Tuesday, October 28, 2014
sponsored by

Where should you look to learn about Lincoln and Logan County property histories?

Send a link to a friend  Share

[October 28, 2014]  LINCOLN - The Lincoln Historic Preservation Commission presented the program “If These Walls Could Talk” Saturday morning at the Lincoln Public Library. The reason for the gathering was to give attendees research information on how to find the history of their homes. Richard Sumrall, director of the LPL, and Diane Osborn, noted local historic home researcher, were the presenters at the seminar.

Chairperson of the LHPC April Doolin started off the session by saying that the reason for the class was not only to present the resources that are available locally to do home research, but to foster pride in the community. Doolin mentioned that while the downtown Lincoln Historic District is in place, the LHPC wants to offer the opportunity for home owners to register their homes in a historic district that will insure that landmark houses are protected and preserved. A home that is in a designated historic district can take advantage of state programs that can help with preservation. “This is a way to preserve the history of Lincoln,” said Doolin.

Richard Sumrall had a checklist for the group of ten in attendance, a list of the rich resources that are available for research at the library. The number one resource is the library staff that is extremely knowledgeable about what is available and how to access it.

Sumrall mentioned the 2000-2001 Lincoln High School Architectural History Project. Each student participating in the survey of historic Lincoln homes was assigned one house to research. All of the results were compiled into a book that is available for research purposes at the library. Sumrall was very generous in his praise for the quality of the book, and its usefulness as a tool for the home researcher.

“One of the most important resources for home researchers is a city directory,” said Richard Sumrall. The library has directories from 1875 on. These books are packed with relevant information and are indexed by name and address.

The library also has census microfilm which is provided by the federal government. It lists names and family members at a given address. Want to know who preceded you in your house? Here is a source for this information. The library’s census data starts in 1830.

While the library has copies of the Lincoln Courier and its predecessor from 1859 to present, it requires knowledge of a specific date to access data. During the Civil War years, this resource is a bit thin; but records from the 1870’s on are very good. The newspaper could be useful if an article was written about a home modification or even the construction of a significant building.

The library has city and county atlas from several years that show lots in the various Logan County towns. It was noted by several members of the class that their current lot size does not match the original shown in the atlas. Sumrall noted that neighbors could buy and sell small pieces of their holdings thus changing the original shape of a block. House numbers have even changed over the years. All of this sometimes makes the search for records somewhat more complex. A baseline is the atlas which would list the original lot size.

One treasure that is available at the Lincoln Public Library that Sumrall is particularly proud of is a trove of original blueprints of some Lincoln homes. The preeminent architectural firm in Lincoln in the early 20th century was Deal and Ginzel, designer of the current Logan County Courthouse and many other buildings in central Illinois. All of the firm’s records were purchased by a Springfield architectural firm and are now available at the library. While some of these blueprints are in fragile condition, Prairie Engineers has the necessary equipment to photocopy them. Sumrall praised the firm for making their equipment available to the library.

Several history books about Lincoln and Logan County by renowned local historians such as Lawrence Stringer, Paul Gleason, and Paul Beaver are in the library stacks. These have proved useful in separating fact from fiction where houses are concerned.

[to top of second column]

“The library staff and resources are available during regular library hours, but if a question occurs to you outside of these hours, just go to the Lincoln Public Library website and click on ‘Ask a Librarian’, and we will get back to you as soon as possible,” said Sumrall.

Richard Sumrall and Diane Osborn

Diane Osborn is searching Lincoln block-by-block for historic homes, and is well versed in the research sources that are available locally and how to use them. She recommends the Logan County Genealogical & Historical Society research facility on Chicago Street and the volunteers who staff the facility. They are very well versed in the extensive records and are always willing to help the home researcher. While some of the LCGHS records may overlap those of the library, Osborn has found some city directories that the Society has that are not in the library. “Using both resources together is essential to finding as much information as possible,” said Osborn.

The LCGHS has a collection of abstracts that have been donated over the years that are carefully stored in a vault. A home researcher may find just the one for their current research effort. Also available is central Illinois historian and artist David Alan Badger’s book of illustrations of historic Lincoln homes.

One simple tool to determine a home’s history is to ask a long time neighbor of the property. Diane Osborn knocks on doors and asks questions. “You can do the same,” she said.

Over the years, several Lincoln service clubs have offered holiday home tours. The programs from these events can be a valuable research tool.

Osborn recommends county government as another resource for doing home historical research. The Logan County Assessor, County Clerk, and Circuit Clerk have many records that can be useful, and office personnel who can assist. Tanya Conrady in the County Clerk’s office and Brenda Jones in the Circuit Clerk’s office are research specialists. The Assessor has tax bills that sometimes show the age of a house. The County Clerk has land records from 1839 and city directories. Probate records are available in the Circuit Clerk’s office, information that is important in determining who inherited property upon an owner’s death.

One final resource is the Logan County Title Company. Osborn pointed out that this is a private company, and will do historical research as time allows. They also charge a fee for copies.

Osborn is happy to discuss historical home research. If you have a historical home that she has not yet uncovered or if you want some advice on doing your own home biography, she can be contacted online at diane.osborn@comcast.net or 217-605-0011. She wants to hear about your historic home.

What do you really want to know about your 19th century historic home, or for that matter, just the 1950’s bungalow or ranch that you bought twenty years ago? Think about it. When was it built and who designed it, who the first residents were, and who has lived in it since? Are there any secrets within those familiar walls? Lincoln has the resources to find the answers to these questions. You just have to know where to search.

[Curt Fox]

< Top Stories index

Back to top