In 1858, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas debated each other in seven towns across Illinois. Their goal? Being elected to the U.S. Senate. The debates were widely publicized and texts were copied in newspapers. Democratic-leaning newspapers would edit Douglas’ words, but leave the stenographer’s misspellings and grammatical errors in Lincoln’s. Republican-leaning newspapers would do the same, cleaning up Lincoln’s words, but leaving Douglas’ misspelled.

After the lost, Lincoln took all the texts and edited them and had them published into a book. Because of the book, Lincoln came to national attention and was eventually nominated for President.

The main theme of the debates were slavery, especially whether or not it should be allowed into the new territories.

One of those debates was in Galeburg, Illinois at Knox College – a college still standing today with this historical perspective: And it was on our campus that Abraham Lincoln chose to denounce slavery on moral terms for the first time, during the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas Debate.

During the Galesburg debate, Lincoln stated: Let us discard all this quibbling about this man and the other man-this race and that race and the other race being inferior, and therefore they must be placed in an inferior position, discarding our standard that we have left us. Let us discard all these things, and until as one people throughout this land, until we shall once more stand up declaring that all men are created equal.

The building below is the only debate location still standing today. Once again, we visited this on one of my birthday wandering days.

(Once again the building slant is because it’s in my scrapbook, not because it’s falling down from age.)


From Abe to Mary …

A few years back, my friend Sue drove with me down to Chattanooga. I was speaking at a conference there and we decided to take an extra day and meander. We knew we had to be in Chattanooga around supper time and we had a few hundred miles of highway in front of us. We decided our stop-on-the-way destination would be Berea.

So we woke early and headed south. Sue was my navigator and she was looking at the map and reading the names of the towns we passed, etc. As we headed into Lexington she said, “Mary Todd Lincoln House.”

“What?” I asked.

“The Mary Todd Lincoln House is in Lexington.”

Usually, I am alert to anything presidential within a 100 mile radius of wherever I am, but because our focus was on other parts of the trip, I simply didn’t realize we would be going right by the house.

“Oh, Sue, I have to go there,” I told her. “Roger has told me over and over that I need to visit this place.”

Sue also likes historical houses so we headed into downtown Lexington. When we arrived at the house, we discovered we had to wait a half hour for the place to open, but there were several regular cars in the parking lot and several police cars, too. Almost as if they were preparing a security route for Mary Lincoln herself.  I pulled in and stopped. Immediately, one of the laides came out of the group of people and walked over to the car.   She told us someone had broken into the ground floor restroom the night before thinking they could get upstairs into the house which they couldn’t. (Very well secured, the lady assured us.)  Still they trashed the restroom.


We wandered around awhile. Lexington has many architecturally beautiful older homes. You can see that at one time the city was elegant (still is in many places) and you can imagine what life was like. Actually, Lexington was called the Athens of America because of Transylvania College (still there) and because so many educated people came from the area.

Dscn0475One of the places we walked by was the First Baptist Church – now an inner city mission – which was built in 1786. The church was across the street from the Todd home and so, obviously would’ve been there during the time of the Todds.

We walked back to the house and did the tour …Dscn0473

WHAT IT IS: The Mary Todd Lincoln House in Lexington is where the Todd family lived from 1832 to 1849. Mary came back to visit the house with her husband and boys after she was married.

SHOULD-I-GO-THERE-IF-I’M-IN-THE-AREA FACTOR: If you like historical houses and if you especially like anything-presidential historical houses – you would enjoy this.

Dscn0474Some facts –

1. Mary’s father was a businessman involved in banking and politics and was considered one of the VIPs of Lexington.

2. The house has 14 rooms.

3. This was the first site restored to honor a first lady.

4. A unique piece of furniture is the “barrel desk.” When you close the desk, you have a barrel sitting in the corner of the room – open it and you have a beautiful desk.

5. Sugar was so expensive that it was kept under lock and key.

6. Children slept sideways on the bed so more could fit – and had a potty chair in their room.

7. Mary had a difficult life. She was raised a southern belle – daughter of a distinguished businessman, then married a “northerner.” You would’ve thought she’d be a natural White House hostess – but when she got to the White House, she was ostracized by both the north and the south. The northerners saw her as a southern spy. The southerners saw her as a traitor. She stood 100 percent behind her husband, but her beloved brothers were fighting for the south.

8. Three of her four sons died before they were 18 – and she lost her husband.

9. The Lincoln china has an eagle in the center. Although Mary was known for her love of flowery decorations – this was a statement that she sided with the north.

10. The people in charge of Mary’s house loaned a chocolate pot to Springfield – and didn’t even get a thank you. (So we heard when we said we were from Illinois – as if we had the clout to get the chocolate pot back for them. I mean, I truly hope Illinois gives the chocolate pot back to Kentucky, but I really don’t take the blame for that personally.)

KID FACTOR: Kids aren’t all that excited about houses – but there are a lot of great kids books out about the Lincolns. I would get children’s books out of the library, read them to your kids and then go for it. Some of the stories the tour guide told were fairly entertaining and kids would enjoy them.

COOL FACTOR: Tour was well done – and then the guide told us we had to go up the road to the cemetery and I immediately KNEW that was our next stop. As much as I’m into presidential houses – Sue is into walking around cemeteries.

And so we went


Lincoln’s house is on Eighth and Jackson in Springfield, Illinois. Not only is the house itself an historic site, but the entire neighborhood is restored to reflect the years that Lincoln lived there.

Unlike the estates of most of his predecessors, Lincoln’s house is sort of regular. This is also one of the few houses you do not have to pay to visit – because when Robert Lincoln donated the house to the State of Illinois in 1887, he did so under the condition they never charged for someone to visit the home.

Here are some other facts about the Lincolns.

*In 1909 Lincoln was the first president to have his face put on a regular-issued coin.

*In 1863, Lincoln asked Americans to set aside the last Thursday in November as a day of thankfulness.

*While living in this house, the Lincolns owned a dog named Fido. The dog stayed with friends in Illinois when the family went to Washington.

*After her husband’s death, Mary Lincoln never came back to the Springfield house.

*Lincoln was the only president to hold a patent – for refloating shored boats.

*The last Lincoln descendent was Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith who died in 1985.

Most of the furniture is not original (a lot of it is displayed in other places around the country).

One of the first things I noticed when walking in the house was the red and green carpet and the purple and yellow wallpaper. Talk about clashing!  But the tour guide assured us that was the style. But I’m thinking, it might be proof of Mary’s insanity.


New Salem, Illinois was founded in 1828. Abraham Lincoln moved to town in 1831 and lived there for 6 years (from the time he was 22 -28).

While there he worked as a shopkeeper, a soldier (Black Hawk War), surveyor, postmaster and at several other jobs. At the time New Salem was a fledgling town of business people and craftsmen wanting to start a new life “out west.” The village is now a state historic site.

I’ve been to New Salem a couple times (since it isn’t that far away).  My last time there was for one of my birthday trips (you know, those times Ken and I would wander), but being that my birthday is in February, there weren’t a lot of people around. Wait, I take that back … we were the population of New Salem that cold  February morning (1999).

Here’s what I said about it on the day we visited …

Early (6:00) on my birthday we headed south to Springfield. As we drove down I-55, we ate Wheat Thins and listened to Pitcairn Island on CD. The day was dreary with a damp mist in the air. About 9:30 we reached New Salem.

The only people in the visitor’s center were a few workers and some locals standing around discussing someone’s heart attack. We walked around the center and then headed out for the village.

I wished we were better dressed for the cold because it would’ve been fun to take more pictures than I did. After awhile, my fingers got just a little too frozen. But the walk was invigorating and the smell of smoke from a fire added to the atmosphere though we never discovered exactly where the fire was located. We saw a cardinal and a blue jay – not all that unusual or exciting, but they added color to the misty brown and white morning.

We tried to imagine Abe walking down the paths and living in the town.