Great Western Depot
Three months after his election in November 1860, Abraham Lincoln left Springfield for Washington, D.C. to become the 16th President of the United States. The special train that would take him there left the Great Western Depot on the rainy morning of Monday, February 11, 1861, the last day Lincoln spent in Springfield. This is the story of that depot and the attempts to preserve it.
The Great Western Railroad constructed the Depot in 1852. Fire heavily damaged the small structure in 1857, thus requiring extensive remodeling. Although this photograph was taken in 1887, the Depot had probably undergone few changes since the day Lincoln departed from here in 1861.
In 1867, a variety of small railroads including the Great Western Railroad, merged to form the Toledo, Wabash, and Western Railroad, which later became the Wabash Railroad. A year later, the railroad moved its Springfield passenger operations to an elaborate station at Tenth and Washington Streets, which served until 1938. The Wabash then operated the Depot as a freight house and, since business increased significantly in the latter part of the nineteenth century, the Wabash added a second story in 1900. When the Wabash consolidated its operations in Decatur, Illinois, it sold the Depot. A variety of businesses used the building as a warehouse and storage space. Eventually, in the 1960s, a local group purchased the Depot with the intention of restoring it as a historic site.
Sangamon State University operated the Depot from 1977 to 1980, financing the operation through a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Copley Press, owners of the Depot, donated a matching amount through Copley Charities. In addition to renovating the building, the University developed a new interpretive theme and used the site as a training ground for history students in site management and interpretation. The evaporation of funding forced Sangamon State University to discontinue operations. Copley Press accepted the role as Depot operator by having it open to visitation during the months of June, July, and August. It soon became obvious that there was sufficient interest in the Depot to justify a longer schedule. In 1987, The State-Journal Register, the corporate descendant of the newspaper Abraham Lincoln termed "always my friend," and Lincoln Home National Historic Site entered into a cooperative agreement to operate the Depot.
Today the State Journal-Register continues to own and maintain the building, while National Park Service Rangers provide interpretation during the months of May through August. The Lincoln Depot, because of many individuals and organizations, survived the pressures of time so that today it remains part of the legacy of Abraham Lincoln in Springfield.
Did You Know?
Robert Lincoln was the only son of Abraham and Mary Lincoln to have children and grandchildren. He had two daughters and one son. The son died as a teenager. The great-grandchildren of Abraham Lincoln lived full lives, but had no descendants. Lincoln Home National Historic Site, Illinois