- Sally Seelig
Lincoln House - yes the President once dined here
Article originally published in the Summer 1993 edition of the Sturbridge Shopper
Sturbridge-During one of Country Curtains periodic informative sessions Penny Halloway, archivist at Old Sturbridge Village, lectured about the history of the Lincoln House
Before the lecture began a portrait fell and the staff of Country Curtains smiled at each other and said to Penny, “Mrs. Lincoln is welcoming you.“ Later we learned that Mrs. Lincoln‘s first name was also Penny, short for Penelope.
Mrs. Lincoln also welcomed Abraham Lincoln, for he was a distant cousin to her husband, Levy Lincoln, Jr. Honest Abe was entertained in the house when he attended a Whig Convention in 1848. Apparently Penelope‘s cooking was very memorable, for 15 years later, while a guest at the White House, Levy Jr.heard the President reminisce about the greatness of the meal he had at his house in Worcester.
Levy Lincoln Jr. was one of ten children born to Levy Lincoln who settled in Worcester in 1775. Levy Lincoln, Sr. served as a state senator and lieutenant governor of Massachusetts. Both he and his son Levy, Jr., were graduates of Harvard University.
Levy Jr. And Penelope moved into their first house in Worcester in September of 1824. What followed were many prosperous years. Levy Jr. became a state senator and an associate justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court. He was then governor from 1825 to 1832. During those years many famous visitors came to call, including Daniel Webster, John Adams and Henry Clay.
Influenced by the rapid growth of the city (and possibly annoyed by the bells from the newly constructed Railroad nearby), the Lincolns decided to move into the Lincoln House, which was then situated on Elm Street in Worcester.
The house that we now call the Lincoln House had been built by Auburn-born architect Elia Carter, who also built many other fine Worcester homes as well as the Leicester Academy and the Brimfield Congregational Church.
The side hall of the new house had Greek revival elements (the Greek revival style flourished from 1820 to 1860). In keeping with the Greek revival style, the Lincoln House had columns, sidelights, high ceilings on the first floor and a low pitched pyramid-shaped roof.
Initially, nine people occupied the house, including four servants. One of the Lincoln’s sons died in the war with Mexico.
Levy Jr. became the first mayor of Worcester in 1848 and until the time of his death at age 85 in 1868, he was a member of the Worcester Agricultural Society; Vice President of the American Antiquarian Society; Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; member of the Massachusetts Historical Society and an overseer at Harvard.
Penelopes ancestry dates back to the pilgrims at Plymouth, and before that to the Saxon kings of England. She had seven children who survived infancy and was known as a wonderfully resourceful person. One anecdote about her relates how she handled a troop of unexpected dinner guests.
According to the tale, har husband invited the captain of a local militia troop to dinner. But as a dinner hour approached, the sound of marching feet outside drew the family’s attention. “The fool has brought his entire troop!“ her husband said, to which Penelope supposedly replied with a laugh, “Just give me a half an hour and I’ll feed them all.“ And she did. Her gracious spirit is still noted in the house she ran with such warmth until 1872.
In 1950 Waldo Lincoln sold the house to the Worcester Mutual Fire Insurance Co., which planned to demolish it. At this point, it was purchased by Albert Wells for his four year young Old Sturbridge Village.
However, it was never located in the village property as the house was deemed too stylistic and fancy for Sturbridge. The house was disassembled and measured drawings of each marked piece was done. The pieces were then placed in a setback field off route 20. The original plans called for it to be closer to Route 20 but for some unfathomable reason, the project stalled and the pieces sat outside for three years, during which time the markings disappeared.
Reassembling it was like working on a giant jigsaw puzzle and was accomplished only buy matching nail holes.
The building was once graced by statemen, including William H Taft, Calvin Coolidge, Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, Great Britain ambassador Viscount James Bryce and Everett Hale. Since moving to Sturbridge, it has housed Old Sturbridge Village offices, a restaurant and been used for public square dances. In addition, in 1968 it housed the L.H.Fabric Shop and in 1973 was headquarters for the Pearl McGowan Rug Hooking Co.
Since 1980 County Curtains (and unseren others) have occupied it. The ambience is still hospitable and lovely (perhaps Penelope is still looking after it?) Tales of pranks played or help given by two by friendly spirits abound amongst the staff of Country Curtains that lead them to believe the Lincolns might still live there.
Note: Country Curtains is no longer in Lincoln House and it is now occupied by Lake Road Living and Hydrangea Home Decor.