(Fort Wayne Monthly “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” - Feb 2011, No. 75)
For many years the Lincoln Museum in Fort Wayne held a unique relationship between the people of northeastern Indiana and our 16th U.S. President. Not only did the museum hold the attention of area citizens, but it attracted scholars, historians, lecturers and Lincoln fans from far and wide to Fort Wayne. Today, the museum’s collection has been relocated with its artifacts to the Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis and its many documents to the Allen County Public Library.
It is appropriate that the contents of the Lincoln Museum – known to have held the largest privately owned Abraham Lincoln collection in the world – remain in Indiana. Here the images, records, documents, letters, books, and memories are gathered in the state of the Great Emancipator’s boyhood home. Lincoln and his family came to southern Indiana in the same year that the state was established in 1816, and he remained here until 1830. He came when he was seven years old and by the time he left he had grown to be 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighed more than 200 pounds.
Lincoln, now well formed as a young man living in Illinois, visited Indiana on several occasions as he became more and more interested in the issues of the day. Former Lincoln Library Museum Director R. Gerald McMurtry gave an account of the highlights of Lincoln’s returned trips to his home state. In October 1844, Lincoln stopped off at Vincennes, Rockport, Evansville and Gentryville in support of Henry Clay, the Whig presidential candidate. Later in 1855, working on a legal case brought the future president by rail to Michigan City, Lafayette and Indianapolis traveling from Chicago to Cincinnati. With Mrs. Lincoln and one of his sons, Lincoln left Cincinnati on September 19, 1859, and arrived in Indianapolis in time to give a speech that evening during which Abe mentioned how his trip across the state revived his recollection of the earlier years of his life.
It was in 1860 that the now enshrined president was to make his mark as a serious presidential candidate and that director McMurtry noted was “the speech which made Lincoln president.” It was in February when Lincoln was on his way to New York to deliver his famous Cooper Union speech. A short news article appeared in Fort Wayne’s Dawson’s Fort Wayne Daily Times on February 23, 1860, “Hon. Abe Lincoln and wife came from the west this morning at 1 o’clock on the T. W. & W. R.R. (Toledo, Wabash & Western Rail Road) and changing cars at this city went east. ‘Ole Abe’ looked like as if his pattern had been a mighty ugly one.” Mr. McMurtry was quick to point out Dawson’s reporting error. Mrs. Lincoln was not with Abe, but rather he was escorting Mrs. Stephen Smith and her son Dudley on the trip. Mrs. Smith’s husband was a brother of Clark M. Smith who was married to Ann Todd, a sister of Mrs. Lincoln. Mrs. Smith was on her way to visit her girlhood home in Philadelphia and Lincoln agreed to assist her with her child and luggage.
At that time the T.W. & W. R.R. was located south of the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago (P.FW. & C. R.R.) tracks along Fairfield Avenue, according to rail historian Walter Sassmannshausen. The T.W. & W.’s passenger station stood across the tracks from that of the P. FW. & C between Calhoun and Clinton streets. Even arriving one hour late on the T.W. & W., Lincoln had plenty of time to board the P. FW. & C at 1:12 a.m. and make his connection on his way to deliver his important Cooper Union address in New York on February 27th. Upon his return on March 12th after leaving New York on the Erie Railroad, Lincoln changed rail cars at Toledo boarding the T.W. & W. line. That same day at 5:20 p.m. he passed through Fort Wayne without any notice.
Newly elected as president, Abe came through Indiana on his way to his inauguration in Washington, DC on February 11, 1861. He spent the night in Indianapolis after speaking first from the rear platform of his rail coach and later from the balcony of the Bates House.
Lincoln’s final Indiana journey, however, was a sad occasion as his assassinated remains traveled through the state on his funeral train. A Gazette-Extra handbill dated April 20, 1865, stated, “President Lincoln’s remains were to stop at Fort Wayne as the funeral train would proceed to Springfield by way of Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago Railroad.” It was a rumor that was proved not to be true. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton changed the funeral itinerary omitting Pittsburg and Cincinnati and detouring via Chicago, instead of going directly to Springfield from Indianapolis and the funeral train arrived in Indianapolis from Columbus, Ohio, which had by then become part of the Pennsylvania Railroad.
Back in 1861 when Abe addressed the crowds in Indianapolis he said, “I appeal to you again to constantly bear in mind that with you, and not with politicians, not with presidents, not with office seekers, but with you, is the question, shall the Union and shall liberties of this country be preserved to the latest generations.”
Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; hosts “On the Heritage Trail” which is broadcast Mondays on 89.1 fm WBOI; and “Historia Nostra” heard on Redeemer Radio 106.3 fm. Enjoy his previously published columns on the History Center’s blog “Our Stories” at historycenterfw.blogspot.com.