The Story of the "Courting Couch"

In 1840 Abraham Lincoln frequently walked from his lodgings in Springfield, Illinois, down to Ninian Edwards's house on South Second Street to call on vivacious young Mary Todd, sister of Ninian's wife Elizabeth.

Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln a few years after their marriage. 

Twenty-five years later, Elizabeth recalled: "I have happened in the room where they were sitting often & often and Mary led the Conversation — Lincoln would listen & gaze on her as if drawn by some Superior power, irresistibly So: he listened — never Scarcely Said a word.” After a rocky, on-and-off again courtship, the Lincoln's were married in the Edwards's parlor on a rainy Friday evening in November of 1842.

Abraham and Mary courted and were married in Ninian and Elizabeth Edwards's house, which was torn down in 1917.

Ninian Edwards’s house is no longer standing, but an Empire-style, horsehair-covered sofa from Ninian Edwards' parlor survives in the collection of the Springfield Art Association of Edwards Place in Springfield, Illinois. This is the sofa on which Lincoln and Mary sat as they were courting, and where the Lincolns’ wedding guests sat as they watched the future President and First Lady exchange their vows.

A document written by Ninian and Elizabeth Edwards's granddaughter identifies the sofa as one that sat in her grandmother's parlor when the Lincolns courted and were married.

The sofa passed from Ninian and Elizabeth Edwards to their son Charles. When Charles moved to Chicago in 1888, he sold it to Charles and Octavia Roberts. The Roberts family owned it until Octavia's death in 1935. In 1946, her daughters gave it to the Springfield Art Association.

 

At nearly 180 years old, the sofa was suffering from a tear in the upholstery, loose casters, veneer loss, and dulled finish.

The "courting couch" as it appeared before being sent to The Conservation Center.

The sofa has been restored at The Conservation Center in Chicago. Upon initial examination an exciting discovery was made: the original horsehair upholstery was hidden under the replacement fabric on the seat back and arms. This is the very fabric that Abraham and Mary Lincoln once leaned upon!

A thrilling discovery: the original upholstery, hidden in plain sight all these years!

Restoration of the “courting couch” was supported by the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation, dedicated to perpetuating and expanding Lincoln’s vision for America and completing America’s unfinished work.  Support also came from the Abraham Lincoln Association;the The Prairie Eye and Lasik Center, and contributions from 195 individuals who donated through Kickstarter.com.  Thank you to all these generous contributors for helping to preserve this important piece of American history! 

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