“From Illinois Historical Library to Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library” by S.M. O’Connor

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum (A.L.P.L.M.) down in Springfield is operated by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and is funded in part privately through the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation.[1]  The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library (ALPL) began as the Illinois State Historical Library, which the Illinois General Assembly established in 1889 as a repository for the state’s political, social, and religious history.  The core of the Lincoln collection was amassed by Henry Horner (1878-1940), Governor of Illinois (1933-1940), who bequeathed the Horner Collection to the I.S.H.L. In 1943, the I.S.H.L. acquired one of the five original handwritten versions of the Gettysburg Address.[2] The A.L.P.L.M.’s copy, written at the request of the famous educator and statesman Edward Everett (1794-1865),[3] the main speaker on November 19, 1863 at the Gettysburg Cemetery dedication, came to the State of Illinois in 1944 thanks to the contributions of pennies by Illinois schoolchildren plus a donation by department store magnate, newspaper publisher, banker, and philanthropist Marshall Field III (1893-1956). Our state’s copy contains the two famous additional words “under God” that Lincoln had not included in his two original draft copies.  Subsequent acquisitions have included a collection of Lincoln family correspondence and the Barry & Louise Taper collection of “Lincolniana.”

December 3, 2018 will be the 200th anniversary of Illinois being admitted as a state into the United States of America.  Celebrations began yesterday, Sunday, December 3, 2017.  Since 1787, it had been part of the Northwest Territory.  Between 1670 and 1783, all or parts of Illinois had been a colony, first of the Kingdom of France, and then the United Kingdom of Great Britain.  For most of this period, there were few colonists in Illinois, however, and the natives would have been oblivious to these land claims or regarded the distant kings as powerful allies rather than as overlords.  Before the U.S.A. had gained control of the region in 1783 under the Treaty of Paris that ended the American War of Independence, it had been nominally been part of British North America. It was in this period, that Jean Baptise Du Sable (also known as Jean Baptiste Point-au-Sable) established the first permanent settlement at Chicago where people lived year-round.  Du Sable spoke French, had a French name, and described himself as a “free negro.”[4]  He was related or otherwise connected to the Du Sables, a French colonial noble family.  Sometime prior to 1780, he cultivated property at Peoria, in recognition of which U.S. commissioners who later investigated private land ownership claims of French residents of the Northwest (now the Midwest) awarded him 800 acres at Peoria.[5] He was not alone when he moved to Chicago as he resided there with his wife Catherine, an American Indian whom he wed at Cahokia; their daughter, Susanne; their son-in-law, Jean Baptiste Pelletier; their granddaughter, Eulalie; and son, also named Jean Baptiste Point Sable.  In May of 1800, Du Sable sold his farm and trading post to Jean la Lime, who had the misfortune to become Chicago’s first murder victim in 1812.  Prior to the British victory over the French in the French and Indian War (1754-1763), Illinois had been part of New France. The explorer Louis Jolliet (1645-1700) and the Jesuit priest Pere Jacques Marquette (1637-1675) found the Chicago Portage (between modern Harlem Avenue and 48th Street) in 1673.[6]  At various points in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, Frenchmen encountered semi-nomadic bands of American Indians belonging to multiple tribes of the Algonquin nation encamped in what is now the Chicago region sporadically in the warmer months for up to several years in a row. A relative handful of Frenchmen, mostly priests who came to convert these hunter-gatherers, lived here also for up to four years in a row.  For long periods of time, the land would go completely unoccupied.  What Du Sable did was head a small group that established a farm and trading post here that was permanent.  Even after he sold the operation and departed, the land remained occupied on a continual basis until the present day.

Mrs. Jessie Palmer Weber was Librarian at the Illinois State Historical Library (I.S.H.L.) from 1898 to 1926.   Her appointment was suggested by Trustee George M. Black of Springfield, as her friend, Professor Evarts Boutell Greene of Columbia University recounted in the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society.  Mrs. Weber was largely responsible for expanding the collections, particularly with the genesis of the Lincoln Collection and the Illinois History Collection. At the time of her appointment, Judge Hiram W. Beckwith, a student of the history of the Old Northwest, served as President of the Board of Trustees of the I.S.H.L.

Judge Beckwith and Mrs. Weber were two of the founders of the Illinois State Historical Society, which incorporated in 1900.  In 1903, it became “legally affiliated with the State Historical Library,” in the words of Dr. Greene.  That same year, Mrs. Weber was elected Secretary & Treasurer of the Illinois State Historical Society (I.S.H.S.).  She was re-elected for what must have been the first of several times in 1904.  Judge Beckwith served as first President of the I.S.H.S.  In 1908, Mrs. Weber established the quarterly Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society.  She remained publisher until her death.

Edmund J. James succeeded Judge Beckwith as President of the Board of Trustees.  James was then a professor at The University of Chicago, but soon became President of the University of Illinois.  Over time, the University of Illinois claimed more and more of his time and he had to retire from the Board of Trustees.

In 1913, when the Illinois General Assembly appointed the Centennial Commission to organize state-wide celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the State of Illinois’s admission into the Union, it consisted of members of both houses, three representatives of the University of Illinois, and two representatives – the president and secretary – of the I.S.H.S.  Mrs. Weber was consequently elected Secretary of the Centennial Commission, which meant, as Professor Greene pointed out, she was simultaneously running the I.S.H.L., the I.S.H.S., and the Centennial Commission. In addition to organizing the centennial celebrations in 1918, the Centennial Commission’s work led to the publication of the six-volume Illinois Centennial History, and the construction of the Centennial Building.

In 1917, the 50th General Assembly passed and Governor Frank O. Lowden signed a law that authorized the construction of a building to house the Illinois State Library (I.S.L.), I.S.H.L., Illinois State Museum, Lincoln collection, war museum, battle flags, and Department of Public Instruction.  Ground for the new building was broken on October 5, 1918, the year Illinois celebrated the 100th anniversary of being admitted to the Union, which is why the Michael J. Howlett Building was originally called the “Centennial Building.”

One part of the building site stood the former home of Ninian Wirt Edwards (1809-1889), son of former Governor Ninian Edwards (1775-1833), and brother-in-law of President Lincoln.  In fact, the marriage ceremony of Lincoln and Mary Ann Todd (1818-1882), sister of Edward’s wife Elizabeth, took place in front of the mantel in the Edwards parlor on November 4, 1842, and Mary Todd Lincoln spent her last months in the Edwards home, dying there July 16, 1882, after which she was interred in the Lincoln Tomb.  Ninian W. Edwards had successfully resisted the state taking his property for expansion of the Capitol grounds. However, after his death, his property passed on to less influential owners.

The Centennial Building was completed in early 1923.  The I.S.L.’s public space consisted of the large reading and reference room located on the third floor above the Memorial Hall (Hall of Flags).  The I.S.L. shared space with the I.S.H.L. on the third floor above the Flag Hall until 1970 when the I.S.H.L. moved into new quarters under the Old State Capitol.

The Illinois State Historical Society also occupied the Centennial Building.  In 1997, the Illinois State Historical Society became fully independent organization from the State of Illinois.

Sangamon County purchased the Old Capitol in 1869 for $200,000, and it served as the Sangamon County Court House for almost a century until the State of Illinois re-purchased the building with a plan to restore it to its original appearance in 1961.  First, the building was disassembled stone by stone.

Second, each one was numbered and stored until re-construction could begin. Following the removal of the ground floor that had been added between 1899 and 1901, the building was rebuilt at its proper proportions, but with the addition of two subterranean levels that house the offices, vaults and stacks of the ISHL.  After meticulous research, the interior decoration and furnishings were re-added to reflect the mid-19th Century period from 1840 to 1860.

An underground, two-level parking garage was also built beneath the lawn (much like the garages under Grant Park or the garage under the front lawn of the Museum of Science and Industry).  The Old State Capitol was re-dedicated on December 3, 1968, as a part of the State’s Sesquicentennial celebration.

Planning for what would become the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum (A.L.P.L.M.) complex began with a 1990 feasibility study.  This was followed by a comprehensive plan that determined the scope of construction, possible sites, and timeline for completion.

The U.S. Government, State of Illinois, and City of Springfield pledged a combined $30,000,000.  In December of 1998, the architectural firm Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum and the exhibit design firm BRC Imagination Arts received commissions.

The decision that the library and museum should be separate buildings was made early on.  BRC President Bob Rogers wanted to “combine scholarship and showmanship to connect the public to Abraham Lincoln’s life and times.”

According to the A.L.P.L.M., “With his creative team, Rogers designed the museum with interactive exhibits, theaters, a children’s area, and a ‘Holavision’ presentation using ghosts that interact with live actors. A panel of the world’s top Lincoln historians and teachers worked closely with the exhibit designers to ensure that the stories told in the museum would be accurate. In an unusual move, the museum was designed from the inside out to ensure that exhibits telling the Lincoln story took center stage.”

Construction began with groundbreaking ceremonies on February 12, 2001.  The first of the two buildings the contractors started on was the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library (A.L.P.L.) in May of 2001, followed by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum (A.L.P.M.) a year later. Included in the new complex was the rehabilitation of Union Station, the 100-year-old former passenger-train station directly west of the A.L.P.M., as a tourism gateway.

The name changed from the Illinois State Historical Library to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library when the new building opened in 2004.  It is home to rich collections of books, archival documents, and artifacts related to President Lincoln and the state of Illinois.

Today, the A.L.P.L. is home not only to the eponymous Lincoln Collection of books and archival materials, but also books, maps, and thousands of boxes of personal and professional papers and other records related to the state’s political, business, and cultural leaders.  The Manuscript Collection consists of approximately 12,000,000 diaries, letters, and business reports.

The Printed Materials Collection consists of approximately 172,000 books and pamphlets, 3,000 maps, and 1,200 periodical series. The Newspapers on Microfilm Collection consists of approximately 5,000 newspaper titles on 100,000 reels.  These books and archival materials are shelved on eight miles of subterranean stacks.

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library (A.L.P.L.) is jointly administered with the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum (A.L.P.M.), which is located across the street.  Items from the A.L.P.L.’s Lincoln Collection are exhibited at the A.L.P.M. on a rotating basis.

Historians on the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library staff play a hand in the development of exhibits and public programs at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum.  The A.L.P.L. is also home to print, visual, and audio records that document the construction, dedication, and operation of both facilities.

The A.L.P.L. has exhibits of its own, in addition to those at the A.L.P.M.  These highlight not only the Lincoln Collection, but also materials on all aspects of state history, including early settlement of the state, the Civil War, slavery and abolition, church and community histories, and the history of coalmining in the state.

The Steve Neal Reading Room is located on the first floor of the A.L.P.L.[7]  This is the main reading room for the Printed Materials Collection.  The Reference Desk is located here.  Although the vast majority of books are shelved in subterranean climate-controlled closed stacks, there are selected materials from the Printed Materials Collection and basic Lincoln reference books readily accessible on shelves in the Reading Room. In addition to the Lincoln reference books, one will also find in the Reading Room county histories, biographical dictionaries, volumes of cemetery inscriptions, and indexes to records of marriage, wills, naturalization, and other research and reference materials.  There are general reference materials on the Civil War, the American War of Independence, the Illinois Daughters of the American Revolution, and genealogy, as well as selected histories of other states.  Researchers may search the A.LP.L.’s online catalog to identify titles they wish to examine and request them from the Reference Desk staff. As the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library is a special library, specifically a research library, it is not a public library and its collections are non-circulating.  The A.L.P.L. does not lend out books (or any other items) or issue library cards.  There are public computers in the Reading Room where researchers may access materials for genealogical or historical research. Flash drives may not be used in A.L.P.L. computers, nor is word processing available.  Researchers must sign in at the Reference Desk and present a valid driver’s license (or state I.D. card) or student I.D. to gain permission to use a computer.  The following six databases are available in the Reading Room:  Ancestry Library Edition, Heritage Quest, HarpWeek, Sanborn Maps, Historical Chicago Tribune, and America: History and Life.

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation (A.L.P.L.F.) offices are located at the Visitor Center/Union Station across the street from the A.L.P.L.M. at 500 East Madison Street, Suite 200, Springfield, IL 62701.   It also has offices here at 22 W. Washington Street, Suite 1500, Office 15093, Chicago, IL 60602.  The A.L.P.L.F. raises money to publish documentary materials on Lincoln, as well as conferences, exhibits, and online services “designed to promote historical literary.”

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum (A.L.P.M.) was dedicated on April 19, 2005, in a ceremony attended by President George W. Bush, First Lady Laura Bush, future president and then U.S. Senator Barack H. Obama, Jr. and about 25,000 guests from around the world who crowded Springfield’s downtown for the occasion.  The public responded enthusiastically to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum, quickly making it the most visited presidential library and museum in the United States.

Attendance reached 1,000,000 visitors on January 6, 2007, and 2,000,000 less than two years later on July 4, 2009. No presidential library and museum in the United States had attracted its two-millionth visitor more quickly. The three-millionth visitor passed through the A.L.P.M.’s doors on August 21, 2012.

The A.L.P.M. features many exhibits on Lincoln’s life, but many visitors are awed by the Museum’s Treasures Gallery.  It features a rotating exhibit of the most precious of artifacts related to Abraham Lincoln. Many of the exhibited items are from the Taper Collection, which was the largest privately held collection of Lincolniana in the world before its purchase by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation in 2007.

In addition to permanent exhibits, temporary exhibits make other collections related to Lincoln’s life and times available to the public. The first of many short-term exhibits opened in the Museum’s Illinois Gallery in April 28, 2007. Mary Todd Lincoln: First Lady of Controversy displayed dozens of artifacts and archival documents, including clothing, jewelry, photos, and letters that related to Mary Todd Lincoln’s marriage, her role as First Lady of the United States (although that informal title was not used back then), and the emotional and mental distress she experienced over her husband’s assassination, the death of her son Willie, and her estrangement from her eldest son, Robert.

The A.L.P.M. has won a number of awards.  These include the Thea Award for achievement in the creation of compelling places and experiences (2007) from the Themed Entertainment Association; EXPY Award, Top Visitor Experience of the Year (2008); National Award of Achievement, The Lincoln Group of New York (2006); and the Engineering Achievement Award (2007) from the Illinois Engineering Council.  It also earned awards from the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers in 2006 and the American Council of Engineering Companies in 2007.

The Union Station rehabilitation as the Visitor Center/Union Station also won awards.  These were the Palladio International Award for Outstanding Work in Traditional Design for Best Public Architecture: Restoration and Renovation (2007); the National Preservation Award, The Victorian Society in America (2007); the Louis Sullivan Honor Award, American Institute of Architects Illinois (2007); the Midwest Construction Magazine’s Best of 2007, Renovation/ Rehabilitation Project of the Year; the American Institute of Architects Southern Illinois Chapter, Jurors’ Award (2007); the American Institute of Architects Southern Illinois Chapter, Design Award (2007); the Honor Award, National Trust for Historic Preservation (2008); and the Landmarks Illinois, Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Preservation Award (2008).

One large room in the A.L.P.M. is the Holavision ® Theater Ghosts of the Library, presented by AT&T.  Before one enters the Ghosts of the Library theater proper, one begins in a smaller antechamber watching a video that welcomes viewers to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum, gives viewers a visual tour of the facility, and shows select artifacts.

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library is not part of the presidential library system overseen by the National Archives & Records Administration’s Office of Presidential Libraries.  The first such presidential library was established by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  On the advice of historians, F.D.R. determined he would found a public repository for his administration’s papers.

In 1939, he donated personal and private papers to the U.S. Government and reserved room on his Springwood estate in Hyde Park, New York to house a repository.  Some of his friends founded a non-profit corporation to raise funds to build the facility, and he handed over operation of the facility to the National Archives.  In 1950, Roosevelt’s successor Harry Truman decided he would privately raise money for a presidential library of his own.

In 1955, Congress passed the Presidential Libraries Act.  It authorized the private construction of presidential libraries to be operated by the National Archives.

Before the passage of the Presidential Act of 1978, presidents of the United States of America, lawyers, historians and other scholars from George Washington onward believed that the records kept by a presidents and his staff members were his personal property and remained as such when he left office.  The underlying principal for the creation of the first few presidential libraries was that the president could take these records home with him when he vacated the executive mansion, and N.A.R.A. could persuade presidents to donate those documents to the U.S. Government to house in a presidential library built with privately-raised funds and managed by N.A.R.A.

With the Presidential Records Act of 1978 Congress stipulated that the records generated by a presidential administration which document that president’s duties as head and chief of state (constitutional, statutory, and ceremonial) are the property of the United States Government, and as such after he leaves office, the Archivist of the United States assumes custody of those documents. This law allowed for the previous policy of privately-built-and-publicly-managed presidential libraries as repositories of individual presidents to continue.  The Presidential Libraries Act of 1986 required that each presidential library come with a private endowment to help offset the cost of N.A.R.A.’s administration of the facility.



[1] I posted the original article “From Illinois Historical Library to Lincoln Presidential Library” on Examiner.com Chicago on October 5, 2012.  I revised it twice.  The second time I made a substantial revision reflecting new research.  Subsequently, the one article became “From Illinois State Historical Library to Lincoln Presidential Library,” Parts I-III, and I posted Part I on March 18, 2014.

[2] Two incomplete copies are in the Library of Congress, a finished one is at Cornell University, and the only one he signed and dated is in the Lincoln Bedroom of the White House.

[3] Everett delivered an oration that lasted over two hours before Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, which took about two minutes for Lincoln to read aloud.

[4] Milo M. Quaife, Checagou: From Indian Wigwam to Modern City, 1673-1835. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (1933), p. 36

[5] Quaife, pages 43 and 44

[6] Daniel Hudson Burnham, Jr. and Robert Kingery. Planning the Region of Chicago. Chicago: The Lakeside Press (1956), p. 27

[7] The A.L.P.L.’s Main Reading Room was named in honor of the late Steve Neal, the Chicago Sun-Times columnist and author whose frequent columns about the development of the ALPL kept the project in the public’s eye. Neal authored ten books on U.S. history, including his 2004 book Happy Days Are Here Again, about the 1932 Democratic Convention. He died in 2004 at the age of fifty-four and was survived by his wife, two daughters, and two brothers in Oregon.

2 thoughts on ““From Illinois Historical Library to Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library” by S.M. O’Connor

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close