Historic Putnam County Courthouse receives a new Lincoln portrait in honor of local connection
No doubt the most famous person to practice law in the 1839 Putnam County Courthouse, the oldest active courthouse in the state, Abraham Lincoln has a special connection to the area.
In honor of this relationship, a new portrait of Lincoln was donated to the county during a ceremony in February. It was presented by the Illinois State Historical Society; the Illinois Judges Association; attorney Roger Bolin, president of the Putnam County Bar Association; and retired Circuit Judge Scott Shore.
The well-traveled Lincoln visited Hennepin four times: in May 1832, September 1845; July 1846 and October 1848. It’s believed by historians he practiced law in the courthouse during his two-day visit in September 1845.
In addition, he met two local brothers, Williamson and Madison Durley, to whom he later wrote a lengthy letter.
“That letter is the most important historical connection we have to Lincoln,” Bolin said.
A congressional candidate and attorney, Lincoln wrote the letter to the brothers after meeting them as they were digging potatoes near what’s now state Route 26 and Hennepin’s High Street.
The correspondence is significant for both its length and the political topics it touches on, including the annexation of Texas and the then-controversial issue of abolition, saying, “An evil tree can not bring forth good fruit.”
“He approached abolitionism with a cautious pace,” Bolin said of the letter.
The letter was famously carried in the back pocket of Williamson for some time and a copy, along with an early photograph of Lincoln, hangs in the courthouse hallway along with an easier-to-read, engraved brass-plate copy.
There’s another interesting angle toward Putnam County’s relationship with Lincoln, one that seems to place him much closer to modern times. The grandson of one of the Durley brothers was Walter Durley Boyle, a partner of Bolin.
Boyle served as the Putnam County state’s attorney for 40 years and then continued to practice law privately for almost 32 years. He was elected as state’s attorney in 1936 before he was licensed to practice law. This bold move resulted in him having to argue for and win his first lawsuit against the defeated incumbent. His time in office is the longest in Illinois’ history.
The portrait that will hang in an honored and prominent spot in the courthouse was made by famed photographer Alexander Hesler in Springfield on June 3, 1860. It followed Lincoln’s nomination as the Republican candidate for the presidency.
Lincoln served four terms as a state representative, one term as a U.S. congressman and was elected the country’s 16th president in 1860.
Serving from 1861 until his assassination in April 1865, Lincoln successfully led the nation through the Civil War, saved the Union and freed the slaves.
Putnam County Courthouse
Address: 120 N. Fourth St., Hennepin
Hours open: Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.
Phone (county clerk): 815-925-7129
Year built: 1839
Fun fact: The Putnam County Courthouse is the oldest courthouse in the state that is still in use.