Before Lincoln was a box office hit, he was our 16th president, and many are surprised to learn that there is a place in Southeast Iowa where you can walk in the footsteps of history.
"Lincoln is an enduring interest in this country and we have a little piece of that history that's all our own," said Lynn Ellsworth, Activist and Director of the Harlan-Lincoln house.
The Harlan-Lincoln house sits on the Iowa Wesleyan campus in Mt. Pleasant. It was built in 1876 by James Harlan, a U.S. Senator and close friend and political ally of President Lincoln, and became the place where Abraham Lincoln's son, Robert Todd Lincoln, and his wife, Mary Harlan, James Harlan's daughter, took their family during the summers of the late 1800's.
The house has belonged to the university since 1907, when Mary Harlan Lincoln donated the property in memory of her father, and was turned into a museum in 1959.
"An attempt was made to get original items back into the house or to get Lincoln artwork or photographs or other items or period items back into the house," Ellsworth said. "So many families or individuals found that they had something pertaining to this history and gave it back to the college."
This house is bursting with history, from the mourning veil Mary Todd Lincoln wore after her husband's assassination to the markings of the heights of Lincoln's grandchildren on a door, to a piece of the coat the president was wearing when he was shot.
The house gives tours and sees visitors from across the country, but it's more than just a house with old artifacts. It's a tangible piece of history.
"When I walk through the door, it seems like an exciting time, I feel like I'm walking in the same place Mary Todd Lincoln and their children and occasionally Robert Todd Lincoln walked and it just makes me feel so good to be able to share this information with people about this history here in Mt. Pleasant and Iowa Wesleyan College," said Joyce Miller, docent of the Harlan-Lincoln House.
"I really enjoy preserving something that I think is worthwhile and that I feel that we are stewards for this particular time in history," Ellsworth said. "People brought it to this point and we want to take it to the next level. We have dreams, we think this place has a lot more potential that we haven't reached yet and so it's very challenging and gives me a lot of creative opportunities."
"My concerns and interests lie in keeping the history alive for the next generation," said Tricia File, docent and a member of the Harlan-Lincoln Renovation Committee. "Kids are so interested in the past if you can just give them a tangible link and that's one of the reasons why this house is so important, that we preserve it and have it here for kids to come and be able to touch the surfaces that Abraham Lincoln's grandchildren touched and envision themselves living in that time."
Ellsworth and the renovation committee hope to expand the house in the near future, in order to be able to hold activities and social events.
You can set up a tour of the Harlan-Lincoln House by contacting Iowa Wesleyan College, or calling 319-385-6320.