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Abraham Lincoln Statue

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The bronze, life-size statue of Abraham Lincoln was unveiled and dedicated on August 15, 2009, to commemorate the 125th celebration of Old Settlers Days and the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birthday. Created by renowned Lincoln sculptor and historian, the late John McClarey of Decatur, the statue depicts Lincoln in his mid-30s, wearing a top hat and coat. He has just arrived in town, having put down his travel bag and umbrella, and is leaning back slightly to get the kinks out of his back from the long trip from Springfield. He is looking towards the plaza stage with a slight smile. Describing his concept for the sculpture, Mr. McClarey said, "This statue shows an aspect of Lincoln's character –– his love of music, theater and all forms of entertainment –– not portrayed in any other public statuary. Lincoln relied on music, public discourse and conversation with friends to provide the balance he needed to deal with tragedies in his personal life as well as the tragedies of war." The statue's title, Among Friends, recognizes the many friends Lincoln had in Hillsboro, where he often stopped and stayed overnight during trips from New Salem to Vandalia, then the state capital. The Old Settlers Association, led by the late Kathy Dagon, provided the initial $17,000 to commission Mr. McClarey. Private donations financed the remaining balance of the $80,000 project. Commemorative tiles lining the plaza stage and wall recognize those individuals, businesses, organizations and families who donated to the effort. Soon after the dedication ceremony, Hillsboro City Council designated this corner of Courthouse Square as Lincoln Plaza. It has become a popular site for a variety of activities and events, including musical performances, pep rallies and farmer's markets. Mr. Lincoln, 6'4" tall plus his top hat, is a frequent subject for selfie photographs with friends and the Historic Montgomery County Courthouse acts as the backdrop.

"A Walk Through Lincoln's History with Hillsboro."

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Montgomery County Historic Courthouse

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Perched on a small rise in the center of the Hillsboro, Illinois.’ public square, the Montgomery County Historic Courthouse was built over a period of time from 1868 to 1872, but is on the same site of the previous courthouse well known to Lincoln. On July 15, 1843, Lincoln was in Hillsboro speaking on behalf of candidates for the Whig congressional ticket, and he spoke at the county’s second courthouse a wood-frame structure built in 1833. His speech was not recorded in writing as Hillsboro was without a newspaper at that time. Oral histories stated that his speech was humorous and filled with stories. At that same courthouse on July 20, 1844, Lincoln addressed a large crowd, advocating for Henry Clay for President, who was defeated by James K. Polk. It’s also known that Lincoln filed legal papers at the county courthouse, but these documents were vandalized and stolen many years ago. The thief was caught, but the Lincoln signatures that had been cut from the documents were not recovered. The current Historic Courthouse is the third building Montgomery County has used as its courthouse since the county was formed in 1821. The need for this larger courthouse resulted from the county’s increased population, as documented by the 1870 census showing 25,314 persons living in Montgomery County.The cost of this courthouse totaled over $130,000, which included furnishings, an iron fence and sidewalk. Originally, the county jail was located on the bulding’s third floor, with the sheriff’s living quarters on the second. At least one child, Ross Griswold, was born in the courthouse on July 25, 1889, when his father, John Griswold was sheriff. When a separate jail building was built in 1909, the jail and living quarters were remodeled for county offices and jury rooms. In 1912, an addition was built on the northwest corner of the courthouse to accommodate the county court. The greatest alteration in the appearance of the courthouse was caused by the 1952 removal of the cupola on the southwest tower due to its deteriorated condition. A close second would be the replacement of all the windows with metal clad sash in 1982. Very little of the original interior details can be seen today, as most were replaced in the 1970s with paneling, false ceilings and carpet, along with the installation of an elevator, which replaced a beautiful spiral wooden staircase. Today, the Historic Courthouse houses the offices of the County Treasurer, County Recorder & Collector, Supervisor of Assessments, GIS Services, County Coordinator and the Montgomery County Board. A neon sign reading “The World Needs God” was hung above the main south entrance in the 1940s at the request of the Federated Women’s Bible Club. It remained there until its removal in 1996 after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against Montgomery County on behalf of two anonymous plaintiffs, who claimed the sign violated the Constitution. In 1999, the refurbished sign was placed on the southwest corner of a privately owned building just west of the square, and today serves as a reminder of its message as well as the law dictating the separation of church and state. Although altered somewhat from its original appearance, the Historic Montgomery County Courthouse remains a “handsome and imposing structure” widely recognized as a local landmark that was listed in 1996 on the National Register of Historic Places. Created by renowned Lincoln sculptor and historian, the late John McClarey of Decatur, the statue depicts Lincoln in his mid-30s, wearing a top hat and coat. He has just arrived in town, having put down his travel bag and umbrella, and is leaning back slightly to get the kinks out of his back from the long trip from Springfield. He is looking towards the plaza stage with a slight smile. Describing his concept for the sculpture, Mr. McClarey said, "This statue shows an aspect of Lincoln's character –– his love of music, theater and all forms of entertainment –– not portrayed in any other public statuary. Lincoln relied on music, public discourse and conversation with friends to provide the balance he needed to deal with tragedies in his personal life as well as the tragedies of war." The statue's title, Among Friends, recognizes the many friends Lincoln had in Hillsboro, where he often stopped and stayed overnight during trips from New Salem to Vandalia, then the state capital. The Old Settlers Association, led by the late Kathy Dagon, provided the initial $17,000 to commission Mr. McClarey. Private donations financed the remaining balance of the $80,000 project. Commemorative tiles lining the plaza stage and wall recognize those individuals, businesses, organizations and families who donated to the effort. Soon after the dedication ceremony, Hillsboro City Council designated this corner of Courthouse Square as Lincoln Plaza. It has become a popular site for a variety of activities and events, including musical performances, pep rallies and farmer's markets. Mr. Lincoln, 6'4" tall plus his top hat, is a frequent subject for selfie photographs with friends and the Historic Montgomery County Courthouse acts as the backdrop.

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Civil War Cannon

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The Civil War cannon sitting on the front lawn of the Montgomery County Historic Courthouse is one of only three known Confederate bronze 12-pounder Howitzers manufactured in 1862 by the Noble Brothers & Company of Rome, Georgia. The foundry where it was made was destroyed by General Sherman’s troops two years later, and the remaining two cannons are at the Gettysburg Battlefield in Pennsylvania. The “Trophy Cannon” is so called because it was captured from the Confederates and has a straight, heavy barrel capable of firing 12 pound projectiles, including both solid and gunpowder filled cannon balls. The cannon was donated by F.D. Hubbel to the Women’s Relief Corps of Hillsboro by an Act of Congress on December 12, 1930. The cannon was originally mounted on a concrete pedestal, pointing westward, on the southeast corner of the courthouse lawn. The Lincoln Tablet, containing the Gettysburg address, was attached to the south face of the pedestal. The cannon was dedicated for the first time on Memorial Day, 1931. During World War II, many trophy cannons were donated and melted down, their bronze used primarily as war ship propellers. However, this cannon survived intact and remained in place for six decades. In early 1997, a Civil War buff from Missouri contacted the Montgomery County Board and offered to purchase the cannon for $45,000. Upon investigation, county officials learned that Civil War experts at the Smithsonian and the Watervliet Arsenal Museum appraised its value at $50,000-$70,000, and recommended it be placed in safe storage. Montgomery County Board members debated where the cannon should be located, and eventually it was placed back on the Historic Courthouse lawn, firmly secured onto a replica Civil War gun carriage built by Paulson Brothers Ordnance Company of Rend Lake, Wisconsin. The Lincoln Tablet was again placed below the Cannon. The cannon was formally rededicated in May 1999 during a ceremony conducted by members of the 8th Regiment Missouri Volunteer Infantry US Civil War re-enactors. The regiment camped overnight and marched to the Courthouse from the Beckemeyer School grounds, where Abraham Lincoln spoke on September 9, 1858.

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Red Rooster Inn

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Lodging and food have been provided at this location since John Rutledge first opened the Rutledge Tiger Inn in 1825, when Hillsboro was just two years old. The inn was a wooden frame structure that served as a tavern and hotel. Rates that Mr. Rutledge could charge were set by the County Commissioners and included no more than 37-1/2 cents for a pint of whiskey, brandy or wine, and 12-1/2 cent for a quart of cider. Lodging could be not more than 12-1/2 cents per person per night and this was also the fee for stabling a horse. Two frame additions had been added to the inn by 1851, when John M. Hagee purchased it and re-named it Hagee House. This tavern/hotel was the one that Abraham Lincoln would have passed by after departing the train depot which was located to the north down what was then the Taylorville Road. He micht have sat on the tavern’s porch to chat with guests and townspeople. Part of the current brick structure replaced the Hagee House, which was cut into three sections and moved, to be used as private residences. Two remain and are in use as single family dwellings, at 719 Jefferson St. and 530 W. Summer St. The third section was at 423 W. Tremont St. and was torn down some years ago. Hotel Hillsboro was built in 1902 and other brick additions were built as needed over the years. Hotel Hillsboro was owned and operated by others over the coming years. Mrs. Otillia Brinton purchased the hotel and she and members of her family operate it for over 70 years. Mary Virginia (Brinton) Imle operated the hotel for 40 plus years, and it was during her tenure that the name was changed to the Red Rooster Inn. Later, competition with hotel chains and few guests caused financial setbacks and a deteriorating physical condition. The building stood empty for some time befoe John and Kendra Wright purchased the hotel in 2017 and over the next five years poured their hearts and finances to meticulously restore the entire structure. Today, the Historic Red Rooster Inn includes 13 hotel rooms, two suites, six apartments, bar/tap room restaurant, outdoor beer garden, and a state-of-the-art brewery and distillery.

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Home of Joseph & Jane Eccles

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Of all the friends who Abraham Lincoln counted in Hillsboro, Joseph Eccles was.his closest. Joseph was born in Kentucky on January 7, 1807. He and his wife, Jane were married in 1829, and the next year they moved to a farm just outside Vandalia, Illinois. There, Joseph Eccles farmed, taught school and operated a mercantile business. The Eccles family later moved to Hillsboro, where Joseph was a justice of the peace, assistant assessor, deputy collector of U.S. revenue, and a recruiting officer for Union troops in Hillsboro. When traveling through Hillsboro, Lincoln often stayed at Joseph and Jane’s home on the corner of Berry and Water streets. Lincoln was known to sit on the Eccles' staircase and stretch out while telling stories to folks who came by to visit with him. Prior to the demolition of the Eccles' home many years later, the wooden step that Lincoln favored was removed from the house, and it is in the collection of the Historical Society of Montgomery County. Eccles and Lincoln corresponded numerous times, most often on political matters and local issues important to Lincoln. Eccles was also a delegate to the state constitutional convention in 1848. Letters between Lincoln and Eccles are well documented and show their true friendship. Lincoln considered Eccles an important advisor. It was Eccles who convinced Lincoln to come to Hillsboro to make a speech while campaigning against Stephen Douglas for the U.S. Senate on September 9, 1858. Douglas had spoken here just a month earlier, onAugust 2nd. "Uncle Joe" and "Aunt Jane”, as their Hillsboro friends affectionately called them, visited President Lincoln in Washington at least two times. So much more could be written about the relationship and friendship of these two men. Eccles died in Hillsboro on July 12, 1888. Both he and Jane are buried in Oak Grove Cemetery, Hillsboro.

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Historic Harkey House & Museum of the

Historical Society of Montgomery County

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The oldest family dwelling in Hillsboro is the historic Harkey House at 305 S. Broad St. This home was built by Solomon Harkey in 1834 for his growing family and remained in the family until 1906. The Harkey House was originally located one block north (where the Hillsboro Fire Department is) and was moved to its present location in 1968 after the owners, the Ivan Lingle family, offered it to the Historical Society of Montgomery County to preserve and use as its headquarters. Abraham Lincoln related items in the Society’s possession include the wooden third step from the home of Joseph and Jane Eccles on the southeast corner of Water and Berry strees (one block west of where the Harkey House now stands). Lincoln sat on that step and stretched his long legs while visiting the Eccles and other local friends who knew of his arrival to town. Also, the Society owns a pair of scissors that belonged to Abraham's mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, who died when Abe was nine years old. After Nancy's death and prior to coming to Illinois, Thomas Lincoln (Abe's father) had a sale, and Mr. Bowling Green purchased these scissors, which made their wasy to the Society’s collection. A letter in which the writer recalled Lincoln being a visitor to the Harkey family home is with the Society also. In early 2023, Historical Society officers decided to return the Harkey House to an actual “period home” representing the years that the Harkey family lived in the house (1834-1906). The small home directly behind the Harkey House is owned by the Society and had provided rental income for many years. Officers voted to make this home into the Montgomery County Museum. The structure, which is on the site of the first school in Hillsboro, has hand hewn beams and roof rafters with the bark still attached to the wood. The Montgomery County Museum opened to the public in August 2023 and offers exhibits that are rotated every four months. Historical Society volunteers taff the museum and gift shop from 10 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on Wednesday and Saturday.

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The American House

The American House hotel stood on the southeast corner of Main and Wood Streets, on the site of the historic Opera House, renovated in recent years to the present-day Opera House Brewing Company. Described as “one of the most elegant hotels in this part of the state,” the American House for years was a place to rendezvous for attorneys who came to Hillsboro for court business, and it was a stopping place for Abraham Lincoln on several occasions. The American House was never torn down. It had been built in three parts, two of which were added after the original house was erected. The three sections were eventually moved to three locations in Hillsboro.

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Blockburger Inn

This empty lot was the site of the Blockburger Inn, a two-story, gray brick house that in the 1800s was an inn, tavern, small general store and stage stop popular with locals and travelers passing through Hillsboro. It’s well documented that Lincoln often stayed here while coming from Springfield to Vandalia. Written accounts state that Lincoln enjoyed sitting on the porch and visiting with friends and opponents alike. Lincoln is said to have boarded here in 1842 when he was in this part of the state making plans for his announced duel with James Shields, a hot-blooded politician who became offended at Lincoln and challenged him to a duel. The Inn’s owner, Christian Blockburger, a good friend of Lincoln, was rumored to be Lincoln’s “second” (stand-in) for the duel. It was the custom for the person challenged to select the weapons, and Lincoln chose cavalry broadswords. Lincoln said he and Shields were to stand knee to knee and hack until one was mortally wounded. This suggestion so intimidated Shields, the story goes, that he withdrew his offer to fight. Blockburger, who had served with Lincoln in the Illinois House, died in 1845 and is buried in Bluff Cemetery in Hillsboro. The Blockburger Inn, which later became a private residence, was razed in January 1927. A Shell station, dubbed the Lincoln Filling Station, occupied this site until it was removed.

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Hayward House

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The home at 504 S. Main St. was built for Mr. John Hayward in 1850 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Mr. Hayward served as the secretary-treasurer of the Hillsboro Academy, which was located directly across the street to the east (where Hardee's is now). It is well known that Lincoln was a close friend of the Hayward family and that they often entertained him while he was in town. Miss Mary Catherine Osborne-Fowler-Williams served as a maid to the Hayward family, and she claimed that they treated her like family, too. She recalled in a letter how Mt. Lincoln was a frequent visitor to the Hayward home and that he enjoyed spending time in their back yard garden area.

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Hillsboro Academy

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Early Hillsboro leaders, including John Tillson, expressed their desire for an academic institution, and in November 1837 the Hillsboro Academy opened its doors to both boys and girls. (The Carnegie library, a replica of the Academy structure, was later built across School Street.) In 1847, the Academy directors decided to transfer the charter of the school to the Literary and Theological Institute of the Lutheran Church of the Far West, and the Hillsboro Academy became known as Hillsboro College (the first Lutheran college in Illinois). The Rev. Francis Springer was named president of Hillsboro College. Francis and Mary Springer had built a home in 1840 at the corner of Eighth and Jackson Streets in Springfield. A two-story home across the street was sold in 1844 to Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln. The Springers and Lincolns became very close friends, and Lincoln stated that "there is no more reliable man" than Francis Springer. By 1852, in an effort to ensure the future of the college, the charter and school were relocated to Springfield and renamed Illinois State University (not to be confused with the ISU in Nornal). Francis Springer remained the president of the college until 1855. He died in 1892 and is buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery, Springfield, the same cemetery as his dear friend Lincoln.

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Challacombe House

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Although this site has no direct connection to Lincoln, what is now the Challacombe House was built prior to the Civil War by Captain Thomas Phillips, Hillsboro’s first mayor. Captain Phillips was a veteran of the War of 1812 and the Black Hawk War when he moved his family from Kentucky to Hillsboro in 1827. After living here for several years, Phillips sold the house to his son, Colonel Jesse J. Phillips, who during the Civil War was commander of the 9th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment, which he helped organize in April 1861, one month after Lincoln became President. The Colonel was brevetted Brigadier General, US Volunteers on March 13, 1865, for "gallant and meritorious services.” After the war, Phillips practiced law in Hillsboro, became a circuit court judge and was elected to the Illinois Supreme Court, serving as its Chief Justice in 1897. Judge Phillips, age 63, died at this residence on February 16, 1901, and is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery, Hillsboro. The house was subsequently the home of Mr. and Mrs. John Challacombe and then their only child, Miss Esther Challacombe. When she died in 1942, she left the property to the City of Hillsboro, requesting that it become a community meeting place. The city-owned Challacombe House is a popular venue for family gatherings and local organizations, and its grounds and walking trail is part of Hillsboro’s park system.

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Lincoln Trail

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The Lincoln Trail, located at 1035 Seymoure Ave., commemorates the place where Abraham Lincoln delivered a speech on September 9, 1858, during his campaign for the United States Senate. At that time, what is now the campus of Beckemeyer Elementary School, was the Hillsboro Fairgrounds, where crowds attended agricultural exhibits, political rallies and horse races. A portion of the one-third mile Lincoln Trail follows the original racetrack. The Trail is used by students and physical education classes on school days, and is popular with the walking public when school is not in session. In 1858, when Lincoln and Judge Stephen A. Douglas were running for the U.S. Senate, both spoke at the Hillsboro Fairgrounds one month apart – Douglas on August 2nd and Lincoln on September 9th. Their famous debates in seven other Illinois towns occurred between August 21 to October 15. On Sept. 9th, the Spaulding and Rodgers Circus was at the Hillsboro Fairgrounds, and Lincoln spoke inside the circus canvas. Published reports of his speech are varied. In a published account, a local resident who obviously liked what he heard Lincoln say in Hillsboro, wrote in a letter to the Illinois State Journal, “It continued to rain a perfect torrent during the whole time of the speaking. The seats and pits were packed full of men who hoisted their umbrellas and stood until the last word was heard. At the close, cheer after cheer was given, and a thousand hats were thrown in the air in token of the principles and soul of our own Abe Lincoln.”

1035 Seymour Ave. 

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H & B Bremer Wildlife Sanctuary

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Bremer Wildlife Sanctuary, located one mile north of the Historic Courthouse, offers a rare glimpse of what the native prairie looked like during Lincoln's early days in Illinois when he traveled widely through this part of the state on his visits to the second state capital of Vandalia. This site, with its panoramic view of the surrounding countryside, also pays visual homage to two monumental acts signed by President Lincoln in 1862. The first was the Morrill Act, which created a land grant college in each state, including our own University of Illinois. These colleges were directed to actively promote agriculture and industrial education and also the extension of this learning to the general population. Jonathan Baldwin Turner, an originator of this concept and a Montgomery County landowner, enlisted Lincoln's support for this idea and Mr. Turner’s descendants still farm his original acreage near Butler, just a few miles from here. Second was the Homestead Act, which granted 150 acres of federal land to any head of household who would live on the property and improve it for five years. Eventually, up to 19 million individuals became landowners through its provisions. This farm, which began with the Bremer family’s purchase of 50 acres of federal land in 1857, was similar to the small productive farms that Lincoln envisioned throughout the nation when he signed the Homestead Act.

194 Bremer Lane

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