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Lincoln Herndon Law Office

Category: Museums
General Info
6th and Adams
(217) 785 5728
The Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices State Historic Site has been restored to appear as it may have looked from 1843 until about 1852, when Abraham Lincoln practiced law from rented offices on the building's third floor. Lincoln had three different law partners with whom he rented office space in buildings on or around the public square during the approximately 23 years that he practiced law in Springfield. The Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices State Historic Site, managed by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, is the only one of those structures still standing.From 1841 to 1855 the federal government rented space on the building's second floor for a courtroom, court clerk's office, and judge's chambers to serve the United States district and circuit courts, which held semi-annual sessions in Springfield. Like the third-floor attorney's offices, the courtroom, clerk's office, and judge's chambers have been restored to look as they might have appeared. On the the first floor, Springfield merchant Seth M. Tinsley, who owned the building, operated a store and leased space to the federal government for a post office. Today, the first floor features an orientation center where visitors may view exhibits and a video describing the site's history.Abraham Lincoln's Springfield Law OfficesOn April 15, 1837, Abraham Lincoln moved to Springfield from New Salem and entered practice with Springfield attorney John Todd Stuart. The firm of Stuart and Lincoln (Lincoln was the junior partner) occupied an office near the northwest corner of the public square. In 1841 Lincoln left Stuart to enter a partnership with Stephen Trigg Logan, and in 1843 Logan and Lincoln moved into an office on the third floor of the building that is now the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices State Historic Site.The third-floor corner office occupied by Logan and Lincoln was a prime location. Immediately beneath on the building's second floor was the federal courtroom, and just across Sixth Street was Springfield's finest hotel, the American House, which provided lodging for many lawyers and lobbyists who flocked to Springfield each year for sessions of the state legislature, the Illinois Supreme Court, and the federal courts. The office of Logan and Lincoln was also near the county courthouse, which stood about a block north on Sixth Street, and across the square from the state capitol building (now the Old State Capitol State Historic Site). The state capitol housed two fine libraries where Lincoln and his partners did research, as well as the Illinois Supreme Court where they pled numerous cases.After Logan and Lincoln dissolved their partnership in 1844, Lincoln took on 26-year-old William H. Herndon as his junior partner. They kept the third-floor corner office, and their practice flourished as Lincoln and Herndon became one of Springfield's leading law firms. Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1846, and when he moved to Washington, D.C. in 1847, Herndon moved their firm into a smaller office on the south end of the third floor. There Lincoln resumed the practice of law when he returned in March 1849. It is uncertain when Lincoln and Herndon left the building, but their newspaper notices indicate that by late 1852 they had moved because they were advertising from an office on the west side of the public square.Lincoln and Herndon used their dingy third-floor offices to consult with clients and prepare cases for trial in the federal courts, the Illinois Supreme Court, and the stat's Eighth Judicial Circuit, which covered most of east-central Illinois. While Lincoln rode the circuit for several months twice each year, Herndon stayed in Springfield, and the work was often so boring and tedious that he once described the law office as 'a dull, dry place.'It was not always so boring. Sometimes the male lawyers, court officials, clients, and even jurors who were in the building pushed aside their work to gather in the third-floor common or jury room for fun and fellowship or to listen to one of Lincoln's stories. A law clerk later recalled: 'While in the office considering some important case I have frequently known him to put the book down, and all at once break out;'Do you know what this case makes me think of?' And then he would tell a story. In this way humor would enliven jurisprudence.'The Lincoln-Herndon partnership lasted until Lincoln's death in 1865, even though the two attorneys stopped practicing law together after the senior partner's presidential nomination in 1860. Before he left Springfield on February 11, 1861, Lincoln told Herndon to keep their firm's 'sign-board' hanging out and promised that if he came back alive, 'then we'll go right on practicing law as if nothing had ever happened.' But it was not to be. As Herndon later described Lincoln's last visit to the office, the soon-to-be president grasped his hand warmly, 'and with a fervent 'Good-bye,' he disappeared down the street, and never came back to the office again.'The Tinsley Building: From Store to State Historic SiteA portion of the original building that Seth M. Tinsley erected for a store in 1840 and 1841 remains standing. The original structure, known locally as the Tinsley Building, was a large 'merchant's block' erected in the then popular Greek Revival style, a style also apparent in the Old State Capitol, which was built at about the same time. The Greek Revival style called for a symmetrical arrangement of features, a low pitched roof, and the pilaster strips vaguely reminiscent of ancient Greece and Rome that can still be seen on the building's first-floor exterior. Though the building was erected for commercial use, Tinsley began renting space to lawyers and the federal govenment shortly after the building's completion.Seth Tinsley sold his merchant's block in 1850, after which it passed through several hands. In 1872 Abraham Lincoln's brother-in-law, Springfield merchant C. M. Smith, tore down three-quarters of the building, all but the quarter now owned by the state. In 1967 the Lincoln-era remnant was purchase by local residents who sponsored its restoration. In 1985 the structure became a state-owned historic site managed by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.
Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices State Historic Site is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from March to October and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. from November through February. The last tour begins 45 minutes before closing. The site is closed New Year's, Martin Luther King, Jr., Presidents, Veterans, General Election, Thanksgiving, and Christmas days. Visitors are advised to contact the site in advance for hours of operation. Reservations are requested for groups of 20 or more by contacting the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau, 1-800-545-7300 or 217-789-2360. The Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices are handicapped accessible. There is a suggested donation of $2 for adults and $1 for children.