Rock County has many stories to tell. Some of these are points of interest marked by the state with Historical Markers. Like many people I’ve driven by more than one without taking notice. Then the history of our County took root in me, I began this blog, and decided to research the stories these markers have to tell. So, I begin this series of posts with the story of…
The Lincoln Visit
This roadside marker on Hwy 51 So. of Janesville discusses Abraham Lincoln’s two visits to Wisconsin. He traveled this same route both times but for vastly different reasons.
As a young man of 23 in 1832 Abraham Lincoln was working as a store clerk. He heard about a call from the Governor of Illinois for volunteers to join the militia in an effort to track down Blackhawk and a group of Sac Indians that were in violation of a treaty which called for them to stay west of the Mississippi. Lincoln joined the group of volunteers on April 21, 1832 and served three tours of duty before being released from his service in June of 1832.
His first enlistment found him voted Captain of a rifle company by his fellow volunteers. Although he had no previous military experience he was placed into the rifle company serving under Col. Samuel Thompson. Lincoln and his men tracked Blackhawk up the Rock River, through our county, spending a night near Storr’s Lake then moving north. He found himself in trouble a couple of times but after being mustered out it was said of him by his superiors that he was a very capable leader.
Lincoln’s second enlistment began in May of 1832 immediately after being released from his first. Replacement troops were not ready to serve and a call was put out to those leaving to re-enlist. He did and served under Captain Elijah Iles as a private this time.
The third enlistment was in June of 1832. Again as a private serving under Captain Jacob Early.
During these enlistments Lincoln did not take an active part in battle. His regiment was on site after the fact for the battles at Kellogg’s Grove and Stillman’s Run. To record and bury the dead.
The second time Abraham Lincoln came to Rock County was 27 years later in October of 1859. Lincoln was campaigning for his first term as president and had been invited to speak to the Agricultural Society at the Wisconsin State Fair. This was an invitation that he initially did not want to accept because of his busy September schedule. He did change is mind and on September 30 of 1859 he was in Milwaukee to deliver his speech.
An attorney named Matthew A. Northrup learned that Lincoln was going to be at the state fair and wrote to him requesting that he stop in Beloit and speak to the Republican Club. Mr. Lincoln accepted this invitation and on the morning of October 1, 1859 he boarded a train in Milwaukee and arrived in Beloit at noon.
He was met at the train a large group of cheering citizens and a band. It was a busy afternoon for Mr. Lincoln. He was taken by carriage from the station to Bushnell House to have dinner with the city leaders and attend an informal reception. At 2 o’clock they moved to the newly completed Hanchett hall to a packed crowd. The plan was to have his speech presented outdoors but it was quite windy that day so the event was moved to the third floor of the hall.
Hanchett Hall still stands today at the corner of State and Broad Street in Beloit.
A.A. Jackson, secretary of the Janesville Republican Club saw a small announcement in the Janesville Daily Gazette on September 30th stating that Lincoln would be in Beloit the very next day to give a speech. He thought it would be wonderful if Lincoln could speak to the Janesville Republican club as well and took action.
On October 1, 1832 Mr. Jackson set out to Beloit with his companions William Tallman, Daniel Wilcox, publisher of the Janesville Daily Gazette, John B. Cassoday and J. H. Burgess. The group set out to hear Abraham Lincoln speak and to try to encourage him to return with them, that evening, to Janesville. At a gathering after the speech the gentleman approached Mr. Lincoln about their desire to have him speak in Janesville. Mr. Tallman offered a relaxing room in his home for the weekend and Mr. Lincoln agreed. On the trip back to Janesville Lincoln recognized the route and shared stories of his time in Wisconsin during the Blackhawk War.
Prior to the gentleman leaving for Beloit arrangements were tentatively made for his speech to be given in the Young American Hall of the Myers Hotel which was under construction on the corner of Milwaukee and Main St. The Myers Hotel is no longer standing, but a marker was erected at the edge of the parking lot of the Johnson Bank building to commemorate the event.
Word spread fast of the possible visit of Abraham Lincoln and when the group arrived that Saturday evening there was a fairly large crowd waiting considering the short notice. Dr. Treat, president of the Janesville Republican Club introduced Mr. Lincoln and he was greeted with cheers from the audience. Lincoln’s appearance, lack of formal education and political polish was apparent to the audience but once he began talking his knowledge and unexpected wit won the day.
After the speech, hand shaking and political talk that takes place after this type of event, Lincoln joined Mr. Tallman at his home, where he spent two nights with the family. The following Monday he boarded a train and returned to Illinois. He was elected our 16th president just a few short weeks prior to the beginning of the Civil War in 1861 and never again came to Wisconsin.
Thank you for stopping by
See you next time ~ Sharon