Long lost Abraham Lincoln artifact
found at the Mill on Route 66
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[April 27, 2017]
- For many years it has been spoken among local historians that
there was a single point in time where that Abraham Lincoln held
court at the Lincoln Christian Church. The topic has been the root
of some controversy. And though many believed it to be true, hard
evidence was lacking.
This week, Geoff Ladd of the Mill on Route 66 and various other
volunteers have been wrapping up the final preparations for the
grand opening celebration this weekend for the Mill. As a result,
the group stumbled across something remarkable. On Wednesday
morning, Ladd called together the local media and other key people
from the community, and happily unveiled a bronze plaque that once
hung at the Lincoln Christian Church. The plaque states that Lincoln
did indeed hold court at the Lincoln Christian Church in the year
after the Logan County Courthouse burned, in 1857.
Ladd said that he could not verify how the Mill came to have
possession of the plaque, and thus would refer to it as something
from an anonymous donor. However, he said, when he and others from
the local Route 66 Heritage Foundation saw and realized what they
had, everyone knew that it had to be returned to the rightful owner
– the church.
Nancy Rawlings-Saul was called upon to give an account of some
research she had done on the subject. As a career journalist in
Logan County, Saul said the topic had come to her as an assignment.
She had spent a good deal of time researching the topic and in the
end could not conclusively say that Lincoln held court at the
church, though it appeared that he probably did.
She recalled that it was a controversial topic with some of the
local historians not agreeing that it was possible Lincoln could
have been in Lincoln, Illinois during the time period, others
claimed he was there, while others believed it to be true.
Pastor Ron Otto of the Lincoln Christian Church spoke as he accepted
the return of the plaque on behalf of the church. Otto said he had
been at the church for ten years. When he came to the church he
heard the accounts of Lincoln holding court there. He also had a
photo of the plaque which went missing sometime after the first
church building burned. He said like others, he had looked for the
plaque and had hoped to someday find it and bring it back to the
He said that the fact that the plaque has now been found thrills him
and he and the church people will be proud to have the plaque back
on display inside the church.
Ron Keller, who is among a number of local historians who have
studied the life and times of Abraham Lincoln extensively, said that
he believed the plaque was accurate in stating that Lincoln held
court in the church. He noted that if it were true, it would have
been the one and only time Lincoln practiced law inside a church.
Keller expounded on some of the finer details. The Logan County
Courthouse burned in 1857. The Lincoln Christian Church was brand
new, having been completed in 1856. Keller said the new church was
the largest building in town, and thus it made sense that it would
have been a good place to hold court.
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However, word of mouth claimed that Lincoln had held court at the
church in the fall of 1857, and Keller said that he was probably not
in town that fall. It was in September of 1857 that Lincoln spent
the fall in Chicago in one of his most important cases - the Effie
Afton or Rock Island Bridge case. Keller said there was one day and
one day only that Lincoln might have come to town as he traveled
from Chicago to Springfield. However, Keller said that the new Logan
County Courthouse was not opened until the later part of the
following year, and that indeed Abraham Lincoln could have held his
spring court session at the church in 1858.
Keller said that Lincoln’s presence at the church was
recorded in Stringer’s history of Logan County, based on a letter
written by a man named Beidler who had claimed he appeared in court
at the church in fall of 1857, where he saw Abraham Lincoln and
inquired, and was told that indeed it was Lincoln. However, Keller
said he felt there was more than a good chance that Beidler did not
remember correctly the time of year when he appeared in court.
Keller said he contended that Beidler could have appeared before
Abraham Lincoln during the spring session of 1858, which is
Another well-known local historian was on hand, Paul Beaver. Beaver
said he concurred with Keller’s theory that the date was confused,
but that Lincoln did hold court in the church.
Others who spoke included Sarah Watson of the Looking for Lincoln
program. Watson is the Executive Director of Looking for Lincoln.
She noted that Logan County is a portion of the National Abraham
Lincoln Heritage area, and that this community plays a large part in
telling the story of the life and times of Abraham Lincoln. She said
the plaque helped tell the story of the impact he had on our
community and how the community impacted him. She congratulated the
community on finding this lost treasure.
William Kelly of the Illinois Route 66 Scenic By-Way
used one of his favorite words – serendipity, to describe the
circumstances the group was gathered to celebrate. He said this was
a happy surprise that resulted only because of the work done to
re-open the Mill on Route 66. He said that this was how it was meant
to be, that the plaque would be found at this particular time. He
also noted that Route 66 and Abraham Lincoln are joined in history
because Route 66 is the road to Abraham Lincoln. He added, “There is
a confluence between our President and the greatest road in the
Because the plaque was “given” to the Mill, there was a legal
signing over of ownership ceremony between the members of the local
Route 66 Heritage Foundation board members and representatives of
Lincoln Christian Church. Representing the church were Otto, John
Guzzardo and Keller. Representing the foundation in signing the
document were Geoff Ladd, Bob Wilmert, Barb Wilmert, Andrea Dykman,
Nancy Rawlings-Saul, and LeRoy Ranthum.
The Mill will celebrate its grand opening as a Route 66 Museum on
Saturday. An official ribbon cutting ceremony will take place at
noon. Weather permitting there will be a vehicle parade through the
residential areas of Lincoln from downtown to the Mill on Saturday
It is also reported that Governor Bruce Rauner
and Representative Tim Butler will be on hand for the ribbon cut.