For years we have passed by the lovely yellow house in Mount Pleasant, Iowa and wanted to stop. The Harlan Lincoln House was home owned by Robert Todd Lincoln and his wife, Mary Harlan Lincoln. This really is more a Harlan story than a Lincoln one, but what a cool one it is! The home belongs to Iowa Wesleyan University and it is open to tour from noon to four p.m. Monday – Friday.
Thanks to Anna Villareal, Director of the Harlan-Lincoln House we had a great tour and gained insight into this wonderful home. Look for an upcoming issue of Senior News & Times for a detailed article, but here is a brief overview!
James Harlan was born in Illinois, but grew up in rural Indiana. He met his future wife. Ann Eliza Peck at college. Ann Eliza was born in Kentucky. Her parents died and she went to live with her Uncle in Indiana before college. James and Ann Eliza married and moved to Iowa City where James was a Principal before becoming the President of the University.
He was only President of the University for two years before the Republican party sought him out to run on their Senatorial ticket. Surprised, he won, the Harlans were soon headed for Washington. It wasn’t until he retired from the Senate, which he served intermittently from 1855 to 1873, that James Harlan bought the house that we toured. Anna shared. “This was a Retirement home for Senator Harlan after becoming President of the Mount Pleasant Collegiate Institute in Mount Pleasant, Iowa. In 1873, he retired from the US Senate.”
The Harlan family used the house in retirement from 1876 to 1899. The University website shares, “Harlan’s daughter, Mary, married Robert Todd Lincoln, son of President Abraham Lincoln and they brought their three children to spend summers at the house in the late 1870s and 1880s.”
The Lincoln Connection
In 1865 Robert Todd Lincoln escorted Mary Eunice Harlan to Abraham Lincoln’s second Presidential inaugural ball. This had been set up, and was approved by their parents. Romance soon ensued. In 1868, the two wed. They then brought their children to Mount Pleasant during the summers while Robert Todd was a lawyer in Chicago. When serving in the cabinets of Presidents Garfield and Arthur, the family lived in Washington. In 1890, Robert Todd Lincoln served as minister to England under President Harrison.
Mt. Pleasant was a place where the three children played on the Kimball organ during music lessons in the summer. They joined in clubs and the youngest daughter Jessie even met her first husband, a member of the Mt. Pleasant football team and later eloped with him!
According to the University website, “Senator Harlan deeded the property to the Robert Todd Lincolns in 1895, and Mary made improvements, including a wide wraparound front porch. She hosted two catered parties in the fall of 1895, welcoming people from the university and community to her home.”
By 1907, with her parents no longer living and the family having built their home, Hildene, in Manchester, Vt., Mary Harlan Lincoln gave the house to Iowa Wesleyan University as a tribute to the memory of her father.
In 1907 after building their new home Hildene in Vermont, the Lincoln’s gave their home to the University.
There are several notable things to see at the Harlan Lincoln home. There is a mourning veil that had belonged to Mary Todd Lincoln, a piece of a collar of Abraham Lincoln’s that he wore the evening he was shot and more. Best though are the family photos, and the stories that bring Robert Todd Lincoln to life. One picture of their son Jack is especially touching since he died of blood poisoning at the young age of 17.
Before this tour, all I had really heard about Robert Todd Lincoln was that he was the only son of President Lincoln’s that had survived. I had heard about his contentious relationship with his mother and not much else. Robert Todd Lincoln and Mary Eunice Harlan had a family and three children. Come tour the Harlan Lincoln House and learn about their lives, and humanity.
Note that during COVID check ahead and be prepared to wear a mask and meet COVID guidelines.