Making a House a Home: An Inside Look at Abraham Lincoln's Home

Lincoln Home National Historic Site, National Park Service

The Lincoln Home at the corner of Eighth and Jackson streets in Springfield, Illinois, was considered an upper middle class house in the rapidly growing capitol city.  The Lincolns lived there for seventeen years, adding on a full second floor and creating a comfortable home that they planned to return to after the presidency.  

Most fashionable Victorian homes had some sort of shelves to display curios or knick knacks and the Lincolns were no exception. This sturdy five-shelf whatnot held books, a few small statues, a vase or two and Mary Lincoln's pride and joy: a bust of her husband!

A comfortable rocker and a footstool to perch her tired feet were all that Mary Lincoln needed at the end of busy day. According to the legend that came with this rocker and footstool, this was also where Mary liked to feed her babies and rock them to sleep.

When you love to entertain as much as the Lincolns, you need a place for visitors to hang their hats and shawls. This fashionable (for the 1840s) Gothic-Revival hatrack was probably one of the first pieces of furniture the Lincolns purchased for their new home when they moved in in 1844.

Abraham Lincoln was supposed to have said "If this is coffee, please bring me tea; if this is tea, please bring me coffee" once when served an indeterminate hot liquid. He drank both and based on this pitcher that belonged to the family, apparently took either with a little cream.

Although there is no record of Mary Lincoln knitting or crocheting (she preferred fine sewing and embroidery), she no doubt appreciated the work that went into making this pretty shawl.

After a long day in his law office or visiting with politicians, Mr. Lincoln liked to stretch out on this long sofa and read one of the many newspapers to which he subscribed. Lincoln even owned a newspaper but it was written in German and he couldn't read or write German. However, the German population was growing rapidly in the midwest and he wanted their vote!

Mary Lincoln was known for her elegant, yet practical, taste when it came to decorating. In 1856 after gaining a double parlor when the master bedroom was moved to the new second floor, Mary ordered rust, gold and silver damask drapes for the parlor windows. They were made from wool and silk which made them elegant but also long-wearing.

The Lincolns had four sons, three of whom were born in their home at Eighth and Jackson streets and slept in this large cradle. When the Lincolns left for Washington, Mr. Lincoln took the cradle back to the store where he had purchased it 15 years earlier and offered it to the next clerk who needed it. George Davis was the lucky new father who took it home.

Even with many large windows throughout the house, warm summer days could be almost unbearable inside the Home. Mr. Lincoln had local carpenter, Solomon Conant, build an extra long wooden settee or bench to have on the back porch. There Mr. Lincoln could stretch out and catch the prevailing western or southern breeze and possibly keep an eye on his sons playing in the streets with the neighbors.

Mr. Lincoln did not leave a will, nor did he or Mary create inventories of their household items; so if not for an artist from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspsper drawing the main rooms, we would have no idea what the Lincoln Home looked like in 1860. Neither did most Americans when Mr. Lincoln was nominated to run for President. To show that he no longer lived in a log cabin, the artist was sent out to show off the Lincolns' upper middle-class home.

When the Lincolns married in 1842, Gothic-Revival style was all the rage, based on the 13th century stone churches in Europe with pointed arches and orate carvings. This hall chair, which matches the style of their hat rack, was probably an early purchase for their house. It was used by visitors and Mr. Lincoln to remove muddy boots and put on house slippers, or to wait on the Lincolns.

Mr. Lincoln did not leave a will, nor did he or Mary create inventories of their household items; so if not for an artist from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspsper drawing the main rooms, we would have no idea what the Lincoln Home looked like in 1860. Neither did most Americans when Mr. Lincoln was nominated to run for President. To show that he no longer lived in a log cabin, the artist was sent out to show off the Lincolns' upper middle-class home.

The Lincolns never returned to live in their Springfield home. After Willie Lincoln's death in 1862 and Mr. Lincoln's assassination in 1865, Mary Lincoln found it difficult to return to Springfield and the many happy memories there. She and youngest son, Tad, instead traveled to Europe for several years before Tad died in 1871. Oldest son, Robert, became a lawyer, married a senator's daughter and moved to Chicago. Robert and Mary continued to rent out the house until 1887 when Robert deeded the house to the State of Illinois with the requirements that it be kept in good repair and be "free of access" to all visitors. The State of Illinois ran the historic house museum until 1972 when it was deeded to the National Park Service. The house remains in good repair and has no admission fee to visit, just as Robert Lincoln wanted.

Credits: Story

Susan Haake, Curator, Lincoln Home National Historic Site

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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