Before he became the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln lived in Central Illinois where he had his own law practice.
Abraham Lincoln’s father and stepmother, Thomas and Sara Bush Lincoln, were among the very early settlers in the Charleston Area. Just a short drive from Charleston, you can step back in time to the rural life of 1840s Illinois – where you’ll find a working living history farm developed around the two-room cabin owned by the Lincoln family at the Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site in Lerna.
A first stop in Champaign-Urbana as you look for Lincoln the Lawyer on the 8th Judicial Circuit is the Champaign County Historical Archives, located at the Department of Urbana Free Library. Here you’ll find an extensive historical collection of records from Champaign County, Illinois and the states east of the Mississippi.
Next your visit will take you to the Champaign County History Museum – housed in the historic Cattle Bank – with over 10,000 artifacts related to the people, businesses and organizations important to the County’s history. Nearby, plan a stop at the Champaign County Courthouse. While the current courthouse was built in 1901, it sits on the site of the courthouse where Lincoln appeared as a lawyer in his 8th Judicial days. Inside you’ll find an exhibit called Abraham Lincoln: A Large Presence in a Small Town.
A stop at Museum of the Grand Prairie in Mahomet will give you a glimpse into prairie life in East-Central Illinois in 19th and early 20th centuries through an extensive collection that includes a full exhibit relating the story of Abraham Lincoln – the prairie lawyer.
A short drive down the road will bring you to the Piatt County Museum featuring artifacts from throughout the county history. Nearby, you’ll find Historic State Street of Monticello – once a major business hub for central Illinois – including the incorporation of the Monticello Railroad Company. Monticello was also known for medical patents – some of which are still in use today, including Fletcher’s Castoria and Campho-Phenique.
To learn more about area ties to railroading, check out the Monticello Railway Museum. Lincoln was known for U.S. railroad expansion during the Civil War. But, he also road the rails in the early days as he traveled the 8th Judicial. At the Museum – you can even take a 7-mile ride on a vintage railroad train.
Monticello is also home to Bryant Cottage – built in 1856 by Francis Bryant. According to family lore, on July 29, 1858 – Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas met to discuss their upcoming “Lincoln-Douglas Debate.” The cottage is a great example of middle class life in mid-19th-century central Illinois.
Rich with Lincoln history, the Vermilion County Museum – located in the reproduced early Danville Courthouse – tells that Danville story. Lincoln tried over 200 cases in Danville. The Museum includes a reproduction of the law office of Danville attorney, Ward Hill Lamon, who shared the office with Lincoln during his time with the 8th Judicial Circuit.
The Fithian House, home of prominent 19th century Danville physician, Dr. William Fithian, was a place visited often by Lincoln. Lincoln was known to have given a speech from the home’s 2nd story balcony in 1858. For a glimpse at probate records from the county and access to hundreds of thousands of area family histories and files, plan to stop by the Illiana Genealogical & Historical Society.
Another historical Danville home is The Lamon House, the oldest frame residence with connections to many prominent people from throughout Danville’s history. The original owners were related to Lincoln’s area law partner, Ward Hill Lamon – who also served as Lincoln’s bodyguard during the Civil War.
Check out the town square in Paris at the Edgar County Courthouse (listed on the National Registry of Historic Buildings), surrounded by a number of markers telling the stories of Edgar County history. The Statue of Justice sits atop the “wedding cake tower” high above the courthouse.
At the Paris Arts Center, located in the historic Alexander home built in 1812, you’ll visit a place frequented by Lincoln in his day, as he served as the family’s attorney. The home is located just one block from the courthouse. Next stop is the Edgar County Historical Complex, which includes the historic Arthur house, built by Henry Clay Moss. Here you’ll find a variety of genealogical research and other materials related to Mr. Lincoln.
For more on the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area, visit Looking for Lincoln.
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