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Bill Thayer

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Owen Lovejoy

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
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Herma Clark
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

[image ALT: A photograph of a two‑story rectangular brick house, with a gabled roof pitched at about 40° and two chimneys; it is partly overgrown with roses or ivy. The front door is arched with a fanlight. It is the Bryant House in Princeton, Illinois.]

John H. Bryant House, Princeton, Built 1840's.

 p153  Home of a Poet's Brother

Among long-settled families at Princeton, seat of Bureau County and hub of a thriving farm area, one of the best known is the Bryant family. Descendants of this family, which was established in Illinois more than a century ago by four brothers of the poet, William Cullen Bryant, now live on prosperous farms in Bureau County and adjacent territory. And they occupy comfortable, well-preserved old farm seats which are landmarks of that part of the state.

Of the four Bryant brothers who came to Illinois between the years 1830 and 1833, the one who attained most prominence in the state was John Howard Bryant. Because of the important role he played in the early development of Illinois, and because of his associations with some of the state's historic personages, his house in Princeton is of interest to students of history. Of interest, too, is the dwelling of his brother, Cyrus, which stands but a few blocks from John's house. Cyrus was also a figure of importance in pioneer days.

Of John H. Bryant, a standard biographical reference work says: "Like his friend Lincoln he was large, powerful, and of great endurance, able in the course of a day to split a hundred rails, labor sixteen hours  p154 about the farm, or ride seventy-five miles across country on horseback. In temper and interests he was of much the same stuff as his brother William Cullen, to whom he was devoted. Although farming was his chief occupation, he built roads and bridges, manufactured brick for a time, and edited a local newspaper. He was probably the most useful citizen in his community."

John Bryant and his brother, Cyrus, came to Princeton in 1832 and built log cabins. Having prospered with their farming, the two built brick houses in the early 1840's and these are the dwellings which survive. The address of the Cyrus Bryant house is 1110 South Main Street, and that of the John Bryant abode is 1518 South Main Street. It is understood that the Cyrus Bryant dwelling was designed by Alvah Whitmarsh, pioneer carpenter-architect of Princeton and grandfather of Herma Clark (see the next chapter).

A guest in these two houses on several occasions was William Cullen Bryant and these visits to Illinois inspired the poet to write "The Prairies." Although it is not recorded that he ever visited either of the Bryant homes, Abraham Lincoln is said to have delivered an address at a Fourth of July gathering in Bryant's Woods in 1856. In these years John Bryant was an antislavery advocate and his big brick house was a station of the Underground Railroad — as was the Owen Lovejoy abode.

In the Princeton Guide, we learn that John Bryant "was a member of the state legislature from Bureau, Peoria, and Stark in 1842, and again in 1858. . . . In 1848 he was one of the early editors of the first newspaper to be established in Bureau County; in 1860 was a delegate to the convention in Chicago which nominated Abraham Lincoln; was appointed collector of internal revenue by President Lincoln in 1862."

Not to be overlooked is the fact that John Bryant, too, was a poet. His books, Poems and Life and Poems, were published in 1855 and 1894 respectively. His brother, Cyrus, was one of the founders of Bureau County and its first county clerk. Another brother, Arthur, founded a nursery in 1845 which is still in existence. And a third brother, Colonel Austin Bryant, played a creditable part in the development of the county.

On the lawn adjacent to the Cyrus Bryant house rests a boulder with a tablet on it containing the words: "To commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the coming of the brothers Cyrus P. and John Howard Bryant to Putnam, now Bureau County, Illinois, and pre-empting this land. In this grove — an early landmark known as Round Point — they built their log cabin, beginning the settlement which later developed into the city of Princeton."

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Page updated: 11 Dec 07