There is no evidence as to where Harriet Chapman or Emilie Todd stayed while visiting the Lincolns. After the 1856 addition, the room most likely given to guests was the second floor south front bedroom. Oral tradition supports this usage [12] and it seems reasonable to suppose that Mary Lincoln would have put her visitors in the best possible room. In 1859, a Miss Cochran visited the Lincoln home. On October 2 of that year, Mrs. Lincoln reported to her friend, Hannah Shearer, that "I have invited Miss Cochran and she is spending some weeks with me ...." [13]

Mary, as Harriet Chapman described her, liked "to put on style." [14] Moreover it was a common Victorian practice to close off those rooms reserved for company -- frequently the nicest in the house. Mrs. John I. Stuart reinforced this view with the comment that at the time the Lincolns enlarged their house, Mary Lincoln seldom used what she had solely for the family. [15]

There are no period sources that illuminate the use of the rooms on the second floor. Oral tradition places Mr. Lincoln in the north front bedroom, Mrs. Lincoln next to him on the north side with the two younger boys, Robert across the hall from Mrs. Lincoln, and the maid at the end of the hall on the north, which leaves one room at the end of the hall on the south side, now designated as the trunk room. [16] The first written references to the use of the second floor occur in A.L. Bowen's "A. Lincoln: His House," Lincoln Centennial Association Papers (Springfield, Illinois, 1925). According to Bowen, the boys slept in Mrs. Lincoln's bedroom. [17]

Early in 1857, Mr. Lincoln traded in a trundle bed for a "cottage bedstead." [18] A trundle bed is one which pulls out from beneath a larger bed. The presence of a trundle bed indicates that several people in the Lincoln household were sleeping in the same room, most logically the children. There was evidently room for a regular bed in place of a trundle bed, thereby indicating that the children were being given additional space.

There is evidence that the youngest child may have slept in his father's bed while the Lincoln family lived in the White House. According to John Hay, Lincoln's secretary at the White House, Tad always slept with his father. [19] This practice may have been continued from his earlier childhood in Springfield.

The earliest known set of architectural drawings of the Lincoln Home that designates room usage was made about 1888 when the house was given to the State. [20] On these plans, the second floor rooms are labeled as bedrooms, with those rooms facing 8th Street designated as "Front bedrooms" and the remaining rooms as "Rear bedrooms." The first written identification of the south rear bedroom as the trunk room dates to A.L. Bowen's article in 1925. [21] The first floor rooms, however, are labeled more clearly as living room, front parlor, back parlor, dining room, kitchen, south porch, pantry, and old porch.

Contemporary written and pictorial accounts of the Lincoln Home at the time of the Republican Convention Committee's visit to inform Lincoln of his nomination, confirms the usage of the first floor rooms suggested by the 1888 plans. One article describes the home as:

A large two-story wooden house, raised considerable above the level of the street, and dwarfing by its greater height and size, the adjoining buildings .... The door opens into a broad hall, with rooms upon either side. Mr. Lincoln, who had been apprized of our coming, stood at the back end of the double parlor on the left, in which was a bookcase filled with law books. [22]

An article in the New York Evening Post said:

I found Mr. Lincoln living in a handsome, but not pretentious, double-two story house, having a wide hall running throughout the centre, with parlors on both sides, neatly but not ostentatiously furnished .... [23]

Two other accounts state that the Committee gathered in the "large north parlor" where Lincoln stood in the east end of the room and after the Committee's presentation they then moved to the "south parlor" or the sitting room where Mrs. Lincoln had set up refreshments. [24]

In February 1867, a newspaper article was written by the Reverend Edwin S. Walker who had visited the Lincoln Home in the fall of 1866. His description included mention of the dining room and kitchen as used by the tenants of the home:

Through the center of the house, east and west, is a hall, on the left of which are two parlors connected by folding doors .... On the south side of the hall is a sitting room fronting westward and southward; in the rear of this also fronting southward is the dining room, and still further east are the kitchen and other rooms occupying the east wing. [25]

"Other rooms occupying the east wing" probably refers to the back porch and pantry.

On March 9, 1861, Frank Leslie's Illustrated Magazine contained sketches of three of the first floor rooms, the front and back parlors and sitting room, which clearly show that the parlors were the Lincolns' more formal reception rooms and the sitting room was the family living area. [26]

The family living area had to accommodate a family with three very active boys. The Lincolns were indulgent parents and many tales of the boys' pranks have survived. Mrs. Lincoln is reported to have once said about disciplining her children, "They never required it, a gentle loving word was all sufficient with them." [27]

And, in one of the few existing personal letters written by Mr. Lincoln, he wrote of Bob who was off to college:

Our eldest boy, Bob, had been away from us nearly a year at school, and will enter Harvard University this month. He promises very well, considering we never controlled him much. [28]

It seems likely that Lincoln, who was frequently away from home, probably did overindulge his children when he was with them. In later years, Robert commented:

My father's life was of a kind which gave me but little opportunity to learn the details of his early career. During my childhood and early youth, he was almost constantly away from home, attending courts or making political speeches. [29]

Family and neighbors' recollections show that Lincoln enjoyed his children and evidently spent as much time as he could with them. [30]

Family evenings at home included blind man's bluff, [31] chess, checkers, [32] and reading. [33] Lincoln spent much of his spare time reading and often read aloud. [34] Harriet Chapman also remembered Lincoln lying on the floor, leaning his back against an upturned chair, and reciting poetry. [35] Mary, too, was an avid reader and occasionally reviewed works for Lincoln. [36]

At the time of Emilie Todd's visit, Mary was reading the novels of Sir Walter Scott to her son Bob. Emilie recounted an amusing occasion on which Bob enacted a Scott drama: day hearing sounds of strife, we ran to the window. Bob and a playmate were having a royal battle. Bob, with his sturdy little legs wide apart, was wielding a fence paling in lieu of a lance and proclaiming in a loud voice, 'this rock shall fly from its firm base as soon as I.' Mary, bubbling with laughter, called out, 'Grammercy, brave Knights. Pray be more merciful than you are brawny.' [37]

Mary also spent time sewing. She was an accomplished seamstress and sewed for herself and the boys. [38] In one of her letters to Lincoln in Washington, she refers to the quantity of sewing required by the children. She wrote to him explaining why she desired to have a box of children's clothes sent to her, " takes so many changes to do children, particularly in summer, that I thought it might save me a few stitches." [39] During the Lincolns' last years in Springfield, however, Mary used a seamstress. [40]

In addition to the lively family, there is some evidence that the 8th Street house sheltered at least one pet. A few years after their removal to Washington, Lincoln's friend and barber, William Florville, remarked in a letter, "Tell Taddy that his (and Willys) dog is alive and kicking doing well...." [41] During their years in Springfield, the Lincolns probably had other pets as well. Lincoln was known to be fond of cats, [42] and Herndon once commented that the Lincoln house was overrun with pets. [43]

After the Lincolns moved into the house on 8th Street, they probably had hired help of some sort. With Lincoln away as much as he was, it seems unlikely he would have left Mary alone with the household chores and the baby. Mary also regularly suffered from bad headaches and help with the children would have been necessary at those times. [44] Harriet Hanks Chapman may have helped during the eighteen months she spent with the Lincolns; but, probably after the birth of the Lincolns' second child in 1846, they had a regular servant. Correspondence between the Lincolns, while he was sitting in Congress and she was visiting her family, show the concern he had both with her health and that she have help with the children. [45] He urged her to hire someone while she was in Kentucky. If he was concerned about her in Lexington where her family had household servants, it seems unlikely that she would have been left without help in Springfield during those early years.

In the 1850 Springfield Census, a hired girl, Catherine Gordon (age 18, born in Ireland), is listed as a member of the Lincoln household. [46] The 1855 census also lists one unidentified female between the ages of 10 and 20 as living in the Lincoln household. [47] Catherine was evidently one of a succession of Irish girls; for, Mary wrote to her sister in 1856 commenting on Irish servants:

If some of you Kentuckians, had to deal with the "Wild Irish," as we housekeepers are sometimes called upon to do, the South would certainly elect Mr. Fillmore next time. [48]

Herndon, in his biography of Lincoln, commented that Mary had difficulty keeping servants because of her "peculiar nature;" [49] however, most families had difficulties keeping hired help for any length of time. Population studies have shown that nineteenth century domestic workers in America were very transient.

There is evidence that Mary had at least one servant for several years. In a letter, written to Hannah Shearer on October 2, 1859, she remarked that "Mary, the same girl I had last winter, is still with me, a very faithful servant, has become as submissive as possible." [50]

"Mary" also may be the same "M. Johnson," a hired girl listed as residing in the Lincoln household in the 1860 Census. [51] In addition to M. Johnson, the 1860 Census listed a fourteen-year-old boy, Phillip Dinkell, as a member of the household. One neighborhood boy reminisced that Mr. Lincoln used to pay him five cents a night to stay in the house while he was away. [52] Staying overnight at the Lincolns' may have been one of Phillip's major duties. A Mrs. Dinkell, according to the Springfield City Directory, lived not far from the Lincolns and she may have been Phillip's mother. It seems likely, however, that Phillip also performed other chores. With Lincoln's political campaigning and the additional entertaining the Lincolns were doing in the years after they enlarged their house, they probably needed additional help. Up to that time, however, it seems they had only one servant. Emilie Todd recalled that just one girl helped Mary during her visit in 1854-1855. [53] Certainly while campaigning, Lincoln had little time for the chores he used to do when they first moved into the house.

Gustave Koerner remembered that at the time of the visit to the Lincoln home by the Republican nominating committee, a black man was helping Mrs. Lincoln set up refreshments and he referred to Lincoln as "Master." [54] He does not appear in any record, and it seems most probable that he was temporary help for the special occasion.

When the Lincolns moved to the White House, they took two servants with them from Springfield. Mary Lincoln wrote to her friend Mary Brayman in June 1861, commenting:

In New York, I procured an excellent dressing maid and seamstress, the girl Ellen, whom I brought from S -- is not expert with her needle, or does not understand arranging or dressing a lady. Yet she is the most reliable, truthful, kindhearted girl about children, I have ever known .... She is so kind I dislike to part with her, now as my boys, have grown too large, to require a nurse. We brought a man with us, who takes care of them, most of the time. [55]

The Lincolns easily entered into Springfield social life. Mary had mingled in the best society in her home town, Lexington, Kentucky, and when she went to live with her well-to-do sister, Mrs. Ninian Edwards in 1839, she was launched into Springfield Society. She became known as one of the town "belles." Lincoln was also a popular young man, well-known for his wit and entertaining stories. Mary, like her sister, attended the Presbyterian Church and probably attended some of the Presbyterian Church suppers, where Mrs. Edwards was famed for her chicken salad. [56] After the Lincolns' marriage, they annually rented a pew. Although Mr. Lincoln was not a church member, he often accompanied Mary.

Isaac Arnold, a friend of the Lincolns and a frequent visitor to Springfield, recalled "the dinners and evening parties given by Mrs. Lincoln." [57] He recounted:

In her modest and simple home, everything orderly and refined, there was always, on the part of both host and hostess, a cordial and hearty Western welcome, which put every guest perfectly at ease. Mrs. Lincoln's table was famed for the excellence of many rare Kentucky dishes, and in season, it was loaded with venison, wild turkey, prairie chickens, quail and other game, which was abundant. Yet it was her genial manners and ever kind welcome, and Mr. Lincoln's wit and humour, anecdotes and unrivalled conversation, which formed the chief attraction. [58]

On several occasions when Lincoln was unable to accompany his wife to social functions, his law clerk Gibson Harris, escorted her. Harris' recollections include a vivid description of Mary's personality:

As a frequent visitor I was made welcome at the Lincoln home, and on two different occasions, at the insistence of Mr. Lincoln, he being unable to attend, I became Mrs. Lincoln's escort to a ball where I danced with her. I always found her most pleasant-mannered. She was a bright, witty and accomplished young woman, naturally fond of fun and frolic, but very staid and proper when it was in order to be so. I was impressed with her brilliant conversational powers, and the superior education she constantly evinced. [59]

A letter written in November 1860 from the daughter of one of the Lincoln's friends, Ada Bailhache, to her mother, described both Lincolns:

I spent an evening at Mr. Lincoln's a few evenings since and had a very pleasant time. Mr. L. has not altered one bit -- he amused us nearly all the evening telling funny stories and cracking jokes .... Mrs. L. is just as agreeable as ever, does not put on any airs at all but is pleasant and talkative and entertaining as she can be .... [60]

Mrs. Lincoln's own correspondence provides several references to other evening parties. The following invitation to the wife of another Springfield lawyer was for an impromptu gathering at the Lincolns'. Mary wrote to Mary Brayman on a Saturday afternoon in 1857, "...we would be much pleased to have you, Mr. B -- and the young ladies come round, this eve about seven and pass a social evening also any friend you may have with you." [61] Another example of a small party at the Lincoln home may be found in Mrs. Lincoln's correspondence to Hannah Shearer in April 1859; she wrote, "Mr. Dubois' family and Mr. Hatch took tea with us a few evenings since ...." [62]

The Lincolns were particularly busy during Christmas, New Years, the first part of the year when the state legislature met, and in June during berry season. They were hosted by their friends and neighbors and periodically gave large entertainments themselves. The earliest evidence of large parties at the Lincoln home is a check written by Lincoln to W.W. Watson, confectioners, in December 1855. [63] Watson was famous for his macaroon pyramids, according to Caroline Owsley Brown, a pre-Civil War Springfield resident. She wrote:

Mr. Watson, the confectioner, way back in the forties, had gone to St. Louis to learn to make the famous macaroon pyramids, without which no party table was complete, each New Year's table bore one of these sticky monuments as its central adornment. [64]

Watson also advertised such items as, "Fresh Baltimore Oysters in cans, Hamburgh Cheese, W.R. Cheese, Pine Apple Cheese, Sardines, Zante Currants, Citron, Almonds, English Walnuts, Cranberries, Crackers, Assorted 100 Boxes Candies, Cove Oysters, Sultana Raisins, Belden's Sugars, Brazil Nuts, and Fireworks." [65]

Mr. Lincoln's check to Watson probably covered accumulated charges, including the famed macaroon pyramids. One recorded instance of Mrs. Lincoln's use of these confections is a recollection that after a party in 1861 she gave one to a neighbor who had just had a baby. [66]

On New Year's Day it was customary in Springfield for the residents to hold open house. On New Year's, in 1860, Mrs. Lincoln commented to her friend Hannah Shearer, "...tomorrow I must rise early, as it is receiving day ...." [67] custom and the need for arising early may be found in Mrs. A vivid description of this custom and the need for arising early may be found in Mrs. Brown's account:

As a child, I can remember the great hurry and flurry that stirred the household on this festive occasion, to get the parlors to a comfortable degree of temperature, for some early birds came about 9 o'clock, and they were generally quite old birds that should have known better ....

In this icy atmosphere egg-nogg was very tempting, and many a young gallant found it hard to stand upright about six P.M. At each house the caller was expected to eat oysters, chicken-salad, drink coffee, put down a saucer of ice-cream and cake, and nibble a few bonbons. Where the oranges came in I do not know, but this I can confirm, that with skins cut in fancy shapes, they were always present on the table, as well as raisins, almonds, and white grapes. The first oranges of the season came at Christmas and the New Year, and very seldom at any other time .... [68]

In February of 1857 and 1859, at which time the legislature was meeting, the Lincolns gave large parties. Ruth Painter Randall, in her biography of Mary Lincoln, described these parties as "political entertaining" by the Lincolns. [69] Mary Lincoln wrote to her sister Emilie Helm about the party she and Mr. Lincoln gave on February 5, 1857:

Within the last three weeks, there has been a party, almost every night and some two or three grand fetes, are coming off this week -- I may perhaps surprize you, when I mention that I am recovering from the slight fatigue of a very large and I really believe a very handsome and agreeable entertainment, at least our friends flatter us by saying so -- About 500 were invited yet owing to an unlucky rain, 300 only favored us by their presence .... [70]

For such large entertainments, Caroline Owsley recounted that it was customary to dismantle the beds to allow for more room. [71]

Lincoln, himself, took part in the preparations for this party; several of the extant invitations are in his hand. They read, "Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln will be pleased to see you Thursday evening February 5 at 8 o'clock." [72] Henry G. Little, one of the legislators who attended the party in February 1857, later remembered the food arrangement and a comment made to him by Mr. Lincoln:

A long table was stretched nearly the whole length of the room, while above the table was a succession of shelves growing narrower upward. On these shelves the edibles were placed, and the guests... were left to help themselves, the waiters serving only coffee. [73]

Lincoln joined Little before the table and asked jokingly, "Do they give you anything to eat here?" [74]

A different kind of party was given in June, during berry season. Mrs. Lincoln wrote to her friend Hannah Shearer in 1859 describing her recent activities:

For the last two weeks, we have had a continual round of strawberry parties, this last week I have spent five evenings out .... This last week, we gave a strawberry company of about seventy .... After raspberry time we will resume, doubtless our usual quiet .... [75]

John T. Stuart wrote to his daughter (June 2, 1856) describing one of these strawberry parties:

I was invited to Cousin Ann's today after Church to eat strawberries and ice cream. We had a fine dinner and plenty of cream and berries. Lincoln and Cousin Mary Mother and Myself and Dr. Wallace were there. [76]

The Springfield children occasionally had their own festivities to attend. In January 1856, the governor held a party at his new residence for the Springfield young people on the evening following a party he gave for their parents. John Stuart described the celebration (January 13, 1856) to his daughter:

The next evening all the small "folks" were invited .... The house was full of boys and girls. The gas was in full operation -- the band was in attendance -- all the rooms were thrown open, and all the children danced or at least hopped around. John [Stuart, Jr.] danced all evening in his way. Next day he and Bob Lincoln were hunting up the dancing master. [77]

Robert joined the Springfield Cadets, an organization of Springfield youth. [78] They practiced military drill, marched in parades, and attended evening parties given in their honor. On July 3, 1858, the Cadets placed a notice in the Illinois State Journal thanking one of their hosts:

The Springfield Cadets return their sincere thanks to Gen. John Cook for the elegant entertainment and other courtesies received at his residence... on Thursday evening .... [79]

Robert's younger brother, Willie, had a grand celebration, a combination birthday and going-away party, given December 21, 1860. "Willie's birthday came off on the 21st of December," Mrs. Lincoln wrote Hannah Shearer, "and as I had long promised him a celebration, it duly came off. Some 50 or 60 boys and girls attended the gala..." [80]

The Lincolns, themselves, held a final, grand going-away party, February 6, 1861, before moving into the Chenery House Hotel where they made their final arrangements for moving to Washington. A correspondent of the St Louis Missouri Democrat who attended the Lincolns' "levee," as it was called, reported:

It was a great outpouring of citizens and strangers, together with the members of the Legislature. Your humble servant was invited to attend. Mr. Lincoln threw open his house for a general reception of all the people who felt disposed to give him and his lady a parting call. The levee lasted from seven to twelve o'clock in the evening, and the house thronged by thousands up to a late hour. Mr. Lincoln received the guests as they entered and were made known. They then passed on, and were introduced to Mrs. Lincoln, who stood near the center of the parlors, and who, I must say, acquitted herself most gracefully and admirably. She was dressed plainly, but richly. She wore a beautiful, full train white moire antique silk, with a small French lace collar. Her neck was ornamented with a string of pearls. Her head dress was a simple and delicate vine arranged with much taste.

She displayed but little jewelry, and this was well and appropriately adjusted. She is a lady of fine figure and accomplished address, and is well calculated to grace and do honors at the White House. [81]

From these accounts of the daily life and entertaining of the Lincolns, it is apparent that they changed the small house on 8th Street into an acceptable house for substantial gatherings and for raising their active family. The evidence about the family's size, economic status, and social schedule also indicate that the house was a very lively, and quite lived-in structure while the Lincolns called it home.

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Last Updated: 08-Feb-2004