Long lost Abraham Lincoln artifact found at the Mill on Route 66

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[April 27, 2017]  LINCOLN - 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 church.

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 provable.

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 world.”

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 morning.

Other activities planned include a “Blessing of Bikes” ceremony for area motorcyclists. It is also reported that Governor Bruce Rauner and Representative Tim Butler will be on hand for the ribbon cut.

[Nila Smith]

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