Lincoln really did sleep here

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Thursday, February 12, 2009
— Today is Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday, and Wisconsin is planning a party to honor the man who spent 15 nights here—two nights in Janesville.

That doesn't sound like a lot, but it beats a lot of other states planning celebrations.

Take North Dakota, for example, which has Lincoln events planned.

"Quite possibly, Lincoln was in Kansas once," said Peter Skelly, a local Lincoln historian.

If he wasn't, the Tallman House porch was possibly the closest Lincoln ever got to North Dakota, he said.

Skelly understands why states are jumping on the bandwagon. Lincoln always ranks No. 1 when Americans are surveyed about their favorite president, he said.

Skelly, a member of the state's Lincoln bicentennial commission, is in charge of putting together a guide of Lincoln's time in the state.

Lincoln was in Wisconsin twice, and both times his travels took him to Janesville, although his last visit here wasn't planned.

During the 1832 Black Hawk War, Lincoln served in the Illinois State Militia as part of General Henry Atkinson's army.

On July 1, Lincoln camped in present-day Beloit at an Indian village called Turtle Village. Historians even know what he ate: dove soup.

The next morning, the troops passed through Janesville, stopping at a site now in Blackhawk Golf Course. The spot today is memorialized by a marker.

The troops camped at Storrs Lake on July 2. They searched for Black Hawk in the Lake Koshkonong area for the next three days. From July 6 through 9, Lincoln was north of Whitewater in Cold Springs near an old Indian village called Burnt Village. The army came together there. The group included Zachary Taylor, the 12th president of the United States; Henry Dodge, the first territorial governor of Wisconsin; and Albert Sidney Johnston, who would become the second-ranking general in the Confederate Army.

Atkinson, running low on food, discharged the militia on July 9. Someone stole Lincoln's horse the night before, so Lincoln and a buddy, George Harrison, walked back to New Salem, Ill., probably passing through Janesville again.

Lincoln stopped here a second time in 1859. The Lincoln-Douglas debates were over and Lincoln had lost the Senate race.

Lincoln was invited to speak at the state fair in Milwaukee, spent the night there and then took the train to Beloit. Because the day was so windy, he spoke on the third floor in the Hanchette Hall in downtown Beloit. That building still stands.

Lincoln had checked into a hotel in Beloit, but after his speech he was "hijacked" by Janesville residents, including William Tallman, who persuaded him to speak here, Skelly said.

Lincoln rode in a buggy up Prairie Avenue on Oct. 1 and that night spoke in the Young American Hall, which was located in the parking lot on Main Street across from the Olde Towne Mall.

Lincoln spent two nights with the Tallmans, attending church with the family at the First Congregational Church. On Monday, he caught a train back to Illinois.

Last updated: 9:39 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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