This coming Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019, is Lincoln’s birthday, the official state holiday when all state government and most local-government non-emergency offices will be closed.
The holiday is always a good time to remember our historic “links to Lincoln” here in Kane County, IL.
Although fewer than, say, Springfield or New Salem, Lincoln had quite a few Kane County connections. Here are just a few:
Bellevue Place in Batavia: Batavia Depot Museum
Kane County’s best-known connection to Lincoln probably is the well-documented stay of Mary Todd Lincoln at Bellevue Place in Batavia. According to the Batavia Historical Society website, Bellevue Place was established in an abandoned private high school known as Batavia Institute by Dr. Richard J. Patterson, a renowned expert in the field of mental health.
In 1875, a Chicago court deemed that Mrs. Lincoln behaved irrationally. It was ordered that she be placed in a mental hospital. Her son Robert brought her to Batavia on the train to Dr. Patterson’s sanitarium.
If the legends of Mary’s stay are correct, she was not very confined. She is said to have visited in several of the homes around Bellevue, to have eaten her meals with Dr. and Mrs. Patterson, and to have visited friends in St. Charles.
The need for Mrs. Lincoln’s continued confinement was debated on the national scene, and after three months, and against Dr. Patterson’s advice, Mrs. Lincoln was released in the care of her sister, Mrs. Elizabeth Edwards in Springfield.
These details are just about verbatim from the Batavia Depot Museum website. You can learn more and actually see the bed and dresser Mrs. Lincoln used by visiting the museum on the Fox River at Houston Street and Island Avenue, just east of Route 31. It is open March through Thanksgiving on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m. For more information call 630/406-5274 or 630/879-5235.
The elegant Bellevue Place building still stands at 333 S. Jefferson St. in Batavia.
John Farnsworth: The St. Charles Connection
John Farnsworth, one of St. Charles’ most prominent historic figures, was a friend of Lincoln and was present at his bedside when he died on April 15, 1865.
The St. Charles History Museum reports that Farnsworth began his political career as a Democrat but left the party very quickly and became an ardent support of the Republican Party and anti-slavery movement. In 1856, he was elected as the congressional representative from the Illinois 2nd District. After he was elected again in 1858, and in the summer and fall of 1858, Sen. Stephen A. Douglas, referred to Farnsworth specifically by name, in his famous debates with Lincoln, accusing Farnsworth of believing in the equality of the races and opposing new slave states entering the Union.
In response to Douglas, Farnsworth wrote a letter to Lincoln in September of 1858 to clarify his own position and that of the Republican Party. The letter, along with other documents in relation to Farnsworth, are preserved in the Lincoln President Papers Collection at the Library of Congress.
In 1860, Farnsworth heard the call to action and left his position as congressional representative to lead Civil War efforts in Illinois. He secured a Presidential Directive establishing Camp Kane in 1861 and was assigned as colonel of the 8th Illinois Cavalry. His efforts won acclaim, and he ultimately was promoted to the rank of brigadier general.
Farnsworth resigned from the military in March of 1863 to resume his duties as a congressman, and so was in Washington and at Lincoln’s bedside when Lincoln died.
The Aurora Connection
You can read all about this amazing and fascinating case in “True Tales of Aurora, Illinois: Mysterious Murders, Presidential Visits and Blues Legends in the City of Lights“.
And the Aurora Historical Society presents evidence that Lincoln did indeed stay overnight in Kane County.
Lincoln, of course, was no stranger to Aurora. As a young lawyer in 1849, he worked with Hoyt, after Hoyt was accused of building a mill with a type of water wheel that had already been patented. As they worked on the case, Lincoln would visit Aurora, most likely staying at Mrs. Pinney’s boarding house, where Hoyt also lived.
Another connection is Isabelle Landry, who forever will be remembered as the girl who sang for Lincoln, when at 10 years old she sang to him in French, at Judge Pinney’s request. For her efforts, Lincoln bought her a pound of horehound candy, her favorite. Not to be outdone, the judge purchased her another pound. Isabelle was a very lucky girl that day.
While in Aurora, check out the Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Hall.
The GAR Memorial Hall, Post 20 was built as a memorial for Civil War veterans. On both a national and local scale the GAR was active in pursuing benefits for veterans. The GAR founded soldiers’ homes, worked to provide relief for widows and orphans, and lobbied for pension legislation. Membership was limited to honorably discharged veterans of the Union Army, Navy, Marine Corps or the Revenue Cutter Service who had served between 1861and 1865.
A ‘Little Lincoln’ History: the Geneva History Museum
“Abraham Lincoln’s last known pass through in Geneva was in 2015 to celebrate his 206th birthday!” writes Geneva History Museum Executive Director Terry Emma. “This was the mini-Abe version, of course, the star of the marketing campaign from the Illinois Office of Tourism.”
Mini-Abe spent a week at the museum back in 2015, attending the “February Brown Bag on Presidential Visits to Geneva,” assisting volunteers in the archives and visiting some favorite places downtown. Here’s a link to a fun YouTube video of his visit, which is also embedded (above) in this article.
The Geneva History Museum has several Lincoln-related artifacts including:
- A large bust which once sat on a shelf in the Geneva High School Library, a gift from the class of 1926.
- An 1861 Abraham Lincoln Campaign Ferrotype — a photo on a tin for small campaign pins and buttons donated to the museum collection by Katie Lu Hawkins.
- Cast iron road traffic sign from the Lincoln Highway.
The Geneva History Museum is located on South Third Street in Geneva, across the street from the historic Kane County Courthouse. (See below for learn more about the Geneva History Museum.)
‘Largest Illinois City Lincoln Never Visited’: Elgin History Museum
Mike Alft, Elgin’s historian and a Lincoln buff, told Elgin History Museum Director Elizabeth Marston that Elgin is “the largest community in Illinois never visited by Lincoln.”
For what it’s worth, Alft said, Lincoln did carry the city in the elections of 1860 and 1864. Elgin also has a street named after Lincoln, which ironically crosses a street named after Sen. Stephen Douglas.
As far as Lincoln-related artifacts, the museum has a dress worn to Lincoln’s second inaugural in the collection that is definitely worth seeing.
For more information, visit the elginhistory.org website.
Learn More About Kane County History
About the Batavia History Museum
Through the cooperation of the Batavia Park District and the Batavia Historical Society, the Depot Museum contains artifacts collected since 1960. In keeping with its mission, one of the ongoing projects of the society is the plaquing of buildings, dating back 100 years or more. The Depot Museum is located at 155 Houston St. For more information, visit the Batavia Depot Museum website.
About the St. Charles History Museum
The St. Charles History Museum features permanent and rotating temporary exhibits, the Colonial Anderson Research Room, photo and research archives, administrative offices and repository for the museum’s collection. The museum is located in the 1928 McCornack Oil Company building at 215 East Main St. The building served St. Charles as a gas station from 1928 until 1990. After renovations, the museum opened to the public in May 2001. Originally, the museum was located in the St. Charles Municipal Building. For the latest news and museum happenings, visit the St. Charles History Museum website and Facebook page.
About the Geneva History Museum
The Geneva History Museum is located at 113 S. Third St., and is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 11 am to 4 p.m. The cost of admission is $2, which includes the Feature Gallery, “Who is Sadie Cooksey?” and the Main Gallery, “Geneva’s Story” exhibit. Admission is free for museum members. The Geneva History Museum is an independent not for profit organization not supported by tax dollars. For more information, visit GenevaHistoryMuseum.org or call 630-232-4951.
About the Elgin History Museum
The Elgin History Museum is housed in an 1856 landmark building known as Old Main that was once part of the Elgin Academy campus. The building was designed in the Greek Revival style. The museum has a staff that helps welcome visitors to the museum, educates the public about Elgin history and assists with research inquiries. The Elgin Area Historical Society, which was founded in 1961, is a thriving organization that operates within the museum. The society has a board of directors with a mission that is driven to preserve and educate the community about Elgin history. For more information, visit the elginhistory.org website.
About the Aurora Historical Society
The Aurora Historical Society gives the past a future by collecting, preserving, interpreting and presenting the rich, diverse history of Aurora and the surrounding area. Museums include:
- The William Tanner House Museum located on the corner of Oak and Cedar, two blocks west of Route 31 and two blocks north of New York Street. Built in 1857, this Italianate-style house was the home to prominent merchant William Tanner and his family. You can get directions to the William Tanner House Museum here.
- The David L. Pierce Art and History Center is located at 20 E. Downer Place, in downtown Aurora on the island. Owned and maintained by the city of Aurora, the center contains the main offices and exhibition galleries of the Historical Society and the Aurora Public Art Commission. The center is also the location of the Museum Store and Gift Shop.
- The Aurora History Historical Society Archives are located at 305 Cedar St., next to the William Tanner House. It includes documentary materials dating from the 1830s to the present, including letters, legal documents, books, and maps.