The Lincoln Doorway comes from the home where Abraham Lincoln habitually stayed when he visited Carthage, Illinois.
As Lincoln grew up in Green County, Kentucky, one of his close friends was a boy from the next farm over, Alexander Sympson. The friendship was interrupted when Lincoln’s family moved to Indiana. Sympson’s family subsequently moved and Alexander became a farmer and hotel-keeper in Monmouth, Illinois. In 1844, he came to Carthage.
Just when and where the two became reacquainted is not clear, but we know that by 1858 they were close friends again, as Lincoln secured for Sympson the post of enrolling and engrossing clerk of the Illinois House of Representatives.
By this time, Sympson was now a Major and a well-established citizen of Carthage. He lived in a brick residence on block west and one block south of the city square and courthouse.
“Looking out toward the southeast was a room wherein Lincoln often slept after a fatiguing journey by horseback or buggy. Mr. Lincoln’s visits to the home of his friends Sympson were always the signal for a gathering of the pioneer citizens, and no matter how many of them came, or how late they remained, Mr. Lincoln was ever urbane and entertaining.” — Scofield’s History
At this time (1858), Lincoln was engaged in the historic campaign for the U.S. Senate seat against Douglas. Major Sympson was an enthusiastic supporter of Lincoln and it was he who made the arrangements for Lincoln to speak at Republican nominating convention at a Presbyterian church in Augusta, Illinois on 25 August, 1858. He and Lincoln drove from Carthage to Augusta in a buggy, followed by a large crowd on horseback and in vehicles.
Lincoln came back to Carthage on October 20th and spoke to a large crowd at the courthouse square. This is the occasion that is marked near the south entrance to the courthouse with a boulder and a DAR plaque. Following this speech, much of the crowd followed Lincoln the short distance to Sympson’s house, and he addressed them again from the doorway. He remained in Carthage for the next four days.
The Senate campaign ended in defeat for Lincoln, and he wrote to Sympson shortly afterward: “I expect the result of the election went hard with you. So it did with me, tho’ perhaps not quite so hard as you may have supposed. I have an abiding faith that we shall beat the in the long run.”
Although the campaign had failed, the friendship continuted. In 1861, Lincoln assisted Sympson’s son in obtaining the post of enrolling and engrossing clerk in the U.S. Senate. In his letter of recommendation for the job, Lincoln wrote, “His father is one of my best friends, whom I have not, so far, been able to recognize in any substantial way.”
After its heyday, the Sympson mansion fell into disrepair. It stood unoccupied for many years, surrounded by weeds and rumored to be haunted. When the structure was finally razed to make way for a new home, the doorway was saved and used as a trellis for a rose garden. Ultimately, it and a limestone doorstep from the home were rescued and donated to the museum.
The doorway now serves as the interior entrance to the Museum and additional Lincoln artifacts are on display to your right as you enter.