Chester County Community Foundation
"Let Your Legacy Make a Difference"
the Lincoln building...
The Chester County Community Foundation is located in the heart of the West Chester business district at 28 West Market Street. Our headquarters are in the historic Lincoln Building, the site of the publication of the first Abraham Lincoln biography.
Click here for a PDF of The Lincoln Building Brochure.
The Federal-style building at 28 West Market Street, West Chester, PA is known as the Lincoln Building.
Designed by William Strickland and built in 1833 by William Everhart (1785-1868), a Congressman, philanthropist and prominent borough resident, the building was initially numbered 14 West Market and was first referred to as the Everhart Building.
Squire Everhart was born in West Vincent Township, the son of a Revolutionary War soldier. Everhart was a successful merchant for 60 years until he retired in 1867. He was the father of eight children. From his home on Gay Street, he served as chief burgess and justice of the peace in West Chester.
In 1829, Everhart purchased the 99-acre Wollerton farm, which is today the southeastern part of the heart of West Chester. His wife’s grandfather, “old” Isaiah Matlack, owned most of the northern part of the borough. Everhart laid out four streets named for his friends, all former Congressmen: Isaac Wayne, General Isaac Barnard, Charles Miner, and Dr. William Darlington.
Everhart constructed more than 100 brick buildings. The Everhart Building was West Chester’s first office building, designed specifically to be rented to various businesses. Since 1833, it has never been a private home; it has always housed offices.
In 1860 the Chester County Times, an early weekly republican newspaper, was located in the building. The Times was owned by Samuel Downing, printer and publisher, and edited by E.W. Capron. Also leasing an office was Joseph J. Lewis, Esq., an attorney well known for his opposition to slavery. Early in 1860, Downing and Lewis were provided with a three-page, handwritten biographical sketch from Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln had written this at the urging of his friend, Jesse Fell.
A promoter of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, Jesse Fell was a native of Toughkenamon, New Garden Township. Fell and Lewis’ brother Edward, also a newspaper publisher in Illinois, had realized Lincoln’s need for publicity in the East to introduce him as a prospective presidential candidate. They urged Lincoln to prepare and submit his sketch to the Times in order to favorably position him with Pennsylvania’s large number of electoral delegates. At first Lincoln refused, but Fell persisted.
Lincoln’s short, humble sketch constituted all that was written of Lincoln’s life at that point. Of it, Lincoln said, ”There is not much of it, for the reason, I suppose, that there is not much of me.”
The sketch ran in the Times on February 11, 1860. It was soon republished in some of the leading newspapers on the East coast and countrywide. That simple account of his life was, according to Lincoln, instrumental in securing his nomination for the presidency on May 16, and his eventual election on November 7, 1860.
Joseph Lewis was subsequently rewarded by President Lincoln by being named Director of the Internal Revenue during his administration.
The iron balcony on the second floor of the building was added by Squire Everhart shortly before his death in 1868 as a platform for public speaking by members of the local Republican party, which had at the time made the Everhart-Lincoln Building their headquarters in Chester County. (Abraham Lincoln was, of course, the Republican party's first presidential candidate, having been elected to prior offices as a Whig and an Independent. It is also of interest from Lincoln's biographical notes that his 18th century ancestors were from nearby Berks County, PA)
The building remained in the Everhart family until 1905. Over the years, it was occupied by prominent borough residents including Norris Smith, printer; Downing and Pinkerton, editors and publishers; M.S. Way and Son, real estate and insurance; and Wayne McVeagh, Esq., attorney general in President Garfield’s cabinet. True to its political past, the building often served as campaign headquarters for various political aspirants. For a while it was called the Highly Building.
In 1947, the structure became commonly known as the Lincoln Building when the Chester County Historical Society attached a marker noting “The First Biography of Abraham Lincoln.” The PA Historical & Museum Commission further dedicated a street marker simply titled “Lincoln Biography” on September 17, 1952.
The Lincoln Building was attached by a few small shops to the famous Mansion House Hotel on the corner of Market and Church, also built by Everhart. The Mansion House was known far and wide for its caged collection of wild monkeys in the lobby, which entertained tourists, locals, and sequestered jury members.
In 1977, the Lincoln Building was purchased by businessman David Kirby to save it from proposed demolition along with the Mansion House. The demolition left 28 West Market Street as a stand-alone structure. Kirby undertook a meticulous restoration of the building and successfully petitioned for it to be added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. In 1997, Kirby sold the Lincoln Building to the Chester County Community Foundation, which sought a legacy building for its charitable nonprofit headquarters.
Annually, thousands of visitors tour the Lincoln Building, learning lessons from the past to apply to the future.
In early 1860, at the request of Chester County attorney Jesse Fell, Abraham Lincoln, 51, wrote the following sketch of his life.
"I was born February 12, 1809, in Hardin County, Kentucky. My parents were born in Virginia, of undistinguished families -- second families, perhaps I should say. My mother, who died in my tenth year, was of a family of the name of Hanks, some whom now reside in Adams and others in Macon Counties, Ill.
"My paternal grandfather, Abraham Lincoln, emigrated from Rockingham County, Va., to Kentucky, about 1781 or '82, where, a year or two later, he was killed by Indians, not in battle, but by stealth, when he was laboring to open a farm in the forest. His ancestors, who were Quakers, went to Virginia from Berks County, Pa.. An effort to identify them with the New England family of the same name ended in nothing more than a similarity of Christian names in both families, such as Enoch, Levi, Mordecai, Solomon, Abraham and the like.
"My father, at the death of his father, was but six years of age, and he grew up literally without education. He removed from Kentucky to what is now Spencer County, Ind., in my eighth year. We reached our new home about the time the State came into the Union. It was a wild region, with many bears and other wild animals still in the woods. There I grew up. There were some schools, so called, but no qualification was ever required of a teacher beyond "readin', writin' and cipherin'" to the Rule of Three. If a straggler supposed to understand Latin happened to sojourn in the neighborhood, he was looked upon as a wizard. There was absolutely nothing to excite ambition for education.
"Of course when I came of age I did not know much. Still, somehow, I could read, write and cipher to the Rule of Three1, but that was all. I have not been to school since. The little advance I now have upon this store of education I have picked up from time to time under the pressure of necessity.
"I was raised to farm-work, which I continued till I was twenty-two. At twenty-one I came to Illinois, and passed the first year in Macon County. Then I got to New Salem, at that time in Sangamon, now in Menard, County, where I remained a year as a sort of clerk in a store. Then came the Black Hawk War, and I was elected a captain of volunteers -- a success which gave me more pleasure than any I have had since. I went through the campaign, ran for the Legislature the same year (1832), and was beaten -- the only time I have ever been beaten by the people. The next and three succeeding biennial elections I was elected to the Legislature. I was not a candidate afterwards. During this legislative period I had studied law, and removed to Springfield2 to practice it. In 1846 I was once elected to the Lower House of Congress, but was not a candidate for re-election. From 1849-1854, both inclusive, practiced law more assiduously than ever before. Always a Whig3 in politics, and generally on the White electoral tickets, making active canvasses. I was losing interest in politics, when the repeal of the Missouri Compromise4 aroused me again. What I have done since then is pretty well known.
"If any personal description of me is thought desirable, it may be said, I am, in height, six feet four inches nearly; lean in flesh, weighing, on an average, one hundred and eighty pounds; dark complexion, with coarse black hair, and gray eyes. No other marks or brands recollected."
Yours very truly,
1 The old name for that process in arithmetic known as proportion
2 When Lincoln came to Springfield it was hardly more than a frontier town. He was just beginning to be known as a lawyer; his reputation was greater as an excellent talker, a story-teller of the first order, a good-natured, friendly fellow, liked and trusted by all. As early as 1837 he put himself on written record (Illinois State Journal, March 3) as opposed to slavery.
3 With Henry Clay's death in 1852 the Whig party dissolved, to be succeeded in 1858 by the Republican party.
4 In 1854 U. S. Senator Stephen Douglas brought about the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, thus reopening the questions of slavery in newly acquired territory, or newly admitted states, north of 36o 30'. This roused all the North to instant protest., including Squire William Everhart, who was then serving as a member of the 33rd Congress. Lincoln later debated Douglas on the slavery issue when he ran against him for the Senate in 1858. While he won the debates, Lincoln lost that election, only to subsequently defeat Douglas for the presidency two years later.
Text of Lincoln's notes provided to the Chester County Community Foundation
by Baldwin's Books, West Chester and confirmed by the archives of David
The structure is a three and one-half story federal-style brick end-of-row commercial building constructed in 1833. The rest of the row has since been demolished, so the building is now free-standing although the West wall may still be a "party wall" with all that entails. The rear wall is stucco over brick.
The roof is tin. The basement is full with a front exterior "well", allowing for basement show windows and open stairway access. There is a rear one-story wing at the Southwest corner. There is half ground-level access to the basement at the rear.
The basement is finished and is leased as a coffee shop. It has the plate glass windows in front, a cherry floor, a tin ceiling, a food service counter and a powder room. It is bright and cheery with a fireplace in one wall.
The first floor contains two rooms on the East, a hallway on the West, and the rear wing contains two powder rooms and a closet.
The attic has been finished as a one room apartment with open ceiling. It is lit by dormer windows and skylights. There is a kitchen area with stainless steel sink, under-counter refrigerator/freezer, and counter top Jenn Aire range. There is a full bath with ornate tub. The Apartment is heated and cooled by a heat pump and has its own hot water heater.
The second and third floors are duplicates of the first floor but without the powder rooms and without washer/dryer closet. Interior finish is completely in keeping with the age and history of the building. Floors are wide wood boards; walls are plaster, ceiling heights range to 9'. Woodwork is formal and extensive.
Each room has a fireplace, and good woodwork including ceiling molding. Each room is fitted with a simple chandelier in keeping with the building.
The basement contains 830 square feet and is rented.
The first, second and third floors each contain 900 square feet, with an additional 85 square feet in the one story wing.
The attic apartment contains approximately 450 square feet, for a total of 4,065 square feet of floor area overall.
The building is heated by gas fired water heat with radiator distribution. All services in excellent condition, as is the building itself.
LINCOLN AND CHESTER COUNTY
This is an old county, one of the original three first formed by William Penn. West Chester is an old town too. Yet few will take note, as they pass, of the historic buildings and distinguished landmarks where so many County leaders lived, where so much of our County future was shaped.
At 28 West Market Street decisions were made that affected the Republican Party here and in the nation too. The modest brick building one hundred years ago contained two offices from which Abraham Lincoln was started on his way to become the first Republican President.
Two men had offices there and were joined in common political aim - to give to the lawyer from Illinois enough recognition in the East to secure his nomination for President in 1860.
Joseph J. Lewis, a well-known lawyer, and Samuel Downing, a printer and publisher, were both at 14 East Market Street (since renumbered 28 West). Joseph J. Lewis was born in Westtown in 1801, Burgess of West Chester for five years, delegate to the Harrisburg Convention of 1832 where the Whig Party was formed, and Provost of the Law Department of Lincoln University. He was active in a period where political concepts and governmental control where the lines were being drawn between what constitutes the two major political parties today.
One of his most famous cases was the defense of Casper Hanway tried for treason. He had tried to prevent a Maryland slave-owner from recapturing a runaway slave. The Maryland man was killed, and Casper Hanway brought to trial. Joseph J. Lewis defended him and secured his acquittal.
About the same time in West Chester Samuel Downing was publishing the Chester County Times, a newspaper later absorbed by the American Republican. It was known for its abolitionist sentiments. Hence it is logical that these two men came together with kindred feelings about the threat of slave-holding in new states.
This feeling between the slave states and the free really prompted the formation of the Republican Party and in a sense drew the line between the North and the "solid" South. The Democratic Party became allied with interests seeking to extend slave-owning, the Republican with those who wished for freedom in new states as they entered the Union.
In Chester County such beliefs appealed to a citizenry whose ancestors were largely Quaker, innately respecting the individual man. There had been an underground railroad in the country, with stations in West Chester, Longwood, Willistown, and Uwchlan, to name a few.
So here on Market Street were two men who sympathized with all the speeches being made by Abraham Lincoln out in Illinois. How they came to publish his autobiography introduces another Chester Countian.
In Toughkenamon, New Garden Township, in 1808 was born Jesse W. Fell. He went West in 1828, to Illinois in 1835.
When Lincoln was in the State Legislature from Sangamon County, Illinois, he and Jesse W. Fell lived in the same boarding house. They became friends and the Lincoln-Douglas debates were undertaken at the urging of Jesse W. Fell.
In 1858 Fell began to think of Lincoln in terms of the Presidency. He had an essential humility which appealed to people, and his efforts on the slavery questions were making him prominent and popular in the Midwest.
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