The Dean House owes its name to the property owner of record during 1860, Abraham Lincoln’s final full year of residence in Springfield, Illinois, before he departed for Washington to assume the presidency early in 1861. Mrs. Harriet Dean held title to the property from 1849 until 1860, the year of her death, after which her son, Frederick Irwin Dean, inherited.
Like most other old houses in this neighborhood and others, the Dean House went through numerous changes in appearance over the course of its long history. The Dean House is situated on the north section of Lot 11 and the south section of Lot 12, Block 7, of the Elijah Iles Addition to Springfield. Developer Iles sold lots 10 and 11 to Dr. Gershom Jayne in May of 1837 for the sum of $750. He sold that lot to the Reverend Charles Dresser in April of 1839. Reverend Dresser, in turn, sold the lot, along with the modest house he would build on it,to Abraham Lincoln five years later. Although the future American president bought Dresser’s property as a residence for his young family, Lincoln also was an occasional land speculator in the growing Springfield community. Indeed, he purchased two lots immediately north of where the Dean House now stands in June of 1838.
Harriet Dean came to own Lot 11, and the residence that now bears her name, by purchase from Peter Van Bergen on March 17, 1849, only 10 days before her husband Frederick would depart Springfield for the lure and promise of wealth to be had in the California gold fields. A year after buying the lot, Mrs. Dean would also buy the south 20 ft of Lot 12, which lay to the north of her lot, from none other than Abraham Lincoln, who by that time resided in his house on the opposite side of Eighth Street.
Sometime between 1850 and 1854, she apparently built an addition on the north side of the original structure. During that same period, Mrs. Dean was widowed with the death of her husband, who had returned to Springfield from California apparently disappointed by his prospects late in the year 1850.
Mrs. Dean died on January 24, 1860, at the Illinois State Hospital for the Insane in nearby Jacksonville. She had been committed only three days earlier by petition of her son, Frederick Irwin Dean, who then inherited his mother’s property. He held ownership of the property for another 20 months, whereupon he sold the house and land in 1861.
The new owners, Matilda and Benjamin Richards, perhaps motivated by the effects of long-term neglect and deterioration, are believed to have been responsible for several remodeling episodes over the next decade that culminated in the structure’s modern form.
Today, the Dean House is one of several 19th-century residential structures within the neighborhood that the National Park Service now administers as Lincoln Home National Historic Site. Deeded to the National Park Service in 1978, the Dean House is located at 421 South 8th Street, across the street and a short distance northwest of the Lincoln Home. Prior to NPS acquisition the structure served as a private museum and gift shop with two apartments on the second floor.
Taken from: Archeological Investigations at the Harriet Dean House (11SG272), Lincoln Home National Historic Site, Springfield, Illinois
Did You Know?
Frederick Douglass said Lincoln was "the first great man that I talked with in the United States freely, who in no single instance reminded me of the difference between himself and myself, of the difference of color." Lincoln Home National Historic Site, Illinois