MONTICELLO — A new portrait of Abraham Lincoln will hang in the Piatt County Courthouse as part of Illinois' bicentennial celebration.
It is a high-quality reproduction of a historic photograph, and each of the state's 102 counties will receive one from the Illinois State Historical Society, said John McClarey, a member of the society's board of directors. The Illinois Judges Association, Illinois State Bar Association, Illinois Judges Foundation and Illinois Bar Foundation donated the paintings for the bicentennial effort.
“We have to decide what the legacy of Lincoln should be,” McClarey said. “It should be one we would be proud of and pass on to our kids.”
The Illinois State Historical Society's mission is to actively promote the study of Illinois history. McClarey said that means sharing information about the people, places and things of Illinois' past and present.
Lincoln passed through Monticello during his time on the circuit court in Central Illinois before he was elected the nation's 16th president in 1860. He traveled throughout 14 counties during his days on the circuit.
The portrait will hang above the elevator and will be visible from the front door of the courthouse. It was taken in Springfield by photographer Alexander Hesler on June 3, 1860. The image was distributed for Lincoln’s 1860 presidential campaign. Historians consider Hesler’s portrait one of the best taken of Lincoln during his pre-presidential years.
Printed on canvas, the image of the beardless Lincoln is encased in a richly stained wood frame and measures 30-inches wide by 40-inches tall.
McClarey said much of Lincoln’s later life took shape in Illinois. Lincoln moved with his family to Macon County in 1830 and settled along the banks of the Sangamon River, west of Decatur.
McClarey said many of the ideas and beliefs Lincoln supported in the White House, he showcased in Illinois first. Every county in the state has a part of the Lincoln history, he said.
“Everyone has a story about Lincoln, and we have other things in common with the Lincoln Legacy,” he said.
Dee Lund, president of the Piatt County Historical and Genealogical Society, Secretary Kay Gilbrewth and Treasurer Dave Miller all attended the event.
“We felt it our obligation and also a very curious interest to be here,” Lund said. “All of us have a strong interest in history, and of course Lincoln is a big deal.”
Lund said limited information is available about Lincoln’s time in Monticello. They have records of places he stayed when he was in town as a traveling circuit lawyer.
Sixth Circuit Court Judge Hugh Finson told a story about a time Lincoln stayed at a hotel on the main square in Monticello where the Dairy Queen is now. Finson said Lincoln had a pig bladder filled with water, which he was heating over a fire in his hotel room.
“Eventually, it blew up and sent embers flying out around the room; he is lucky he didn’t burn the place down,” he said.
Finson said he is happy the picture will hang in the courthouse to remember Lincoln's impact on Monticello, Illinois and the nation.
“It is very appropriate that we do this," Finson said. "He’s our greatest president."