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Bill Thayer

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Executive Mansion

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.

This page has been carefully proofread
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

[image ALT: A photograph of a large square two‑story house, with a flat roof and two chimneys; in the center of the roof, a square, deeply corbelled and elaborately carved cupola with a spire. A tall but narrow porch, supported by eight columns, runs the length of the front of the house. It is the Edwards House in Springfield, Illinois.]

Benjamin S. Edwards House, Springfield, Built 1833.

 p105  Art Museum and Social Center

Of the numerous historic old dwellings in Springfield, one of the oldest and most revered is the stately mansion at 801 North Fifth Street in which lived Judge Benjamin S. Edwards, member of the famous Edwards family of early Illinois. Standing in its original grove of elms and maples, its wide overhanging cornice, spacious piazza, Corinthian columns, and fanciful cupola showing signs of great age, the Edwards mansion is now the home of the Springfield Art Association.

As an art museum and center of cultural and social activities, this ancient brick residence is carrying on a role that was first given to it when Judge Edwards and his wife moved into it in 1843. They were an educated couple, fond of painting, music, literature, and all the other refinements of civilization. Among frequent guests at social events in their mansion were Abraham Lincoln and his wife, and here, too, came General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.U. S. Grant, Stephen A. Douglas, Senator Lyman Trumbull,  p106 Judge John Dean Caton, John Hay, Judge Sidney Breese, and other well-known figures of early Illinois.

This house, however, was not built by Judge Edwards. From a pamphlet written late in her life by Mrs. Edwards, we learn that it was erected in 1833 on a fourteen-acre tract of wooded land, then outside the town limits of Springfield. Its builder was Dr. Thomas Houghan, pioneer physician of Springfield. He must have been a man of considerable means, as the house is of imposing design and proportions, and for its time, was probably the handsomest in that part of Illinois. The interior was, and still is, gracious and homelike, with open fireplaces in many of the rooms and the added warm glow of fine old walnut woodwork.

Ten years after building it, Dr. Houghan sold it to Judge Edwards. The judge was the youngest son of Ninian Edwards, the only governor of the Territory of Illinois, later the state's first United States senator and, subsequently, its third governor under statehood. Another son of the governor, Ninian Wirt Edwards, state representative, member of the "Long Nine" in the state assembly and Illinois' first Superintendent of Public Instruction, married a sister of Abraham Lincoln's wife.

During pre-Civil War days, when the Edwards mansion was in its prime, it was the scene of many brilliant gatherings. We are told that "legislative parties" were held on the lawn, attended by all members of the state legislature. The grove north of the house was used for numerous political meetings. One of these was addressed by Stephen A. Douglas.

Writing of President Lincoln's funeral, Mrs. Edwards said: "Our house, being on the road to the cemetery, was thrown open, our rooms were all occupied, cots being put in the library and back room even, to accommodate friends who came from Kentucky and elsewhere."

After Judge Edwards died in 1886 his widow continued to live in the mansion until her death in 1909. Here were born and reared her two daughters, Alice and Mary Stuart. After the death of Mrs. Edwards, the house was unoccupied for a number of years and then, in 1913, was presented to the Springfield Art Association by one of the Edwards daughters, Mrs. Alice Edwards Ferguson. She wanted it to stand as a memorial to her parents and, in addition, to be of service to the community.

In the hands of the Art Association members, the old Springfield landmark, now known as "Edwards Place," has been considerably restored to its former grandeur and serves not only as an art museum, but as a "period house." The rooms are enhanced with authentic furniture of the ante-bellum period.

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Page updated: 1 Dec 12