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Bill Thayer

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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.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
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This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

[image ALT: A photograph of a low wood frame house, obscured by several tall trees so that the roof and any upper story is not really visible. The front door is protected by an elegant pedimented wooden porch supported by four tapering round columns. It is the John M. Robinson House in Carmi, Illinois.]

John M. Robinson House, Carmi, Built before 1817.

 p24  "Living Museum"

What has been termed a "living museum" is the old General John M. Robinson house in Carmi. Surrounded by ancient shade trees, this low, white, trim dwelling remains serene and secure in a city that has become an exciting oil boom town, a long-settled city around which are derricks, trailers, pipelines, and other evidences of an oil bonanza. Not many of the oil men who crowd the streets of Carmi these days know that the low white house opposite the courthouse park is one of the oldest historic shrines of White County and the lower Wabash River country.

Now identified as the General Robinson house, so‑called because of his prominence in the early history of Illinois and because his descendants have occupied the house since, it was originally built by John Craw, one of the earliest settlers of White County. Believed to have been erected in the second decade of the nineteenth century, the house was constructed of logs, but these have since been covered with clapboards. It is recorded that from 1817 to 1820 the Craw house served as a temporary courthouse — a role which it again played from 1824 to 1829. During this latter period White County's first murder trial — that of Frederick Cotner — was held in the Craw house.

After General Robinson purchased it in 1835, he added several wings to the building. The new occupant was subsequently to be appointed, and later elected, to the U. S. Senate, where he represented Illinois for eleven years. Later he was appointed a justice of the Illinois Supreme Court. With his passing, the house was occupied by his widow and when she died was taken over by a daughter, Mrs. Margaret Robinson Stewart. When the writer visited the dwelling in the fall of 1942 it was occupied by Mrs. Stewart's daughter, Mary Jane Stewart, and Mrs. Fannie Hay Maffitt, descendant of a pioneer Carmi family.

What made the General Robinson house a "living museum" was its great array of furniture and other household appurtenances associated with the general and other historical characters of the state and nation. Much of this furniture was purchased in the East by General Robinson and his wife when they were living in Washington. In the house, too, were a wall clock and other relics from an early Carmi tavern operated by the general's father-in‑law, James Ratcliff. These articles were in use in the tavern when Abraham Lincoln was a guest there in 1840 while campaigning for Harrison.

Another Lincoln item in the Robinson home was a small silver mug which he is said to have used when it was offered to him by Hatty Webb,  p25 the eight-year‑old daughter of Edwin B. Webb, who was General Robinson's brother-in‑law and also a friend of Lincoln's. It is said that Webb at one time was a rival of Lincoln's for the hand of Mary Todd.

Other articles in the Robinson house associated with Webb (who also was a Whig candidate for governor of Illinois as well as a cousin of Harriet Lane, adopted daughter of President Buchanan) were an old candle lantern, a two‑hundred-year‑old mirror, a cherry table, and an oil portrait of Webb himself. Among Robinson family heirlooms were a four-poster bed, samplers, old silver, an 1849 piano, a spinning wheel, oil portraits, early books and newspapers, and old-fashioned silhouettes.

In the south room stood a venerable rosewood secretary containing a copy of John Quincy Adams' eulogy of Lafayette, delivered in 1834. It is autographed thus: "John M. Robinson from John Quincy Adams." Here, too, were letters written by Lincoln, William Henry Harrison, and Henry Clay, as well as one of the visiting cards of the wife of President Polk.

An old-fashioned English flower garden at the rear of the house adjoins a small frame building used as an office by General Robinson when he was at home in Carmi.

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Page updated: 10 Dec 07