Above / The street named for President George Washington runs north to south in Naperville. The city’s most important thoroughfare through downtown Naperville crosses under the BNSF railway tracks near Fifth Avenue and over bridges of the West Branch of the DuPage River. In addition to vehicular traffic, many small businesses, schools, churches and more dot the landscape along busy Washington Street.
Inspired to update what we’ve posted in the past about Presidents Day, we recalled a story several years ago by Bryan Ogg, a local curator and historian. Affectionately known as the “History Detective,” Ogg wrote Naperville: A Brief History, published by The History Press in 2018, now available at local bookstores.
To enhance a story about Abraham Lincoln, Ogg provided this 1939 photo of the original Pre-Emption House when it was located at Chicago Avenue and Main Street in downtown Naperville. (Where Sullivan’s Steakhouse is now.) Today the re-creation of the Pre-Emption stands at Webster and Aurora Avenue, serving as the gateway to Naper Settlement, the city’s outdoor history museum.
Note the image of Honest Abe on the large sign over the door that proclaims, “One of Abraham Lincoln’s Favorite Stops Built in 1831. From the door above, he spoke to our forefathers.”
According to Ogg, sometime between 1931 and 1946 local lore began circulating that Lincoln spoke on the porch of the Pre-Emption House. To this day, evidence of truth in that legend has not been proven as fact.
From 15,000 biographies to Lincoln Logs
Moving right along, February 12 was the 211th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.
According to literary sources, more books, as many as 15,000, have been written about Lincoln than any other American. And what other U.S. President was named in a popular learning toy for children? Remember Lincoln Logs?
Briefly profiled here, Lincoln was born in Kentucky and lived in Indiana prior to moving to Illinois where he became a lawyer. From 1834 to 1849, he served in and out of politics in Springfield and Washington, D. C., returning to politics in 1854. He was a leader of the Republican Party which was established in 1856 to oppose slavery. In 1861, he began his first term as the 16th U.S. President, the same year the Confederate States proposed to withdraw from the Union, and the Civil War broke out. Lincoln is credited for the memorable phrase “Government of the people, by the people and for the people,” an excerpt from his Gettysburg Address in 1863. He was assassinated in 1865.
Laughing Lincoln in Central Park
Since December 2018 when Illinois was celebrating its bicentennial year, a life-size bronze sculpture of Abraham Lincoln as a young man and jovial storyteller has been sitting on a bench in Central Park.
Conceived in 2015 after the death of former Naperville City Council member and Central Park advocate Don Wehrli, and in partnership with Century Walk, the Wehrli family selected artist David Alan Clark to complete a cast-bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln at age 30, a time when he worked as a lawyer and Illinois state legislator.
In his day, local lore says Lincoln could have helped establish the late Wehrli’s beloved Central Park as the DuPage County seat and site of the county’s first courthouse. In 1839, Naperville town founder Joseph Naper, then a state legislator along with Lincoln, was pushing to create DuPage County out of nine townships in Cook County, and 30-year-old Lincoln voted against his party to help make that happen. Three years earlier, Naper had voted against his party to support Lincoln’s initiative to move the state capitol from Vandalia to Springfield, so some say the votes were a negotiated swap.
Laughing Lincoln in Central Park marks the 50th location for Century Walk, a public art collection created under the leadership of Brand Bobosky. Note also that since 2005, The Great Concerto, a Century Walk mural honoring the Naperville Municipal Band by artist Barton Gunderson, has graced the stage door of the Community Concert Center in Central Park.
Four School District 203 junior high schools honor U.S. Presidents
School District 203 has recognized John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, James Madison and George Washington by naming all four of its junior high schools to honor U.S. Presidents. (Kennedy Jr. High School is located in Lisle.)
Remember 2020 Presidents Day on February 17
In a nutshell, Presidents Day is celebrated annually on the third Monday in February, giving local schools. U.S. Stock Markets and some government agencies a three-day weekend. For 2020, Presidents Day is Mon. Feb. 17.
Officially established in 1968 to honor the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, the holiday law was signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson and the third-Monday date for Presidents Day was selected since it coincides closest with Washington’s birth date on February 22.
Prior to 1968, the holiday was held on February 22 in many states.
Certainly, most folks have learned and recognize Washington as the first U.S. President. He’s the face on the one dollar bill. Born in Virginia in 1732, Washington served against the French in the Seven Years War. When conflict between the British government and the Americans over taxation came to a head, Washington led as a successful general, leading troops to victory at Yorktown, Pennsylvania, in 1781, essentially ending the war. In 1787, Washington presided over the Philadelphia Convention of 39 men, aiming to formulate the U.S. Constitution. He served as President, limiting himself to two terms from 1789 to 1797. Washington died in 1799.
Four U.S. Presidents born in February
Four U.S. Presidents were born in February, even though Lincoln and Washington are the two mentioned to honor on Presidents Day. In addition to Washington and Lincoln, Ronald Reagan and William Henry Harrison share this birthday month.
Born in Virginia on Feb. 9, 1773, William Henry Harrison served as an American military officer and politician prior to being elected the ninth President of the U.S., beginning in 1841. At the time, Harrison was the oldest of any president to win election. On his 32nd day in office, he died of what was believed to be pneumonia. Harrison is distinguished for serving the shortest tenure in U.S. Presidential history.
More than a century later on February 6, 1911, Ronald Reagan was born in northern Illinois. Reagan was renowned as a TV actor and movie star prior to his election as Governor of California in 1967. In 1980, Reagan won a Republican presidency, followed in 1984 with a land side victory, serving two terms as the 40th Commander in Chief. Reagan died in 2004.
Look up and all around for signs of history
Stroll the Naperville Riverwalk where furry friends scurry and ducks and geese hurry across the winding brick path. Venture over to Naper Settlement where local history comes alive throughout the 12-acre village. Book tickets at the theater venues and explore the art galleries at North Central College. Think dinner and the show. Make reservations for special occasions.
Enjoy history. Shop locally. Keep moving forward. Look up, even when the ground is covered with snow. Winter is more than half way to springtime. Thanks for reading!
Editor’s Note / Some of the dates and facts were found in the “everyday handbook,” Dictionary of American Politics.
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