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Harlan-Lincoln House News

Across the country, from the Lincoln family home neighborhood in Illinois to the Anderson Cottage in Washington, D.C., renovation and restoration projects are planned for various historic Lincoln sites. The Harlan-Lincoln House, on the campus of Iowa Wesleyan College in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, has joined them.

Although Abraham Lincoln did not visit the house, his son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren enjoyed its comfortable rooms. It was built for James Harlan, who was an early president of the college, a U.S. Senator, Secretary of the Department of the Interior, and friend of Lincoln's. Harlan's daughter Mary married Robert Todd Lincoln, son of the President. They brought their three children to this home during summers in the late 1870's and 1880's.

In 1895, the Robert Todd Lincolns became owners and made significant improvements to the home, and in 1907, Mary Harlan Lincoln gave the house to the college "as a tribute to the memory of my father." Since then, the house has been used as a home for college presidents and faculty, Pi Beta Phi chapter rooms, the art house, and since 1959, as a museum.


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The museum collection includes Harlan and Lincoln artifacts, such as a Mary Todd Lincoln mourning veil and part of the coat which President Lincoln wore when he was assassinated. The coat fragment has been on exhibit at the former Lincoln Museum in Fort Wayne, Indiana. James Harlan's wooden recliner, desk, and game table are among original pieces in the house. You also can see a door measuring the heights of the Lincoln-Harlan grandchildren in 1883 as well as other family items.

A committee of college personnel and community volunteers has been working to renovate the house, which is listed on the National Historic Register. In 1997, when the Harlan Family held their reunion in Mt. Pleasant, they gave $2,500 toward an architect's study for renovating the house. The architect's reuse plan calls for building a one-story addition to the back for a warming kitchen and restrooms. The plan also includes adding a wraparound porch similar to the 1895 design and creating a patio and garden area west of the house.

Lynn Ellsworth, college archivist and Executive Director of the Harlan-Lincoln House Renovation Committee, has been a tireless advocate of this historic property. She says, "Because the existing 1876 structure is only a portion remaining of the original Harlan residence, it does not convey the complete story of the day-to-day life of the Harlans and Lincolns. However, it can serve as the setting to tell the story of this family and their place in local and national history."

She adds, "Just as Mary Harlan Lincoln hosted parties here, the house should again welcome friends and guests of Iowa Wesleyan. A dining-reception area in addition to the museum will continue to illustrate the story of the family's historical significance. A community relations office, located on the second floor, will bring activity to the house, reflecting graciousness, vitality, and a sense of tradition to visitors."

The Renovation Committee and the college got a boost from the State Historical Society of Iowa to revitalize the home. In June 2001, the Society notified the Committee of their successful grant application for matching funds to reinforce the main floor and make plumbing and electrical updates under the Historic Resource Development Program. There were 122 applications for these grants, with only 44 recipients.

The Committee also has received financial support from various individuals and two local foundations. Lynn Ellsworth has given programs about the house and its famous inhabitants for many local organizations, and the Committee has held open houses as well as a James Harlan's 180 birthday party. Lynn says, "Progress is steady, but the ultimate goal of a renovated building with a professionally cared-for museum and a hospitality center is still in the future."

How you can help

To contribute to the Harlan-Lincoln House Renovation Project make checks payable to Iowa Wesleyan College, and designate the Harlan-Lincoln House Renovation Project. Mail to: Iowa Wesleyan College, Harlan-Lincoln House, 601 N. Main St., Mt. Pleasant, IA 52641. All contributions are tax deductible.

Related Links

Harlan-Lincoln House
Iowa Wesleyan College
Old Threshers Reunion
Tomb of Robert and Mary Harlan Lincoln

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