Inside Out | Lincoln Legacy Committee promotes Honest Abe

Inside Out | Lincoln Legacy Committee promotes Honest Abe

The News-Gazette

Published Date: January 9, 2022

Abraham Lincoln lives at the Champaign County Courthouse. Were you aware of that? Well, his spirit does.

Lincoln, as a lawyer on the 8th Judicial Circuit of Illinois, argued cases in the Champaign County Courthouse. Of course, it was a two-story log structure at first and later was rebuilt as an imposing brick-and-stone edifice, but it was on the same block as our courthouse today.

Here, Lincoln argued his first murder case and lost; here, he defended thieves and rogue priests; and here, he made friends and gave speeches.

In 2007, in anticipation of the celebration of Lincoln’s 200th birthday, the Lincoln Exhibits Committee was formed to develop content and raise money for an exhibit within the Champaign County Courthouse to celebrate Lincoln’s lingering presence here.

Through a joint agreement between the Museum of the Grand Prairie and Champaign County Board, donations and grants were obtained, and the exhibit — “Abraham Lincoln: Large Presence in a Small Town” — was born in our modern courthouse. It’s a must see!

Open during courthouse hours, the exhibit details Lincoln’s legal dealings in our county through a multimedia object theater. Various artifacts are highlighted, while a visual collage creates a wonderful sketch of the lawyer Lincoln.

Recently, the Exhibits Committee, now the Lincoln Legacy Committee, added a display detailing the life of J.O. Cunningham, a lawyer and colleague of Lincoln.

Cunningham and his wife, Mary, donated their home for what would become Cunningham Children’s Home. Cunningham Avenue and Cunningham Township were named for him. He was on the first University of Illinois Board of Trustees, he was a founding member of the Illinois State Historical Society, and his “History of Champaign County” (1906) remains a great reference for the early history of our area.

Want to know more about Cunningham? Come to the courthouse exhibit, but remember to leave your cellphone at home or in the car!

Where else does Lincoln live in this area? “Champaign County’s Lincoln,” an interactive exhibit at the Museum of the Grand Prairie, is a great start. If you collect National Park stamps, you can go to either the Museum of the Grand Prairie or the Homer Lake Interpretive Center and receive an Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area stamp for your passport.

Lincoln also lives in a series of nine wayside signs that tell local tales about our 16th president throughout the county. Signs are located near Homer Lake, St. Joseph, Urbana, Champaign, Tolono, Mahomet and at the Museum of the Grand Prairie. They even carry an embossed seal that kids can make rubbings from; it’s a great scavenger hunt.

One sign is across the street from the Champaign County History Museum, the oldest commercial building in the county, a building that Lincoln certainly saw and may have set foot in.

Want to help tell Lincoln’s story? Give us a call at the Museum of the Grand Prairie (217-586-2612), and we’ll put you in touch with the committee. Many local organizations which save our history are already involved.