Edwards Place, built in 1833 and remodeled in 1857, is an historic house museum that tells the story of social and domestic life in Abraham Lincoln's Springfield, Illinois. Newly restored (2015) to its antebellum glory, this Italianate mansion was one a center for social activity in Springfield. Prominent citizens and politicians such as Lincoln, Stephen A. Douglas, David Davis, and numerous governors, judges, lawyers, and politicians were entertained at lavish dinner parties and the grounds played host to many summer picnics and political rallies.
Edwards Place was the home of attorney Benjamin Edwards, youngest son of Governor Ninian Edwards and brother-in-law of Mary Lincoln’s sister Elizabeth. Although the Lincolns did not court or marry here, Edwards Place is currently home to the "courting couch" on which Lincoln and Mary Todd sat during the early days of their romance, originally the property of Ninian Edwards.
Edwards Place has been owned and operated by the Springfield Art Association, a private, non-profit visual arts organization, since 1913.
History of Edwards Place
History of the House
Edwards Place is the oldest house in Springfield on its original foundation. Originally constructed in 1833, the structure has undergone several additions and renovations in its nearly 180-year history in response to changes in fashion, occupancy, and use.
William Kelly, an early Springfield settler, purchased the 80-acre tract of land on which Edwards Place sits from the federal government in 1823 for $1.25 an acre. In June of 1832, Kelly sold his 80 acres to Thomas Houghan. Within a year, Houghan constructed a story-and-a-half Greek Revival dwelling on this land. In contrast to the more common log and frame houses in Springfield, the Houghan house was built of brick, giving it an air of distinction and stability. There are no surviving photographs or drawings of this house; all that is known about it comes from its footprint, which is still discernible underneath the many subsequent additions to the house.
An artist's recreation of how Edwards Place likely appeared when it was first constructed in 1833, and a footprint of the original layout of the house. Drawing by William Crook.
In June of 1843, Houghan sold his house and the surrounding 15 acres to Benjamin S. Edwards for $4000. By the mid-1850s, the Edwards family was looking to upgrade their house to bring the exterior up to the latest style as well as refurbish the interior. Benjamin Edwards was now in his late 30s, a highly successful attorney and an influential man in town. He wanted a home that reflected his social and professional status. Plans for the remodel were drawn up by the architectural firm Boyington and Wheelock of Chicago, signifying the family's desire for high-style architecture. The Italianate villa they envisioned was double the size of the existing structure, with a three-story tower in front and a large, circular staircase in the center of the house.
1857 plans by Boyington & Wheelock of Chicago were never realized.
The Edwards family found the cost of this house prohibitive, however, so they commissioned a somewhat scaled-down version, which was based on the "Southern Mansion" plan in Samuel Sloane's The Model Architect, published in 1852.
Edwards Place was remodeled based on the "Southern Mansion" plan from The Model Architect.
The addition more than doubled the house's size with an addition of a new kitchen to the northwest and a set of double parlors to the east. The renovation also converted the summer kitchen into family space and connected it to the double parlors. These additions and renovations brought a standard of refined living to the house, as well as a bevy of socially and politically prominent friends, including Stephen Douglas, David Davis, John Stuart, Stephen Logan, and Abraham Lincoln.
The layout of the home is typical of the Victorian era with its division of space. Private family rooms are located to the left and back, while the more public rooms, such as the parlors, are located on the right side of the house. The front and back parlors were the most expensively furnished areas in the house and generally reserved only for company. It was in these rooms that the Edwards family hosted their parties, especially during the winter social season when the legislature was in session. These were elegant affairs with a table stretched from the front to back parlor filled with refreshments and a center piece that was a pyramid of macaroons topped with spun sugar from the confectioner in town.
The new footprint of Edwards Place after it was remodeled in 1857.
Helen Dodge Edwards's death in 1909 marked the end of the Edwards family's residence at Edwards Place. For the next four years the house sat empty, while grandchildren undertook the monumental task of sorting through and disposing of more than sixty years of the family's accumulated belongings.
In 1913 Alice Edwards Ferguson was approached by members of the Springfield Amateur Art Study Club for permission to rent rooms in Edwards Place as meeting space. Alice surprised them by offering to donate the entire house to serve as meeting, gallery, and classroom space. The Art Study Club was incorporated as the Springfield Art Association of Edwards Place on September 30, 1913, and the house was formally presented at a banquet luncheon two weeks later.
Edwards Place became the home of the Springfield Art Association in 1915. The parlors were used as gallery space, and art classes were held in the bedrooms.
Edwards Place was used as an art gallery until 1937. Art classes were being held in the upstairs bedrooms as late as the 1960s. A full-scale restoration in 2014-2105 restored the first floor to its c. 1857 appearance. Today it is open to the public as an historic house museum interpreting the social and domestic life of the 19th century.
History of the Edwards Family
Edwards Place was home to the Benjamin S. Edwards family. Benjamin was the youngest son of Governor Ninian Edwards and thus an heir to one of the wealthiest and most powerful families in 19th century Illinois.
Ninian Edwards (1775-1833)
Ninian Edwards was born in Maryland in 1775 to Benjamin and Margaret Beall Edwards. Trained as a lawyer, he moved to Kentucky at age 19 to manage family land. There he quickly became one of the state’s leading men, successively serving as state representative, circuit court judge, presidential elector, and chief justice of the Kentucky Court of Appeals. In 1803, he married Elvira Lane, his twenty-six-year-old first cousin from Maryland.
When the Illinois Territory was organized in 1809, President James Madison named Ninian Edwards its Territorial Governor. Just 34 years old at the time of his appointment, he was the youngest man ever to govern Illinois as either a state or territory. Like many of Illinois’s early governors, Ninian Edwards was a slaveholder. When Ninian and his family moved to Kaskaskia, Illinois, they brought a number of slaves with them.
During his nine years as Territorial Governor, Ninian made a good deal of money through several ventures, including farming, land speculation, and investment in sawmills, grist mills, and stores. When Illinois was accepted into the Union in 1818 as the 21st state, Ninian was elected a United States Senator. After his term ended, he was elected Illinois’ third Governor in 1826.
Constitutionally limited to one term in office, Ninian Edwards returned to private life in 1830 when his term as Governor was over. After losing a bid for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1832, Ninian devoted himself to charitable medical work in Belleville, giving free care to local residents. He died in an 1833 cholera epidemic at the age of 58.
Ninian Wirt Edwards (1809-1889)
Governor Ninian Edwards’s legacy included a vast fortune in land and a family of professionally successful, socially prominent children. His oldest son, Ninian Wirt Edwards, studied law at Transylvania University in Kentucky. Ninian W. moved to Springfield in 1835 and spent the majority of his professional life in public service, serving as Illinois Attorney General, a several-term member of the Illinois House of Representatives, and the state’s first Superintendent of Public Instruction. His wife, Elizabeth Todd, was Mary Todd Lincoln’s sister. The Lincolns met, courted, and married in Ninian W.’s home, which was torn down in 1917 to make way for the office of the Illinois Secretary of State.
Albert Gallatin Edwards (1812-1892)
Governor Ninian Edwards’s second son, Albert Gallatin Edwards, also distinguished himself professionally and socially. He was trained at West Point. During his brief stint in the army he was stationed at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, where he met and married Louisa Cabanne, a daughter of one of St. Louis’s oldest families. Louisa died at age 30 in 1841; nine years later, Albert married Mary Jenckes, with whom he had three children. During the Civil War, Albert served as a Brigadier General in the Missouri State Militia. Just six days before he died in 1865, Abraham Lincoln named Albert Assistant Secretary of the Treasury. Albert retired from the treasury in 1887 and four months later formed a brokerage firm with his son. That firm, known as A. G. Edwards, was in operation until 2007, when it was sold to Wachovia, Inc.
Residents of Edwards Place
Benjamin S. Edwards (1818-1886)
Born in Kaskaskia, Benjamin was the youngest son of Governor Ninian Edwards. He received his education at Yale University and became the first citizen born in Illinois to graduate from that institution. While in New Haven he met Helen Dodge, the younger sister of his classmate Richard Dodge. Benjamin and Helen were married in August of 1839. After a honeymoon in Buffalo, New York, they decided to settle in Springfield, Illinois, where Benjamin's brother Ninian was an established politician.
Benjamin was an attorney by profession. After arriving in Springfield he studied with Stephen T. Logan before going into partnership with John T. Stuart in 1843. That partnership remained intact until Stuart's death in 1885. Benjamin met Abraham Lincoln Lincoln more than 400 times in the courtroom, sometimes serving as co-counsel and sometimes as opposing counsel. Politically, Benjamin was a Whig until that party's dissolution in the mid-1850s. He briefly cast his lot with the Republicans but ultimately found the abolitionist wing too radical for his comfort. By 1858, he had cast his allegiance with the Democratic party. That year he invited Stephen Douglas, a candidate for US Senate as well as a personal friend, to hold a rally on the grounds of Edwards Place.
In 1868 Benjamin was elected Judge of the Eighth Judicial Circuit, a post he held for a year and a half before resuming his law practice. At the time of his death in 1886 he was president of the Illinois State Bar Association.
Helen Dodge Edwards (1819-1909)
Born in Kaskaskia in 1819, Helen was the youngest child of Henry S. Dodge, a Colonel in the War of 1812, and Jane Dey Dodge. The family returned to New York in 1825. Two years later Helen's father died, leaving her widowed mother to care for Helen and her two brothers. In 1834 the family moved to New Haven, Connecticut, so Helen's brothers could attend Yale University. Benjamin was a classmate of her brothers. Helen's strong-willed mother identified him as a likely suitor for Helen and all but arranged their marriage.
Helen and Benjamin arrived in Springfield in January of 1840 and stayed with Ninian and Elizabeth for a few weeks. This is where Helen met and befriended Mary Todd, with whom she would remain friends her entire life. Benjamin and Helen spent three years at a house on Adams and Fourth Streets, where their daughter Helen was born. In June of 1843 they moved into the house now known as Edwards Place. Two more daughters followed: Alice in 1844, and Mollie in 1848.
Helen was remembered as a gracious lady and a wonderful hostess at the many legislative parties held at Edwards Place. Like her husband, she was a devout Presbyterian. She was also very musically inclined and played the piano. She died of pneumonia in 1909.
Helen Maria Edwards (1840-1925)
Helen was born seven months after her parents’ arrival in Springfield and was the only child to have lived in their first house on the corner of 4th and Monroe Streets. At age 15 Helen enrolled in the Monticello Female Seminary in Godfrey, Illinois, the boarding school of choice for daughters of Springfield’s elite.
On September 25, 1861, Helen married local dry goods merchant Moses Condell. In 1863 they moved into the grand Italianate house across the street which her father had commissioned for her as a belated wedding present. In 1867 Helen and Moses moved to Kansas to start a farm on a large tract of land owned by Moses’s father. They took their two-year-old son Eddie with them and left four-year-old Thomas at Edwards Place in the care of his grandparents. During this time Helen Sr. wrote to her daughter every single week. These letters are preserved in the Condell Family Papers at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.
The Condells returned to Illinois in 1869 and began a new life as farmers on a tract of land in southwest Sangamon County purchased for them by Helen’s father. In the mid-1890s they retired and moved back to Springfield, where they quietly lived out the rest of their lives. Moses died after a fall from a ladder in 1914, and Helen died of natural causes in 1925. They had eight children: Benjamin (who died in infancy), Thomas, Benjamin (stillborn), Ninian Edwards (“Eddie,” who died at age 19), Helen, Eliza, Alice, and Mary.
Alice Jane "Ally" Edwards (1844-1921)
Alice Edwards was the first child to be born at Edwards Place. Unlike her sister Helen, Alice was not sent away to school, but instead studied locally, first at Benjamin Suesserott’s Springfield Female Seminary, then at Mrs. S. B. Thomson’s Select School for Young Ladies.
On June 16, 1864, Alice married Benjamin Ferguson, who had served as Captain of Company B of the 114th Illinois Regiment. The couple made their home at Edwards Place rather than setting up housekeeping on their own.
After her marriage, Alice largely took over the duties as hostess of Edwards Place, frequently throwing parties for her generation of friends. A dinner party for forty in 1868 was typical of the manner in which Alice entertained. Her mother reported “A rather long table was set in the middle of the dining room, in the center of which was a beautiful arrangement of flowers, and up this table were arranged the uncut cakes, baskets, chicken salad, veal bread, ham turkey, pickles, piles of biscuit, rolls, bread & butter &c, and the top of the sideboard was covered with extra provisions.”
Alice and Benjamin built their own home in 1883, next door to Edwards Place on land given to them by her parents. They never had children. Benjamin died of a heart attack at his desk at the bank in 1903. In 1913, the widowed Alice donated Edwards Place to the Springfield Art Association and remained actively involved as a member and patron until her death in 1921.
Mary Stuart "Mollie" Edwards (1848-1928)
Mary Stuart Edwards was named after the wife of her father’s law partner, though everyone called her Mollie. Like Alice, Mollie attended Mr. Seusserott’s and Mrs. Thomson’s schools in Springfield. In 1868 she served as a member of her cousin Charles Edwards’ wedding party. Robert Lincoln (Charles’ cousin on his mother’s side) also attended this wedding. Mollie lived at home with her parents until her marriage to James H. Raymond on October 14, 1874. James was apparently besotted with his bride; Mollie’s mother observed that “he is the most loving fellow, and devoted husband I ever saw. I tell Mollie to enjoy it while it lasts. He says ‘that will be ‘life long.’” The couple moved to Evanston, Illinois, where James practiced law. They had four surviving children: Edward F., Miner, Elizabeth, and Helena, as well as a stillborn infant and a young son named Arthur who lived less than a year. Mollie died in 1928.
Abraham Lincoln and Edwards Place
Contrary to a common misperpection, Abraham and Mary Lincoln did not court and marry at Edwards Place. Lincoln actually called on Mary Todd at the home of her brother-in-law, Ninian W. Edwards, and married her there on Nov. 4, 1842. That house used to stand on South Second Street before it was torn down in 1918 to make way for the building later named the Howlett Building.
Abraham and Mary Lincoln courted and were married at the home of Ninian Edwards, Benjamin's brother, which was located on South Second Street. This house was torn down in 1917 to make way for the Illinois Secretary of State's office.
The big pink house on North 4th Street that now bears the name Edwards Place was the home of Ninian’s brother, Benjamin. While it might not be the place where Lincoln courted Mary Todd, it does contain the sofa on which they sat during their courtship. Dubbed the “courting couch,” it belonged to Ninian and Elizabeth Edwards and was one of a pair that stood in their double parlors when Abraham Lincoln came to call.
The couch where Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd sat during their courtship, originally the property of Ninian W. Edwards, is now on view at Edwards Place.
It was through his brother Ninian that Benjamin and Helen Edwards first met Mary Todd. Helen later recalled, “She greeted me with such warmth of manner…saying she knew we would be great friends and I must call her Mary. This bond of friendship was continued to the end of her life.” That bond only grew tighter when Mary married Abraham Lincoln. Benjamin and Helen Edwards were among the small number of guests who attended the Lincoln wedding, and Helen was one of the women who helped then seven-months-pregnant Elizabeth Todd Edwards prepare the wedding supper for her sister, Mary.
To modern eyes, Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Edwards were only distantly connected through marriage: Lincoln’s wife’s sister was married to Benjamin’s brother. Yet in Lincoln’s view, according to his friend David Davis, “Ben was in the family.” Benjamin and Lincoln also moved in the same professional circles. Benjamin, like Lincoln, was an attorney. In 1843 he formed a partnership with John T. Stuart, who had been Lincoln’s partner until 1841. Lincoln and Benjamin would meet in the courtroom on more than 400 occasions, either as co-counsel or opposing attorneys.
Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Edwards were professional colleages, personal friends, and relatives by marriage.
The Edwards's and Lincoln's also moved in the same social circles and were almost certainly guests at each other’s houses. Both families were known to host parties during the winter when the legislature was in session, Springfield’s high social season. Among the invitations received by Springfield’s prominent families in February of 1857 were one in Benjamin’s hand that read “Mr & Mrs. B. S. Edwards will be pleased to see you on Wedn: Eve. Feb. 4 1857 at 8 o’clock” and one in Lincoln’s hand that read “Mr. & Mrs. Lincoln will be pleased to see you Thursday evening Feb. 5. at 8. o’clock.” The Edwards's and Lincoln's likely went to each other’s parties; a few weeks later Mary Lincoln wrote to her sister, “Within the last three weeks, there has been a party, almost every night.”
The one area where Lincoln and Edwards did not see eye to eye was politics. Although both men were Whigs until the party dissolved in the mid-1850s, Lincoln then cast his lot with the Republicans, and Edwards became a Democrat. During the 1858 contest for Senate, Stephen A. Douglas held a political rally at Edwards Place, while Lincoln addressed his own supporters later that day in the Capitol Building.
The Edwards family grieved when they learned of Lincoln's assassination. When Lincoln's body came back to Springfield for interment, the Edwards family's house was filled with visitors, some of them even sleeping on cots on the library. The funeral procession passed by Edwards Place, and the Edwards family put out refreshments for the mourners as they made their way to Oak Ridge Cemetery.