Friday, July 11, 2008

Lincoln Courthouse aka Logan County Courthouse

This is no ordinary historical structure...
Wanting a building that was associated with our 16th President Abraham Lincoln, Ford found a forgotten and dilapidated structure that was, in 1929, being used as a private residence.
Research showed that Abraham Lincoln once practiced law in this walnut clapboard building, which was built in 1840, when he was a young attorney. Mr. Lincoln was a circuit-riding lawyer and would travel upon his horse to the tiny country towns within a certain perimeter - Lincoln and the other handful of circuit riding lawyer companions with him covered the Eighth Judicial Circuit which covered around 11,000 square miles - and they would follow Judge David Davis to the courthouses of the towns.
Life on the road was not easy for Lincoln and the other circuit-riding lawyers. The roads, which could hardly be called roads by today's standards, were deep with snow in the winter, nothing but mud in the spring, and filled with mouth-eating dust in the summer. At night the group would lodge where ever they could: tavern, cabin, farm out building.

Court was in session only twice a year, and could be a raucous affair in the first three quarters of the 19th century. It was quite entertaining for the folks sitting on the hard wood benches or peeking through the windows (which were usually opened due to the heat from all of the bodies inside). In fact, it was quite the "to do" for the country townsfolk, for this was about the only time a small town could have some real big-time excitement. People from all around the neighboring communities would travel to the court building to be enthralled by the legal battles at hand; I liken it to a modern-day court-room television drama that are always so popular today. Of course, the local businesses always had red-letter days during the time the court was in session as well.
When court was not in session, this building from Logan County served the Postville, Illinois community as a church and assembly hall. It was in 1848 that the county seat was moved, and the building went through numerous incarnations including a post office, general store, school, and jail (!).
By the time Mr. Ford obtained it in 1929, this historical structure had become a private home.

When the residents of what was now known as Lincoln, Illinois (formerly known as Postville) heard of Mr. Ford's purchasing the building, they suddenly became interested in it and tried to legally prevent Ford from removing it to Dearborn, Michigan. One columnist from a local paper stated: Because the city of Lincoln did not realize its heritage, the building has been kept up by a private citizen. Henry Ford entered the scene and purchased the building to move to his historic museum at Dearborn, Michigan. He plans to tear it down and rebuild it in Michigan, but when he does, Illinois loses another famous homesite, not through fire, but through the inaction of its own people.
Another paper wrote: Mr. Ford's decision to move the building had left this city heartsick. Judge and Mrs. T.T. Beach, who sold the property to Ford, said the proposal to remove the building was not mentioned at the time of the sale. "It was to our understanding that the Ford interests were to restore the courthouse to its original appearance and to maintain it here where Mr. Lincoln was the lawyer for the town's proprietors and our friend and neighbor," Judge Beach said.
But Ford owned the building now, and could do as he pleased.

As Ed Cutler recalled: "The first day we had the roof off. I got wind of some gang of people getting an injunction against us to stop it because they realized that we were going to cart that thing away to Greenfield Village. By the time they had their legal end of it taken care of, we had the walls and the whole thing flattened to the ground and were carting it off. We beat them to it."
The structure was up in time for the opening of the Village in the fall of 1929. Ford spared no expense restoring this structure: even the original plaster was preserved, having it reground with new plaster and included in the restoration.

Some of the furnishings in this building are original Lincoln associated pieces: the John Birge wall clock, the empire chairs, and the swivel-top card table with brass paw feet are from Lincoln's Springfield home. Also, the walnut corner cupboard was made by Abraham and his father.
Up until the 1980's, the infamous "Lincoln Rocker" was housed here. It is now in a glass-enclosed, temperature moderated case inside the Henry Ford Museum (more on the chair in a future chapter).

By the way, in the early 1950's the state of Illinois built a replica of the building on the original site. The builders visited the original courthouse in its new Greenfield Village location armed with cameras, measuring tape, and other tools of the trade for replication.

The Lincoln/Logan County Courthouse is a true piece of Americana, and we are very lucky that Mr. Ford came along to restore it. As a Detroit News article stated in 1953 during the dedication of the replica building in Lincoln, Illinois: At a dedication ceremony Thursday in Lincoln, Illinois, a rare bit of historical irony will become a matter of historical record. Citizens of that small Illinois town will gather in solemnity to dedicate a replica of the old Logan County courthouse where Abraham Lincoln practiced law for eight years. The irony lies in the fact that the original courthouse now stands in Greenfield Village at Dearborn. Residents of Lincoln ignored the old building as a bit of Americana until the late Henry Ford, in 1929, bought it for his collection of memorabilia. Other organizations had chances to salvage the building but none took action. Not until the building was gone did they sense the historical significance of the building.
And that's nothing new, is it?
My opinion? Thank God Henry Ford did save this building, whether he removed it from its original location or not, for there is not another original like it anywhere else in the world. And who knows what outcome would have beheld this historical gem.


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