The Mill restaurant in Lincoln, Illinois, which reopened this weekend as a museum, played an unlikely role in solving a mystery involving a local church and Abraham Lincoln.
Lincoln long was rumored to have practiced law at the Lincoln Christian Church in Lincoln in the late 1850s when the local courthouse burned and the church was used as a temporary courtroom.
A local newspaper reporter had been assigned to write a story about Lincoln practicing law in a church, but a plaque that once hung on the church, describing what happened, disappeared decades ago. So the story was deemed unverified until some sort of tangible proof could be found
According to the Bloomington Pantagraph, this is where The Mill came in:
“We have been receiving a lot of items for the Mill collection over the past few years,” said Geoff Ladd, project administrator of the Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway and secretary of a committee restoring the Mill. “Some items have come to us and it’s been from so and so, and here it is and we don’t want to be recognized for it. Some items have just shown up with no names attached.
“With this one, there is going to be some mystery,” he said. “You can call it an anonymous donation.”
He was referring to the missing plaque, which was unveiled at a news conference Wednesday morning in Lincoln.
Lincoln Christian Church pastor Ron Otto gave some supporting evidence during the news conference, according to the Lincoln Courier.
“It would have been the newest facility in town after the burning of the courthouse. And it would have been the most adequate building to hold court in. There is enough evidence there that Abraham Lincoln would have come over for spring court.”
Lincoln historian Ron Keller also chimed in:
“How we know about this story is there was a man by the last name of Beibler and he wrote to Lawrence Stinger in the fall of 1857 [that] he came to court at Lincoln Christian Church and saw a man at the judgeship. He asked who is this guy and was told its Abraham Lincoln. So that is the account that began the story of Lincoln practicing and if that is the case it would have been the only time we know of that Lincoln practiced law in a church, period.”
The church again pledged to display the plaque in a public place. The plaque contains a profile of Lincoln at the top and this text:
Pending the erection of a new courthouse in Logan County to replace one destroyed by fire in 1857, the original Christian church built on this site that year was used as both church and circuit courtroom and here Abraham Lincoln practised law and by common consent acted as temporary judge and the material in the original church was preserved and used in the present church in 1904.
According to the well-researched Finding Lincoln, Illinois, website, the second Christian church in Lincoln, which on Pekin and Kickapoo streets, was demolished in the 1950s. The third Lincoln Christian Church, now at 204 N. McLean St., was built in 1953.
(Image of the recovered Lincoln Christian Church plaque courtesy of Geoff Ladd)