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Lincoln: His First Years as a Country Lawyer

First County Seat of Logan County

Postville, an Illinois frontier settlement, was founded in 1835 by Russell Post. In 1839, the Illinois General Assembly chartered a new county from territory undergoing settlement, and named the new county Logan. The first county commissioners chose Postville, located close to the center of the new county, as the county seat.

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Abraham Lincoln and the Rock Island Bridge

On July 16, 1853, a month before a lawyer named Abraham Lincoln would christen a Logan County town named after him, construction began on the Rock Island Bridge between Rock Island, Illinois, and Davenport, Iowa. The bridge would be the first railroad span across the Mississippi, uniting the East Coast with the Western territories.

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A simple frame courthouse, the first Logan County Courthouse was built in Postville in 1840, and was among the most opulent county justice centers in the State of Illinois at that time. Built in an austere federal style, the new courthouse resembled a private home. It contained not only a circuit courtroom, but also offices for the county clerk, the sheriff, the county recorder of deeds, the coroner, and the county surveyor. In addition, the county board of commissioners and the justice of the peace sat in the courtroom during their times of duty. The Postville Courthouse served the people of Logan County for only eight years, from 1840 until 1848.


Lincoln as a Lawyer

Abraham Lincoln did not attend law school. Instead, he spent hours every night for several years reading past court cases, and studied so rigorously that at 25 years old, he received his license in 1836 to practice law in every court of the State of Illinois. In 1837, he moved to Springfield, IL, and became a junior partner in the law firm of John Todd Stuart. In those early years, he worked as a country lawyer, struggling to make a name for himself in what was called "riding the circuit" in Central Illinois. This was a period when country lawyers and court officials traveled together from one county seat to another for sessions of the circuit court. They found accommodations  in inns, taverns, and boarding houses, which often failed to meet the standards of excellence. Still it was amidst this backdrop that the fabric of numerous enduring tales about Lincoln began to weave themselves into the lore of Abraham Lincoln, lawyer and 16th President of the United States—March 4, 1861 to April 15, 1865.


Lincoln and Deskins Tavern

Though Postville had become the seat of Logan County, it did not have a courthouse. In 1836, Dr. John Deskins built a tavern, which served as the sheriff’s office (since Deskin was also the sheriff) and which also served as the first “courthouse” of Logan County until a bona fide court house could be built in 1840, directly across the street from Deskins Tavern.

For the next seven or so years, Lincoln’s travels with the Eighth Circuit Court would bring him to Postville along with other fellow lawyers, litigants, and judges. They frequented the Deskins Tavern for lodging, meals, and socializing. During their leisure time, when court proceedings were on hold, the participants and observers found all sorts of ways to entertain themselves, primarily the attorneys. Their activities and antics ranged from engaging in bouts of physical contests such as foot and horse races, wrestling, and sometimes gambling. Whiskey was always plentiful and readily enjoyed.

In the evenings, the locals sometimes organized performances to provide amusement. However, there was ample time for fireside chats, in which Lincoln naturally became the focal point, captivating the attention of judges, jurors, witnesses, lawyers, merchants, and others with his jokes and stories.


A Change in Time

Mt. Pulaski became the new county seat of Logan County in 1848. Consequently, all county documents were relocated to this town, and a new courthouse came into existence, becoming another venue where Lincoln presented his arguments. Postville was renamed Lincoln in 1853, to become the only town christened in honor of Lincoln before he became President. Notably, the original courthouse was purchased and relocated to Greenfield Village, Michigan, by Henry Ford in 1929.

The State of Illinois built an exact replica of the Postville Courthouse in 1953, which now serves as Postville Courthouse State Historic Site. To learn more about Logan County, Illinois, and its rich history, visit Destination Logan County today!

Logan County Tourism Bureau

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Lincoln, IL 62656

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