About Abraham Lincoln's Home in Springfield, Illinois

Front View of Lincoln Home, 5 Windows Across on Second Floor, Center Door on First Floor With 2 Windows on Each Side
Symmetrical Facade of Lincoln's Springfield Home. Photo courtesy National Park Service Digital Image Archives via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain
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Abraham Lincoln's First and Only Owned Home

Abraham Lincoln's home in Springfield, Illinois was not always two stories.
Abraham Lincoln's home in Springfield, Illinois was not always two stories. Photo courtesy National Park Service Digital Image Archives via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

When Abraham Lincoln was 35 years old in 1844, he bought a little cottage on the corner of Eighth and Jackson Streets in Springfield, Illinois. He was a state legislator practicing law, married for two years, and a new father. He paid $1500 for some land and what has been described as "a small Greek Revival-style house"—not the house style shown here. Built in 1839 by the Reverend Charles Dresser, Lincoln's first house was fairly new construction when he purchased it five years later. In the tradition of Thomas Jefferson and his Virginia home called Monticello, Mr. Lincoln took to home remodeling like a politician takes to speech-making.

Lincoln was elected President of the United States in 1860, which gave him a few years to fix up the old homestead in Springfield. Back in those days, professional architects didn't even exist—architecture was not a licensed profession until after the AIA was founded in 1857. So what did Lincoln do with his little cottage? Here's the rest of the story.

Source: Lincoln Home National Historic Site website, www.nps.gov/liho/index.htm [accessed February 5, 2013]

02
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Raising the Roof in 1855

Elevation Drawings, The Lincoln Home From One-and-a-Half Story to Two Stories
The Lincoln Home From One-and-a-Half Story to Two Stories. Public Domain image courtesy of Lincoln Home National Historic Site, The Lincoln Home, National Park Service Photo (cropped, accessed 2/27/17)

When Abe and his family, Mary and Robert, moved into the little house on the corner, the structure was only 1 ½ stories high with five to six rooms—not the house we see today. Three rooms occupied the first floor and two to three "sleeping lofts" were upstairs in the half story. An upstairs floor is considered a "half" story when the second floor ceilings are sloped, taking the shape of the roof.

Lincoln's Renovations and Remodeling:

From when they bought the house in 1844 until they moved to Washington, D.C. in 1861, the Lincoln family oversaw many renovations to their Springfield home:

  • 1846: bedroom and pantry addition to the back of the house
  • 1849-1850: added parlor room stoves and the front brick retaining wall; replaced the wooden sidewalk with a brick front walk
  • 1853: added a barn
  • 1855: raised the roof of the original cottage to two stories
  • 1856: raised the back addition to two full stories; added the iron railing to the second floor porch; constructed a wall between the kitchen and dining room
  • 1859: the backyard washing house was torn down, so one might assume that indoor plumbing was installed in the main house; a woodshed was added to the barn

According to The History of Plumbing, indoor plumbing was more common after 1840 and the invention of packaged toilet paper in 1857. Nevertheless, a traditional bathroom or "water closet" does not appear on the floor plan of Lincoln's home.

Source: Lincoln Home National Historic Site website, www.nps.gov/liho/index.htm [accessed February 5, 2013]

03
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Lincoln House Floor Plan

First and Second Floor Plans of Renovated Lincoln Home in Springfield, Illinois
First and Second Floor Plans of Renovated Lincoln Home in Springfield, Illinois. Public Domain image courtesy of Lincoln Home National Historic Site, House Tour, Museum Management Program, National Park Service (cropped, accessed 2/27/17)

The Lincoln Home in Illinois was transformed between 1844 and 1861, just before the new President and his family left for Washington, D.C. To better understand what the homeowners accomplished before they departed Springfield, begin with visualizing the home they bought.

Visualizing from Floor Plans:

Look on the first floor, the Front Parlor and Sitting Room. That rectangular shape, with fireplaces on either short side, is the original house. Directly above that first floor (what is now Lincoln's Bedroom, Stairs, and the Guest Bedroom) was a half floor attic, with sloping ceilings, and two, three, or four "sleeping lofts."

Look at the front center of the first floor. One aspect of the house that remains today is the unusual inset front door. This structural feature is evident in both the floor plan and the house as it looks today. Inset doors were more common when an extended entryway or porch was present. We know that Lincoln bought "a small Greek Revival-style house," and a columned entry portico was common to this style. The inset door may be a remnant of such a columned porch, which "Mr. Lincoln, Home Remodeler" probably had removed when he raised the roof in 1855.

Source: Lincoln Home National Historic Site website, www.nps.gov/liho/index.htm [accessed February 5, 2013]

04
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Old Homes, Then and Now

Upper floor detail of Abraham Lincoln's home in Springfield, Illinois
Upper floor detail of Abraham Lincoln's home in Springfield, Illinois. Photo courtesy National Park Service Digital Image Archives via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

How do we know what Abraham Lincoln's Springfield, Illinois house looked like when the Lincolns bought it in 1944? The Process of Architectural Investigation is like geneology for homes. By researching documents, records, journals, and correspondences, historians and preservationists have discovered that Abraham Lincoln was quite a rehabber!

Researching an Older Home:

Imagine the present Lincoln House without the back addition and without the second floor double-hung windows—as small as a Colonial Revival Bungalow and probably with Greek Revival-style columns. The house you tour at the Lincoln Home National Historic Site is not the house the Lincolns bought in 1844. It is, however, the house he owned when he was assassinated.

What style is Lincoln's home?

Mr. Lincoln seems to have been architecturally influenced by 18th century fashions when he remodeled Reverend Dresser's small 1839 cottage. The renovated house has many features of a Georgian Colonial. This style of house, popular from the reign of King George I (1714-1727) to the American Revolution, is characterized by symmetry, paired chimneys, medium pitched roof, paneled front center door, and Classic details.

The new roof Lincoln installed in 1855, however, has a more pronounced overhang than a Georgian style. The current Lincoln home has characteristics of an Adam house style, similar to but evolved from Georgian. Sketches in McAlesters' A Field Guide to American Houses point out details found on the Lincoln home—six over six window sashes, shutters, decorative brackets in the eaves, and decorative moldings atop the windows.

Robert Adams (1728-1792) and James Adams (1732-1794) were prominent British architects, and their influences on architecture are often called Adamesque. Because Lincoln changed the original style through remodeling, perhaps we should call his old house Lincolnesque. The architectural influences of the 18th century may have been a stepping stone for homeowner Lincoln, and perhaps he had other ideas for his house after his presidency, but we will never know.

Continuing Challenges of Owning an Older Home:

For the Lincoln House, preservationists have chosen historic paint colors known to be used at the time of Lincoln, but not necessarily compatible with the house style. The challenges of owning an older house are immense; being true to accurately preserving history is a process of approximations. Researching the past is not always an easy path to future preservation, but it's a good beginning.

 

Source: Lincoln Home National Historic Site website, www.nps.gov/liho/index.htm [accessed February 5, 2013]

05
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Was Lincoln Just Like You and Me?

Country Side Porch at Lincoln's Springfield Home
Country Side Porch at Lincoln's Springfield Home. Photo courtesy National Park Service Digital Image Archives via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

After becoming the 16th President of the United States in 1860, Abraham Lincoln never returned to live in his Springfield house. From 1861 until 1887 the house was rented, the last tenant profiting from Lincoln's assassination and notoriety by turning the house into a museum. Gas lighting was installed sometime after 1869; the first telephone was installed sometime around 1878; and electricity was first used in 1899. Robert Lincoln gave the house to the State of Illinois in 1887.

Learn More:

  • Cut & Assemble Lincoln's Springfield Home, a scale model activity
    Buy on Amazon
  • The Original Lincoln Logs
    Buy on Amazon
  • Lincoln's Springfield Neighborhood by Bonnie E. Paull and Richard E. Hart, 2015
    Buy on Amazon
  • Looking for Lincoln in Illinois: Lincoln's Springfield by Bryon C. Andreasen, Southern Illinois University Press, 2015
    Buy on Amazon

Source: Lincoln Home National Historic Site website, www.nps.gov/liho/index.htm [accessed February 5, 2013]

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Craven, Jackie. "About Abraham Lincoln's Home in Springfield, Illinois." ThoughtCo, Mar. 7, 2017, thoughtco.com/abraham-lincoln-the-home-remodeler-178461. Craven, Jackie. (2017, March 7). About Abraham Lincoln's Home in Springfield, Illinois. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/abraham-lincoln-the-home-remodeler-178461 Craven, Jackie. "About Abraham Lincoln's Home in Springfield, Illinois." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/abraham-lincoln-the-home-remodeler-178461 (accessed November 21, 2017).