Tuesday, August 13, 2013

New Project Marks Lincoln's Visit To Iowa


Sometimes a chance discovery is all the impetus a new historical project needs to get under way.  Council Bluffs, Iowa is the setting for a new effort to commemorate Mr. Lincoln's visit to that city in 1859.  

According to the Omaha World-Herald in an article published on August 12, 2013, a local historical society was looking under a pile of books when he found a plaque which marked Lincoln's visit to Council Bluffs.  His curiosity piqued, the gentleman and other local historians further researched Lincoln's 4-day 3-night visit to the town.  

It seems that Lincoln came to Council Bluffs to look at 17 town lots which his campaign manager Norman Judd had offered to Lincoln as collateral for a personal loan.  He arrived in August 1859 and spent the next few days visiting with Judd, other friends, attending a church service, and giving a speech. Unfortunately, there is no text of that speech and the only account of it is from a Democrat newspaper of the day, which was unkind in its review of his address.

The new project resulting from the discovery of this forgotten plaque aims to mark the location of the original lots which Judd did deed over to Lincoln in November 1859 for that loan which amounted to $3,000. Judd later paid it back in full plus interest to Lincoln's widow Mary and her son Robert in 1867. 

Lincoln's visit to Council Bluffs is actually more important for his later decision to make that city the legal eastern terminus of the first transcontinental railroad built in the United States.  While in Council Bluffs, he met with railroad engineer Grenville Dodge. He peppered Dodge with questions about the possibility of a railroad stretching from the east to west, and asked him where the best route would be.  Dodge replied from the village they were currently standing in across the Platte Valley and then west.  He pointed out its relatively close proximity to all the railroads in and around Chicago and the rest of Illinois. Lincoln accepted Dodge's recommendation only a few years later when Lincoln officially named Council Bluffs, Iowa to be the eastern terminus of the railroad across the nation. The above image is an old postcard which shows a memorial erected in 1911 to Lincoln's visit to the city. It looks out across the Mississippi River to the west, honoring both the railroad and Mr. Lincoln.

The article to which I linked above provides more details about this new effort in Council Bluffs to mark Mr. Lincoln's visit. A project begun after the chance discovery of an old plaque which provided only scant details of that day when Lincoln came to town.  

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