Guests at Mount Pulaski Courthouse enjoy hearing Guy Fraker talk about his new book

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[November 20, 2017]   MOUNT PULASKI - On Saturday, November 4th, lawyer/Lincoln historian, Guy Fraker offered to a large audience at the Mount Pulaski Courthouse an overview of his newest book, ďA Guide to Lincolnís Eighth Judicial Circuit.Ē

As the title states, the new book is a tourist guide through the area that Abraham Lincoln represented in the Eighth Judicial Circuit in the 1800ís that took place prior to his Presidency. Lincoln was a known friend to many, including a large collection of people in Logan County.

His circuit from 1847 to 1853 included Sangamon, Menard, Tazewell, Woodford, McLean, Logan, DeWitt, Champaign, Ford, Vermillion, Edgar, Shelby, Moultrie, Macon, and Christian counties.

Fraker began by noting that in the day, the Eighth Judicial Circuit was the most important circuit in the state. He noted that this was prior to the rise of influence in Chicago. He also noted that the circuit was quite large in the early days, but was later reduced to eight counties, that still contained Logan County.

Lincoln rode the circuit on horseback, and had a set route that permitted him to visit specific county courthouses on a regular basis. Fraker noted that the square mileage of the circuit was twice the size of the state of Connecticut.

Lincoln rode the circuit twice a year, in the spring, and in the fall. He would leave Springfield in the middle of March and generally arrived back home in the mid-part of June. In the fall, he would leave home in August and return in November.

He noted some significant differences in the 1850ís map versus today. He said that first Tremont was the County Seat of Tazewell County, but it changed to Pekin while Lincoln was riding the circuit. He noted that in McLean County, the town of Normal did not exist; in Champaign County the town of Champaign did not exist. And, as most know, in Logan County, the county seat bounced from Postville, to Mount Pulaski, to Lincoln.

Fraker noted that Lincoln crossed Coles County but Coles was not in the circuit, though some have claimed that it was.

Fraker pointed out locations of the Lincoln Circuit Markers, put up by the Lincoln Circuit Marker Association. He explained that the markers are at county lines where Lincoln crossed into different counties along his circuit. He said the Logan/McLean county marker is located on an east/west road west of Atlanta.

Fraker said that these markers are not easily found. To help readers of the book to find the markers, he has added GPS coordinates to assist tourists. Fraker noted that in many communities, the markers have been defaced, but some have been partially restored. In addition, he said that there are people even in the communities where the markers stand that do not know why they are there.

Fraker mentioned briefly the Looking for Lincoln signage that can be found along the circuit and noted that there is one such sign at the Mount Pulaski Courthouse. In his book, the illustration he uses is the signage outside his own office building in Bloomington.

Also in Frakerís book there are more than 90 photos of various significant landmarks in the Eighth Circuit of Lincolnís history.

Fraker noted that within the circuit, many of the buildings are now gone, but a few do remain. Among those remaining of course is the Mount Pulaski Courthouse, but also the Metamora Courthouse in Woodford County.

Fraker said that between the two courthouses, he finds the Mount Pulaski building the most desirable historically because it is still all original. He said the Metamora Courthouse is wonderful, and there is a really good museum on the ground floor, and the original courthouse on the second floor. He said while the museum is really nice, it takes away from the originality of the building. At Mount Pulaski, he said when one walks in the front door, they immediately feel the history and see the courthouse as Lincoln himself would have seen in in the days of the circuit.

In the Bloomington area, Judge David Davis and his wife Sarah were dear friends to Lincoln, and influential in their community.

He noted that Sarah Davis was much loved by everyone, and that there has been a child named Sarah in every generation since.

Along the circuit, Lincoln stayed in a variety of locations, including one regular stop he made in the town of Delavan. In the day the inn was named the Delavan House, but was later renamed as the Phillips House. The building was built in 1837 and first called the Colony House. The concept was that the inn provided a place for colonists to the area to live while they were building their homesteads. Once their homes were built they moved out and took residency on their newly settled property. The building burned in 1879.

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Fraker said that there was a confirmed connection between Lincoln and the Delavan (Phillips) House, in that there is a signature from the inns registry that is still in existence. He related that a woman from his church had told him once that she and her husband had received the signature from a relative as a wedding gift. Fraker asked to see it, and was given that opportunity.

He noted that the signature had been cut out of the registry, which was a shame, as many of the lawyers and judges who rode the circuit stayed in the same places. He said it was hard to say how many other historical signatures would have been on that page.

He also explained that the signature, which is dated September 12, 1843, offers proof positive to disprove another historical claim. He said that another book written by another author chronicles the daily travels of Lincoln on the circuit. In that book on this same date it is reported that Lincoln spent the night in Metamora. Fraker said this signature, which has been authenticated, shows that the other book is in error.


Other interesting stories in the book include a stop at the Hoblit Farm in Atlanta. Fraker said he visited the farm and its present day owner Susan Hoblit. The Hoblit family has a long history in the Atlanta area, and Susanís family history includes a great relationship between Lincoln and one of the senior Hoblitís. Hoblit told a story about how the farm house had burned, and the family was living in a barn on the property while the home was being rebuilt. Lincoln paid a visit, and the mister of the house said that he would find a friend to take Lincoln in. Lincoln asked Mr. Hoblit where his own family was staying, and Hoblit indicated in the barn. Lincoln surmised that if it was good enough for them, then it was good enough for him as well, so he stayed with the Hoblit family, and slept in the barn.

Fraker said that barn still stands on the family farm.

He also noted that the Hoblit farm is located on a high spot in the area, and looking southward, Susan Hoblit can see Elkhart hill, 23 miles away.

Another interesting story comes from Urbana. When Lincoln rode the circuit, Champaign did not exist. Fraker noted that as the city of Champaign was being formed and growing up, town officials in Urbana were hugely concerned that the county seat would be moved to the new city. To help fight that move, the city built a new courthouse, one of the most extravagant of its time. Their thought was that if they built something so wonderful, then no one would dare move the county seat.

Fraker talked about the terrain where Lincoln traveled, noting that in many places he rode across prairie where there was only a trail, if that. He said in many areas, the path he rode is no longer, or it has been replaced with a modern highway or road. However, he said there is one piece of the path near Charleston where Lincoln rode that is still in very close to its original state. He noted that the road is a single lane gravel path that has changed very little since the day of the Eighth Circuit.

Fraker spent the better part of an hour, going through dozens of photos that are included in his new book. The book is an ultimate self-guided tour book of the Eighth Judicial Circuit with stories about each location, directions, addresses, and in some cases even GPS navigation coordinates to assist drivers in finding the locations.

He talked about each courthouse, and noted that it was not a coincidence that many of the courthouses in the day were built in a Salt Box design.

He showed pictures of fords where Lincoln would have crossed creeks with no bridges, and towns, such as Decatur that are rich with Lincoln history.

The book also outlines places where Lincoln stayed, including the less than par Mount Pulaski House, several other inns, many probably no better, and the homes of friends.

After his presentation, Fraker set up shop at a table upstairs, where he offered up his new book for sale along with his last Lincoln book, ďLincolnís Ladder to the Presidency: The Eighth Judicial Circuit.Ē Fraker also signed copies of the books as they were purchased.

Guests to the lecture were greeted by Mount Pulaski Courthouse Director Barbara Stoud-Both, who offered welcoming comments before the lecture began. Both before and afterward, guests were invited to enjoy coffee and cookies that were set up downstairs.

[Nila Smith]

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