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Austin
House

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Old Illinois Houses

by
John Drury

reprinted by
The University of Chicago Press
Chicago and London, 1977

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Executive Mansion
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

[image ALT: A photograph of a tall two‑story rectangular frame house, with a gabled roof pitched at about 30° and a chimney at either end. The gr floor has a door flanked by two windows on either side; on the narrow end, two windows, beyond which could be blimpsed a small covered porch supported by slender columns. The upper floor has five windows on the long side, and two on the end; all the windows have wooden shutters. A three‑story-tall flagpole flying the American flag stands at the corner. It is the Lincoln House in Springfield, Illinois.]

Abraham Lincoln House, Springfield, Built 1839.

p100 A World Shrine

At the northeast corner of Eighth and Jackson streets, in the capital city of Springfield, there stands a green-shuttered, white frame house that has become a world shrine. To this central Illinois house annually come more people from all parts of the nation and the world than to any other historic shrine west of the Alleghenies. This dwelling, of course, was the home of Abraham Lincoln.

When Lincoln, who, at the time, was a tall, thirty‑three-year‑old Springfield lawyer, sought the services of a minister for his marriage to Mary Todd, he went to his friend, the Rev. Charles Dresser. The call was made at the minister's recently built home in Springfield. The story goes that Lincoln was so attracted by the minister's house, so pleased with its comfort, roominess, and architectural design, that a desire was born in him to own just such a home. Sixteen months later Abraham Lincoln became owner and occupant of the minister's house.

Of the thousands of visitors who come to this dwelling annually, few know the full story of the house itself. A. L. Bowen, former state director of public welfare, historian, and Lincoln scholar, gave its complete history in an address before the Lincoln Centennial Association. Entitled "A. Lincoln: His House," Mr. Bowen's address is printed in the Lincoln Centennial Association Papers for 1925.

In speaking of Lincoln's feeling for this dwelling, Mr. Bowen says: "Love and affection for this house were inseparable from his consciousness that, in all he had done in life, it expressed his greatest and chiefest achievement. It stood concretely for his triumph over poverty, want and ignorance. . . . I think it made him feel himself a man among men. He may not have been aware of any such influence at work upon him; yet the possession of this house must have afforded him a new outlook upon life."

The story of this world-famous house begins with the year 1839. That was when it was built by the Rev. Mr. Dresser. It was then only a story-and‑a‑half dwelling and stood on the outskirts of the city where the homes of the most influential Springfield citizens were located.

For almost two years after their marriage the Lincolns lived in a hotel, the Globe, and here their first child, Robert, was born. Then, in 1844, they moved into the Eighth Street house. This house was the only one Lincoln ever owned. The price he paid for it and the lot was $1,500 in cash. Although not mentioned in the deed, there was a $900 mortgage on the house which was cleared a few months later. In referring p101to this mortgage afterward, Lincoln is supposed to have said that he "reckoned he could trust the preacher that married him." Some time in the middle 1850's the house, at the suggestion of Mrs. Lincoln, was raised to a full two‑story residence.

When Lincoln and his family moved to Washington in 1847 — he had been elected to Congress the year before — the Eighth Street house was rented to one Cornelius Ludlum. The Lincolns returned to their dwelling a year later and remained there until the master of the house was elected President of the United States. During the years he lived in this abode — years in which three more sons came to him — Lincoln spent his time quietly and unostentatiously and there is no record of p102any notable social events here until he became President-elect of the United States.

When he was elected, Lincoln was formally notified of the event by a committee from Chicago and this occurred in the south parlor of the house. After the Lincolns moved to Washington in 1861 the house was rented to L. Tilton, president of the Great Western Railroad. A few years later it was rented to George H. Harlow, who later became Secretary of State for Illinois. Then, after several years; occupancy by a Dr. Gustav Wendlandt, it was rented in 1884 to O. H. Oldroyd, well-known collector of Lincolniana.

It was Oldroyd who urged the then owner of this shrine, Robert Todd Lincoln, to deed it to the state. This was done in 1887 and Oldroyd became its first official custodian. Succeeding custodians have been Herman Hofferkamp, neighbor of the Lincolns'; Albert S. Edwards, Mrs. Lincoln's nephew; Mrs. Albert S. Edwards, and Mrs. Mary Edwards Brown, the preceding custodians' daughter. The present custodian, Miss Virginia Stuart Brown, graciously carries on the tradition of hospitality set by her mother and grandmother.

As all who have visited it know, the house is well-preserved. Students of architecture note that its exterior, although plain, has touches of the Greek Revival style, which was the vogue in this country during the late 1830's. The framework of the house is of oak while the siding, trim, and flooring are of black walnut. What few nails were used in its construction — wooden pegs were mostly used — are all hand-wrought. Standing on a slight elevation, the white-painted dwelling is partly surrounded by a low brick retaining wall and a white picket fence which were ordered built by Lincoln.

No changes have been made in the interior of this twelve-room house since the Lincolns left it. Lincoln's bedroom was on the second floor, north. Since most of the original Lincoln family furniture was destroyed in the Chicago fire of 1871, when the widowed Mrs. Lincoln was living in Chicago, the house is appropriately outfitted with furniture of the Lincoln era. Some original pieces, however, are on display, including Lincoln's favorite rocking chair, a cupboard used as a bookcase, Mrs. Lincoln's sewing chair, and an original photograph of Lincoln.


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Page updated: 10 Dec 07