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This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Old Illinois Houses

John Drury

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

The text is in the public domain.

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and I believe it to be free of errors.
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[image ALT: A photograph of a two‑story house, more or less cubical, with a gabled roof pitched at about 45° and two chimneys. A signaled porch can be made out over what must be the front door. It is the Fithian House in Danville, Illinois.]

Tep Wright

Dr. William Fithian House, Danville, Built 1830's.

 p78  A Famous Balcony

In the years immediately before he was elected President, Abraham Lincoln was a guest in many homes throughout the central part of Illinois. When he became a candidate for United States Senator opposing Stephen A. Douglas, it was natural that, while visiting their homes, he should be prevailed upon to speak a few words to the townspeople who usually gathered before the house where he was stopping as a guest. Generally these talks were made from a front porch or from a second-floor balcony. As a result of these brief, informal speeches, the houses where they were made — that is, those which survive — have become objects of veneration to Lincoln devotees and historic landmarks in their communities.

An outstanding house of this type in eastern Illinois, and one that is noteworthy in itself as the dwelling of a well-known pioneer of the region, is the Fithian residence at 116 Gilbert Street in Danville. A large boulder on the lawn in front of the house contains a historical marker bearing the words: "Abraham Lincoln delivered an impromptu address from the balcony of this house while a guest here in 1858. Placed by the Governor Bradford Chapter, D. A. R., 1926".

In this two‑story brick house lived Dr. William Fithian, one of the first settlers of Danville and a pioneer physician in that part of Illinois. He was a close friend of Lincoln's. In fact, the "Rail Splitter" served as Dr. Fithian's attorney for a number of years, representing him in several legal cases and advising him as a counselor and mentor. The two maintained their close friendship even after Lincoln became President.

When the Civil War broke out, President Lincoln, busy as he was, did not forget his friend in Danville. He appointed Dr. Fithian provost marshal of what was then the Seventh Congressional District, a district embracing most of the east-central part of the state. Dr. Fithian served honorably and competently in this capacity. After the war, he retired to his Gilbert Street home, being then in his sixties, and there held forth as one of the leading citizens of Danville.

From available data, Dr. Fithian built his house some time in the 1830's. It is of record that he came to Danville in 1830 when the city was nothing more than a settlement of frame and log houses, with a few grist mills and general stores.

In addition to his association with Lincoln and the early history of Illinois, Dr. Fithian enjoys another distinction. He is recorded as being the first white child born in Cincinnati, Ohio. His natal day was April  p79 7, 1799. When William Fithian was thirteen, he served in the "home guard" during the War of 1812. Upon reaching maturity, he set out for himself, came west to Indiana, and finally settled at Danville.

As Danville grew, Dr. Fithian's practice expanded and in time he began acquiring tracts of land in the county. He entered other fields — the mercantile business, banking, politics. He served one term as state senator and two terms as state representative. When railroads appeared, he was instrumental in getting several of the leading roads to pass through Danville and Vermilion County. The town of Fithian, west of Danville, is named after him.

Dr. Fithian died April 5, 1890. Since then his house has been changed only slightly. A new roof has been added, as well as a new and larger front porch. But the ornamental, cast-iron balcony at the south end remains as it was when Lincoln stood on it almost a hundred years ago and addressed the crowd in the yard.

For more than fifty years after Dr. Fithian's death the house was occupied by Charles Feldkamp, a leading Danville confectioner, and his family. The present occupants are Mr. & Mrs. John H. Barnhart and their son-in‑law and daughter, Mr. & Mrs. George E. Hoffman.

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Page updated: 28 Mar 13