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Historical Background

Biographical Sketches

Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

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THE PRESIDENTS of the United States
Survey of
Historic Sites and Buildings

National Park Service Lincoln Home National Historic Site
Lincoln Home National Historic Site
Lincoln Home National Historic Site

Sangamon County, the area bounded by Capitol Avenue and Seventh, Edwards, and Ninth Streets, Springfield.

This national historic site preserves the only home Abraham Lincoln ever owned, as well as the surrounding 4 blocks, which contain several structures dating from his era. He lived in the residence for most of the period 1844-61, during which time he advanced from smalltown lawyer and local politician to President of the United States.

IN 1839 Rev. Charles Dresser, rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Springfield, erected a modest, 1-1/2-story, frame residence on the northeast corner of Eighth and Jackson Streets. Lincoln, who in 1837 had moved from New Salem to Springfield, designated the State capital that same year, and was living in rented quarters, purchased it in 1844, or 2 years after his marriage to Mary Todd and less than a year after the birth of his first son, Robert Todd. In the home, Mrs. Lincoln gave birth to three more sons, Edward, William, and Thomas; Edward died there in 1850 at the age of 4.

Lincoln Home National Historic Site
Lincoln Home National Historic Site. (National Park Service, Richard Frear, 1972.)

At the time he bought the house, Lincoln had already retired from the State legislature and was pursuing a thriving law practice. Party conflicts had caused him to give up politics for awhile, though he continued to harbor strong aspirations for public service. In 1846 he gained his first major political triumph when he won election to the U.S. House of Representatives. During the year's lapse before he was required to report to Washington, Lincoln decided to take his family with him. In October 1847 he leased out his home for a period of a year beginning on November 1.

By the time the Lincolns returned to Springfield the following October, between sessions of Congress, Lincoln had already decided not to make a bid for reelection. In December he departed once again for Washington, this time leaving his wife and children behind. Following the end of the session, in the spring of 1849, discouraged with politics, he came back to Springfield and turned his attention to the law.

In 1854 the controversy over slavery, arising from the repeal of the Missouri Compromise by the Kansas-Nebraska Act, brought Lincoln back into the political forum. At first, he limited his participation to speechmaking and campaigning for the Whig Party, but in 1855 he ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate. The turning point in his career came in 1856, when he abandoned the floundering Whigs and joined the Republicans. They had organized 2 years earlier as a coalition of antislavery groups. Lincoln rapidly rose to a position of leadership in the party. During 1858, the year he campaigned for the U.S. Senate against Stephen A. Douglas, he achieved national recognition. Although he lost the election, his performance in the Lincoln-Douglas debates, in which he steered a moderate course on the slavery issue, brought him acclaim from the masses and led to his candidacy for the Presidency.

Lincoln and his sons
Lincoln and his sons William ("Willie") and Thomas ("Tad") in front of their Springfield residence during the early summer of 1860, about the time he became a Presidential candidate. (Library of Congress, J. A. Whipple, 1860.)

Meantime, during these politically hectic years, Lincoln had found time to improve his home. In 1849-50 he had it repainted, remodeled, and repaired. In 1856 he enlarged it to two full stories, containing 12 rooms.

On May 19, 1860, in his parlor, Lincoln received official notification of his Presidential nomination from a committee of Republican officials. He conducted the campaign from his residence, leaving the traveling, speechmaking, and writing to others and maintaining communication with the party through correspondence and by receiving visitors. In the election, he received a clear majority of the electoral votes, though the combined popular vote of his three opponents far exceeded his own.

In February 1861, prior to their departure for Washington, the Lincolns sold much of their furniture at public auction and leased their house to Lucian A. Tilton, president of the Great Western Railroad, who also purchased much of the furniture. On the 6th, the Lincolns held a grand reception in the home that was attended by about 700 people. A move was then made to Chenery House, a hotel, where Lincoln packed up the family's personal belongings and addressed them to "A. Lincoln, The White House, Washington, D.C." At the train station on the morning of February 11 he bade farewell to a large crowd of friends, neighbors, and well-wishers. His departure marked the final time he would set eyes on Springfield, though in 1865 his remains would be brought there for burial.

Lincoln's home
Lincoln's home. which he had leased out 4 years earlier when he went to Washington to become President, draped in mourning after his assassination in 1865. (Illinois State Historical Libray.)

The Tiltons resided in the house until 1869, when they moved to Chicago. In 1882, upon the death of Mary Todd Lincoln, her eldest and only surviving son, Robert Todd, inherited the residence. The next year, he rented it to Osborn H. Oldroyd, a longtime collector of Civil War mementos and Lincolniana, who converted it into a museum. Encouraged by Oldroyd, Robert Todd in 1887 donated the house to the State. Oldroyd served as the first custodian until 1893, when he moved his collection to the Petersen House, in Washington, D.C. The collection later became the nucleus of federally owned Lincoln Museum, currently a part of Ford's Theatre National Historic Site, described elsewhere in this volume.

Parlor of the Lincoln Home. (National Park Service, Frear, 1972.)

AIDED by the Abraham Lincoln Association of Springfield and by the National Society of Colonial Dames in Illinois, the State restored the house as nearly as possible to its appearance at the time of Lincoln's occupancy. Restoration work included repainting the house brown, its color in 1860; reproducing the interior decor, including the wallpaper; and reconstructing outbuildings and fences. Most of the furnishings in the home are period pieces. Much of the Lincoln furniture that the Tiltons had taken with them in 1869 was lost in the 1871 Chicago fire. Other items passed into the hands of private collectors or museums, and the State eventually acquired some of them.

In 1971 Congress authorized establishment of Lincoln Home National Historic Site. The National Park Service plans to restore or reconstruct the structures at the intersection of Eighth and Jackson Streets and the facades of nearby buildings on Eighth Street. The visitor center is on Seventh Street.

A number of buildings historically related to the Lincoln era are within the boundaries of the national historic site and are open to the public. The Ninian W. Edwards House, a privately owned reconstruction of the dwelling where Lincoln courted and married Mary Todd, stands on the southeastern corner of Eighth Street and Capitol Avenue. A museum, it contains historical exhibits, period costumes, and a series of dioramas depicting events in Lincoln's life. Another privately owned museum containing similar exhibits, the Abraham Lincoln Museum, is in a 19th-century structure across the street from the Lincoln home. The First Presbyterian Church, on the northwestern corner of Seventh Street and Capitol Avenue, preserves a pew once used by the Lincoln family in a church that no longer exists. The rest of the historic houses in the vicinity are unrestored and may not be visited.

Several buildings in Springfield possess Lincoln associations but are outside the boundaries of the national historic site. The most significant of these is the Old State Capitol, situated in the square bounded by Adams, Fifth, Washington, and Sixth Streets. A National Historic Landmark owned and administered by the State, it preserves the chambers where Lincoln attended the State legislature, the Superior Court where he pleaded many cases, the Governor's office, and several other historic rooms. It also houses the State Historical Library, which owns the second largest collection of Lincolniana in the Nation.

Privately owned structures, open to the public, include the Lincoln Depot, on 10th and Monroe Streets, where in February 1861 Lincoln delivered his "Farewell Address," today a museum; the Lincoln-Herndon Building, at Sixth and Adams Street, which contains the third-floor law office Lincoln shared with Stephen T. Logan and later with William H. Herndon, as well as the Federal District Court where Lincoln pled cases, and the old post office; and the Springfield Marine Bank, at 114 South Sixth Street, opened in 1851 and still an active bank today. It displays Lincoln's depositor's ledger.

The Governor's Mansion, between Jackson, Edwards, Fourth, and Fifth Streets, residence of the Governor since 1855 and open to the public on special occasions, was the scene of several social events the Lincolns attended. Another home they often visited was the Benjamin S. Edwards House, a gracious Victorian mansion at 700 North Fourth Street that was once owned by an in-law of Mrs. Lincoln. Today owned and administered by the Springfield Art Association, it is furnished with pre-Civil War items and is accessible to the public. The Illinois State Museum, at Spring and Edwards Streets, contains exhibits on State and local history, including some on Lincoln.

The Lincoln Tomb, in Oak Ridge Cemetery about 4 miles northwest of the Lincoln Home, is described immediately following.

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Last Updated: 22-Jan-2004