The latest effort to preserve the rich history of Council Bluffs started with local historian and president of the Historical Society of Pottawattamie County Ryan Roenfeld’s discovery of a plaque buried under a pile of books at the Squirrel Cage Jail.
The plaque stated simply that Abraham Lincoln had been a guest in Council Bluffs in August 1859. His four-day, three-night stay in Council Bluffs is believed to the Lincoln’s longest stay at any location west of the Mississippi River.
The chance discovery of the plaque became the genesis of a local project that has been “in the making” for several years.
Research, largely completed by Kori Nelson of The Historic General Dodge House and Patricia LaBounty of the Union Pacific Railroad Museum, uncovered a number of additional facts.
In August 1859, Lincoln, who was not yet an Illinois State Senator, visited Council Bluffs to view parcels of land that his campaign manager and friend, Norman Judd, wished to use as collateral for a personal loan.
During that visit to Council Bluffs, Lincoln stayed at the Pacific House Hotel, then located on West Broadway at Scott Street where he had a two-hour meeting with Grenville Dodge during which they discussed the placement of the Transcontinental Railroad. It was due to this visit and Lincoln’s chance meeting with Dodge that the eastern terminus for the first Transcontinental Railroad was eventually placed in Council Bluffs.
Lincoln also visited the homes of two friends, the Puseys and the Officers. The Pusey home was located south of Bayliss Park on what is now the site of the Union Pacific Railroad Museum. The Officer home was located at the west end of that block on land now occupied by the Cutler-O’Neill-Meyer-Woodring Funeral Home.
Lincoln attended church services at the Presbyterian Church, then located on what is now the U.S. Bank parking lot at the intersection of Pearl Street and First Avenue. Also during the visit he was treated to a “Bowery Supper” in Bayliss Park and spoke to a gathering at the Concert Hall, which was then located on the northeast corner of West Broadway and Sixth Street.
Although no evidence has been uncovered, it is believed that during the 1859 visit Lincoln actually visited the 17 lots that Judd offered as collateral. He did, in fact, end up making the personal loan, a fact recorded by the Pottawattamie County Recorder. The loan of $3,000 plus $2,400 in interest was paid in full to Mary Todd and Robert Lincoln in October 1867.
An effort by the Historical Society of Pottawattamie County, The Historic General Dodge House, the Union Pacific Railroad Museum and the city of Council Bluffs to place markers at the sites in Council Bluffs where Lincoln is known to have visited in 1859 has yet to be completed, but a new collaboration between the Historical Society of Pottawattamie County and the Bluffs Arts Council is focused on the 17 plots of Council Bluffs property Lincoln held as collateral for the loan to his friend.
The goal is to erect a plaque marking each of the 10 sites where the 17 plots – several of which were double lot – are located.
The first of those plaques will be unveiled at a ceremony at 11 a.m. Tuesday at the All-Care Health Center, which is built on two of the lots once owned by Lincoln.
Three of the 17 plots were located just north of Ninth Avenue between South Fourth Street and South Sixth Street, one of which is now home to the American Legion Rainbow Post No. 2. A portion of the Prime Care housing facility just south of the senior center is located on another of those plots.
The remainder of the 17 plots are located between Ninth Avenue on the north and 13th Avenue on the south and between South Fourth Street and South Eighth Street.
Each of the plaques, which will contain a map showing its location in the Riddle Subdivision, will include the following inscription:
“Abraham Lincoln came to Council Bluffs in August of 1859 and stayed for four days. Mr. Lincoln was here to consider 17 plots of land to hold as collateral for a $3,000 loan. The plots were owned by Norman Judd of Illinois. Mr. Lincoln walked to each of the plots, and you are standing on one of the plots where Abraham Lincoln once stood.
“You are encouraged to walk in Mr. Lincoln’s footsteps and visit each of the plots shown on the map below.
“The entire loan of $3,000 plus $2,400 interest was paid in full to Mary Todd and Robert Lincoln in October 1867.”