Homepage of "Mr. Lincoln, Route 66, & Other Highlights of Lincoln, IL"

Site Map


A Long-Range Plan to Brand the First Lincoln Namesake City as the Second City of Abraham Lincoln Statues

The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Celebration in Lincoln, Illinois

Abraham Lincoln and the Historic Postville Courthouse,
including a William Maxwell connection to the Postville Courthouse

About Henry Ford and the Postville Courthouse, the Story of the Postville Courthouse Replica,
Tantivy, & the Postville Park Neighborhood in the
Route 66 Era


The Rise of Abraham Lincoln and His History and Heritage in His First Namesake Town,
also the founding of Lincoln College, the plot to steal Lincoln's body, and memories of Lincoln College and the Rustic Tavern-Inn

Introduction to the Social & Economic History of Lincoln, Illinois,
including poetry by William Childress & commentary by Federal Judge Bob Goebel & Illinois Appellate Court Judge Jim Knecht

"Social Consciousness in William Maxwell's Writings Based on Lincoln, Illinois" (an article published in the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, winter 2005-06

Peeking Behind the Wizard's Screen: William Maxwell's Literary Art as Revealed by a Study of the Black Characters in Billie Dyer and Other Stories

Introduction to the Railroad & Route 66 Heritage of Lincoln, Illinois

The Living Railroad Heritage of Lincoln, Illinois: on Track as a Symbol of the "Usable Past"


Route 66 Overview Map of Lincoln with 42 Sites, Descriptions, & Photos

The Hensons of Business Route 66

The Wilsons of Business
Route 66
including the Wilson Grocery & Shell Station

Route 66 Map & Photos Showing Lincoln Memorial Park
(former Chautauqua site),
the Historic Cemeteries, & Nearby Sites

Route 66 Map & Photos Showing Salt Creek & Cemetery Hill,
the highway bridges, GM&O bridge, Madigan State Park, the old dam (with photos & Leigh's memoir of "shooting the rapids" over the old dam), & the Ernie Edwards' Pig-Hip Restaurant Museum in Broadwell

The Historic Logan County Courthouse, Past & Present

Route 66 Map with 51 Sites in the Business & Courthouse Square Historic District,
including locations of historical markers
(on the National Register of Historic Places)

Vintage Scenes of the Business & Courthouse Square Historic District

The Foley House:  A Monument to Civic Leadership
(on the National Register of Historic Places)

Agriculture in
the Route 66 Era

Arts & Entertainment Heritage,
including the Lincoln Theatre Roy Rogers' Riders Club of the 1950s

Business Heritage

Cars, Trucks & Gas Stations of the Route 66 Era

including the hometown churches of Author William Maxwell & Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr

Factories, Past and Present

Food Stores of
the Route 66 Era


Hospitals, Past and Present

Hotels & Restaurants of the Railroad & Route 66 Eras

Lincoln Developmental Center
(Lincoln State School & Colony in the Route 66 era), plus
debunking the myth of Lincoln, Illinois, choosing the Asylum over the University of Illinois

Mining Coal, Limestone, & Sand & Gravel; Lincoln Lakes; & Utilities


Museums & Parks, including the Lincoln College Museum and its Abraham Lincoln Collection, plus the Heritage-in-Flight Museum

with Distinction

News Media in the Route 66 Era

The Odd Fellows' Children's Home


Memories of the 1900 Lincoln Community High School,
including Fred Blanford's dramatic account of the lost marble fountain of youth

A Tribute to the Historians and Advocates of Lincoln, Illinois

Watering Holes of the Route 66 Era

The Historic 1953 Centennial Celebration of Lincoln, Illinois

The Festive 2003 Sesqui-centennial Celebration of Lincoln, Illinois,
including photos of LCHS Class of 1960 dignitaries & the Blanfords

Why Did the State Police Raid Lincoln, Illinois, on October 11, 1950?

The Gambling Raids in Lincoln and Logan County, Illinois,
During the Late Route 66 Era (1950-1960)


Pages in this section tell about Leigh Henson's Lincoln years, moving away, revisits, and career:

About Lincoln, Illinois;
This Web Site; & Me

A Tribute to Lincolnite Edward Darold Henson: World War II U.S. Army Veteran of the Battles for Normandy and the Hedgerows; Brittany and Brest; and the Ardennes (Battle of the Bulge)

For Remembrance, Understanding, & Fun: Lincoln Community High School Mid-20th-Century Alums' Internet Community
(a Web site and email exchange devoted to collaborative memoir and the sharing of photos related to Lincoln, Illinois)

Leigh Henson's Pilgrimage to Lincoln, Illinois, on
July 12, 2001

Leigh Henson's Review of Dr. Burkhardt's William Maxwell Biography

Leigh Henson's Review of Ernie Edwards' biography, Pig-Hips on Route 66, by William Kaszynski

Leigh Henson's Review of Jan Schumacher's Glimpses of Lincoln, Illinois

Teach Local Authors: Considering the Literature of Lincoln, Illinois

Web Site About
Leigh Henson's Professional Life


Pages in this section are about the writing, memorabilia, and Web sites of other Lincolnites:

A Tribute to Bill and Phyllis Stigall:
Exemplary Faculty of Lincoln College at Mid-Twentieth Century

A Tribute to the Krotzes of Lincoln, Illinois

A Tribute to Robert Wilson (LCHS '46): Author of Young in Illinois, Movies Editor of December Magazine, Friend and Colleague of December Press Publisher Curt Johnson, and Correspondent with William Maxwell

Brad Dye (LCHS '60): His Lincoln, Illinois, Web Site,
including photos of many churches

Dave Armbrust's Memorabilia of Lincoln, Illinois

J. Richard
(JR) Fikuart
(LCHS '65):
he Fikuarts of Lincoln, Illinois, including their connections to the William Maxwell family and three generations of family fun at Lincoln Lakes

Jerry Gibson (LCHS '60): Lincoln, Illinois, Memoirs & Other Stories

Dave Johnson (LCHS '56): His Web Site for the Lincoln Community High School Class of 1956

Sportswriter David Kindred: Memoir of His Grandmother Lena & Her West Side Tavern on Sangamon Street in the Route 66 Era

Judge Jim Knecht
(LCHS '62): Memoir and Short Story, "Other People's Money," Set in Hickey's Billiards on Chicago Street in the Route 66 Era

William A. "Bill" Krueger (LCHS '52): Information for His Books About Murders in Lincoln

Norm Schroeder (LCHS '60): Short Stories

Stan Stringer Writes About His Family, Mark Holland, and Lincoln, Illinois

Thomas Walsh: Anecdotes Relating to This Legendary Attorney from Lincoln by Attorney Fred Blanford & Judge Jim Knecht

Leon Zeter (LCHS '53): His Web Site for the
Lincoln Community High School Class of 1953
including announcements of LCHS class reunions

(Post yours there.)


Highway Sign of
the Times:

The Route 66
Association of Illinois

The Illinois State Historical Society

Illinois Tourism Site:
Enjoy Illinois



   Internet Explorer is the only browser that shows this page the way it was designed.  Your computer's settings may alter the display.

April 24, 2004: Awarded "Best Web Site of the Year" by the Illinois State Historical Society  
  "superior achievement: serves as a model for the profession and reaches a greater public"

Marquee Lights of the Lincoln Theater, est. 1923, Lincoln, Illinois

   You can go home again. Email Leigh Henson at dlhenson@missouristate.edu.

27. Lincoln Developmental Center, Named
the Lincoln State School (& Colony) in the Route 66 Era

              "On the outskirts of town there was a state hospital for feebleminded children. . . ."

                                                                                William Maxwell, Ancestors (1971), p. 181.

Dedicated to the Memory of Ruth Ann Webb Henson:
Devoted Caregiver at the Lincoln State School for More Than Forty Years

Ruth Ann Webb Henson:
See below for "A Career of Untiring Service to Suffering Humanity:  The Ruth Henson Story"

     Notes: Several people have asked me if I have information about certain patients or employees, but I do not. If you have such a question, I suggest you contact the Illinois Secretary of State's office to see whether you can obtain that information and if so how: http://www.cyberdriveillinois.com/home.html. Also, some who have seen this history Web page have inquired about the cemetery where patients are buried, and here is a link to some information, including a map showing the location of the Lincoln Developmental Center Cemetery: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=cr&CRid=105399&CScnty=743&.

     The epigraph at the top of this page shows Maxwell had written this sentence before society had advanced into political correctness. The Lincoln Developmental Center (LDC) was one of the most significant factors in the history of Lincoln, Illinois, and had been the largest employer in Logan County.  Business Routes 4 and 66 ran on the west side of this institution on Stringer Avenue.  From the south, Route 4 turned east on First Street, toward the business district, along the north side of the institution's grounds.  From the south, Route 66 followed Stringer Avenue, past the front of the Mill, the Outside Inn, and Postville Park, turning east on Fifth Street, past the Postville Courthouse toward the business district.

     In 2000, LDC had 698 employees and 383 residents (Gehlbach, "Lincoln State School," p. 3).  On June 10, 2002, Governor George Ryan announced that he would no longer authorize funding for LDC, effectively closing it.  The Governor claimed that patients in this institution faced life-threatening conditions, so he could not justify state financial support for LDC.  As a basis for his determination, he cited four safety-related incidents involving patients.  Employee and parent groups said the incidents were minor and not typical of this kind of institution and did not constitute life-threatening conditions.  They took their case to court (lincolndailynews.com, June 11, 2002; see link in Sources Cited below), but the legal system has effectively closed LDC as of September 1, 2002.  In the summer of 2003, some state officials say they favor re-opening LDC within a year.

Former Lincolnite Dave Salyers Recalls the Lincoln State School

     I present Dave's memoir early on this page because it describes realities about the Lincoln State School that many of us who grew up in Lincoln in the 1940s and 1950s did not discover:    

     "As to the SS&Colony, I recall my father having some very strong opinions about that place (of course, my father had some pretty strong opinions on just about everything).
      We lived outside town, on Primm Road.  We fed a couple of hundred head of hogs on garbage, which was legal to do in the 1950s.  One of our main sources for garbage was the food service facility at the SS.
     Frequently, in summer, I'd help my father pick up garbage, and at the SS we'd be helped by some of the younger residents of the facility.
     I said to my father one day that I couldn't understand what was wrong with these fellows.  "Hell," my father said, most of these kids are just fine.  He thought that many of them had been dumped here by their parents, and that many were illegitimate.

     What I had never seen in my time at the SS&C were the many residents who were profoundly handicapped mentally and/or physically.  That lesson came when I was in 8th grade, and a student at Chester-East Lincoln school.

     That year, we were invited to put on our Christmas pageant for the residents at the SS&C.  After we arrived and began to set up backstage, Mrs. Morehead, our music teacher, recalled some things that had been left on our bus, and asked me to fetch them.  The auditorium was almost full by that time, and as I walked up the center aisle, I saw for the first time people with severe physical abnormalities -- microcephalics, hydrocephalics, Downs Syndrome, and some dramatically disfigured people.
     What this white-bread country boy saw in that few seconds as I walked up the auditorium aisle was absolutely devastating.   It was all I could do to keep from running out that door and getting as far away from there as I could get.
     But, I retrieved the stuff from the bus, and the show went on. 

     It's strange, but I don't recall ever talking to my classmates about this, and I certainly never mentioned it to my parents. 

     Upon reflection, Lincoln in the 1950s truly was a place of depthless innocence -- at least to a 12-year-old"
(emailed to Leigh, 2-2005, and quoted here with Dave's permission).

     Respond to Dave Salyers at dbs1128@earthlink.net

Summary of Lincoln Developmental Center History
"In its heyday, Lincoln State School was a self-reliant, small-scale city.  It had its own power plant, kitchen, bakery, sewing rooms, laundry, hospital, nurses' school, fire department -- and jail [Smith Cottage].  In its greenhouses, residents watered the poinsettias and other plants that decorated the state offices in Springfield.

     At various times over the years, residents not only made mattresses, shoes, and brooms, but cared for other residents and helped keep up the campus, working in the laundry rooms and cleaning the buildings" (Gehlbach, "Lincoln State School," p. 4).


·  1865 -- the State of Illinois opens the Experimental School for Idiots and Feeble-Minded Children in Jacksonville, Illinois (Gehlbach, "Lincoln State School," p. 1).

·  1875 -- overcrowding at Jacksonville (Lincoln Evening Courier, Section Three, August 26, 1953, p. 15) led to the $7,500 purchase of 40 acres known as Wyatt's Grove near Lincoln for the Illinois Asylum for Feeble-Minded Children (Gehlbach, back cover).

·  1877 -- first residents arrive at the Lincoln facility, "a Victorian Gothic Revival building (27.1 and 27.2) (Gehlbach, Our Times, p. 1).

· 1880 -- enrollment at 296 "pupils" (Courier, Centennial Edition, Section Three, 8-26-53, p. 15).

· 1889 -- "criminals, paupers, mentally ill and more and more severely retarded people were coming in large numbers from county almshouses" (Beaver, p. 83).

·  1901 -- Boys' Cottage completed (Beaver, p. 83).

·  1902 -- Girls' Cottage completed, each building costing $200,000 (the most expensive buildings constructed in Lincoln to date?) (Beaver, p. 83).

·  1909 -- psychology department added, the first of its kind in the country (Courier, Centennial Edition, Section Three, 8-26-1953, p. 15).

·  1910 -- name changed to Lincoln State School and Colony (Gehlbach, p. 2).

·  1915 -- state commitment act enabled courts to admit "anyone who was feebleminded and not insane";  many new arrivals:  old, sick, paralyzed, and babies (Gehlbach, p. 2).

·  1930 -- by this time 10 buildings had been added to the farm annex (Gehlbach, p. 3).  450 acres owned by state; another 400 leased (Beaver, p. 83).

·  1937 -- "Smith Cottage was built for detention of incorrigible inmates" (Gehlbach, p. 3).

·  1938-1941; 1946-1955 -- administration of William W. Fox, M.D. (Beaver, p. 83).

·  1942 -- Nine of thirteen doctors on military leave during WW II (Beaver, p. 83).

·  1949 -- state Mental Health Law shifts discharge power from the courts to the superintendent.  Residents out on court order were discharged (Gehlbach, p. 3).

·  1954 -- name changed to Lincoln State School.

·  1958 -- peak resident population of 5,408 (Gehlbach, p. 3).

·  1973 --as a result of a Supreme Court decree that working residents had to be paid the same as regular employees, the practice of residents working was stopped at Lincoln.  This was a major change in the life of the residents and the institution, with many residents beginning to work in shelters or being transferred to smaller institutions, group homes, and nursing homes (Gehlbach, p. 3).  Begins trend toward de-institutionalization.

·  1975 -- name changed to Lincoln Developmental Center.

·  1978 -- farm-annex ended; facility becomes the Logan Correctional Center (state prison).

·  September 1, 2002:  Official closing.

·  Spring, 2003:  Some state-level politicians say that LDC will re-open by 2004.

27.1: Picture Postcard of Asylum for Feeble-Minded Children, Administration Building (Central), pre-1915

27.2:  Undated Picture Postcard of
the Central Administration Building

27.3:  Boys' Side of Administration
Building (Central), Back View (?)

(Ruth Henson photo, undated)

27.4:  Girls' Cottage Annex, 1931

(Ruth Henson photo, undated)

27.5:  Boys' or Girls' Cottage (undated)

A Career of Untiring Service to Suffering Humanity:  The Ruth Henson Story

     The "State School" had seen many dedicated employees.  One of them was my maternal grandmother, Ruth Ann (Webb) Henson.    

     Ruth (still in her teens) and her itinerant farmer husband, John, had accompanied her mother, Parlee, to Lincoln, Illinois, in approximately 1917.  Like many other people over decades in the 19th and 20th centuries, they had come from southern Illinois to Lincoln to find work at the state institution.  Ruth began working there in 1920 and continued for more than 40 years.  At first, she was classified as an attendant and earned $45.00 per month.  She became a licensed practical nurse in 1952.

     For 31 years her position-title did not change.  Her first assignment was with a group of severely retarded girls, and for 31 years she had been with this same group.

     In the early 1950s, she was promoted to supervising attendant and placed in charge of a building with about 600 of the most severely retarded.  In 1952, she was in charge of a new building that housed 120 severely crippled females gathered from other wards.  The patients ranged in age from 7 to 90, with an average age of 28.  Their mental ages ranged from 0 to 6 years with 64% having a mental age of less than 1 year.  The majority of those patients were crippled, spastic, epileptic, blind, and/or deaf.

     Mrs. Henson used new strategies to work with these most challenging patients.  She arranged for as many as possible to eat in the dining room and emphasized a bath per day for each patient.  She used games and competition to encourage patients to dress and become as mobile as possible.

27.6:  Ruth Henson in 1932 at the
Fountain in Front of the Administration Building

     Was she wondering if her 14-year-old son, Darold, would bring fish home from nearby Salt Creek later that afternoon?

     (Photo from Ruth Henson's papers)

27.7:  Ruth's Licensed Practical Nurse Pin

     She enlisted the more capable patients to assist with the helpless. Seven girls were able to walk for the first time.  Many others began to guide their own wheel chairs or to walk with strollers.

     An article about her says, "Outstanding as is the success with physical achievement, even more heartwarming is the evidence of psychological comfort which she brings to her 'girls.'  She is always in their midst, patting, smiling, talking, joking, comforting.  The girls reflect her presence in their joy of living.  They laugh, sing, play games, and cajole each other.  Movies are shown on the ward and she shares in their excitement and pleasure as they recognize horses, dogs, tunes, etc.  Frequently the patients show evidence of knowing things nobody realized they knew."

     "Morale on her building is high.  Her enthusiasm for her 'girls' is infectious and spreads to her patient helpers as well as the employee assistants on the building.  Brighter patient girls who had difficulty in adjusting to other work assignments in the institution get along well with Mrs. Henson and ask to be assigned to her building.

27.8:  Ruth Henson with Patient

(Photo from Ruth Henson's papers)

    Employees who work with her request permission to continue to do so.  She shows each new employee, personally, just what is to be done and demonstrates by her own way of working.  Visitors and parents of the patients are pleasantly surprised at the atmosphere of cheer and happiness that prevails" ("Lincoln, Dixon Choose Outstanding Aides").

     In 1951, she was honored as the first place outstanding employee of LSS&C.  In 1952, she was named second-place winner in the Mental Health Week awards made by the National Association for Mental Health ("Progress and Problems in Illinois' Mental Hospitals," p. 6)

27.9:  Ruth Henson Honored as National Second-Most Outstanding Employee in State Departments of Mental Health, 1952

27.10:  Ruth Henson Receiving National Second-Most Outstanding Employee Award from Esteemed Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson

     Photo 27.9, left to right:  Dr. Joseph Albaum, Mrs. Harriet Larson, Mrs. Ruth Henson, Mrs. Dorothy Sandleben, Dr. William Fox, and Mayor Alois Feldman  (Lincoln Evening Courier photo, no date available).

     Ruth Henson loved her work, her home, and greatest of all her family, whom she supported unconditionally, quietly, and generously.  She passed away in 1987 and is buried in New Union Cemetery, resting approximately 100 yards from Bowen Cottage, where she worked for many years.

27.11: The Author's Grandfather John Henson Among
State School Employees in the Military During WW I

     This plaque is now located in the Logan County Historical and Genealogical Society on Chicago Street across from the former GM&O passenger depot.

27.12:  Bowen Cottage, Summer of 2002

27.13:  Classic Red-Brick LDC Building
(unidentified), Summer of 2002

     Ruth Henson's papers contained an undated Courier article from the early 1960s that describes one of the buildings in which she worked:  "Bowen Cottage [shown in 27.12], constructed for 84 adult female patients in 1951 now serves 130, all of them infirm.  They have four attendants on the day shift."  This article says that overcrowding and understaffing occurred throughout the institution.

     One of Ruth Henson's good colleagues was the Reverend Clarence Molen.  He had been ordained in the Evangelical Covenant Church of America in the mid 1930s.  He left parish work to serve "those forgotten -- especially forgotten by the church" (Lincoln Evening Courier, March 30, 1965). 

     At LSS&C, he ministered to an average of approximately 3,200 Protestant patients in any given year.  His work included group worship, visiting the sick, and counseling residents and their families.  He indicated that one-on-one counseling was some of his most rewarding work.  He also lectured on the religious work of the institution to in-service training groups.

    His wife, Florence Molen, taught English at Lincoln College.  Their daughter, Mary, is an alum of LCHS, Class of 1958 .  Both mother and daughter earned master's degrees in English from Illinois State University.

27.14:  Reverend Clarence T. Molen,
Protestant Chaplain, 1956-1967

(Courier article and photo by
Ken Goodrich, 3-30-1965)


27.15:  Ruth Henson's Colleague, Mrs. McElhiney

(Undated photo from Ruth Henson's papers)

27.16:  Picture Postcard from 1951

27.17:  South Hospital, Snow on
Ground, Easter Sunday, April 4, 1920

27.18: Back of Wheeler Cottage,
Date and Lady Unknown

27.19: 1910 Picture Postcard of
Boys' Cottages

27.20:  Picture Postcard of Gymnasium

     Darold Henson says that as a boy he often went to weekend movies shown in the gym.  These films were free to staff families.  Near the gym was a baseball diamond, where many local teams played.  In this area, I also remember May pole festivities:

27.21:  Adapted from Courier Photo Titled "Winding the Maypole"

(From the Lincoln Evening Courier, June 17, 1953, p. 12)

     The caption reads, "Children at the Lincoln State School and Colony engage in the May pole dance at one of the five poles set up for the finale of Tuesday night's annual summertime festival.  More than 1,000 took part in the program which included the crowning of festival rulers.  Alphonso Stein was crowned kind and Beatrice Moore queen."

Other Henson Family Experiences with LSS&C

      I worked briefly at the Lincoln State School.  In the summer of 1963, I worked in the store and in the commissary of the Annex (farm).  My mother worked several years at the State School as a seamstress.  Three generations of my family had worked at this institution. 

     My dad often joked that he graduated from both LCHS and LSS&C. 

     In the early 1940s, before Dad was drafted, he had briefly worked for the Illinois Department of Transportation.  In those days, during winter months state trucks went to the old heating plant of the State School to get cinders that were spread on the highways when it snowed.  Dad said that the male State School patients-as-workers made the cinders fly as they quickly loaded the state trucks in anticipation of being rewarded with cigarettes for their good efforts.

     Remarkably, many months after Dad told me the story of the patients shoveling cinders, I found the colorized picture postcard below that shows the powerhouse of the State School.  At the right of the buildings are piles of cinders produced by the power plant.  The dark color of the roads indicates they were paved with cinders.  The cemeteries around Cemetery Hill were also paved with cinders -- whether derived from the State School power plant or the power plant that generated electricity for the city or both.  William Maxwell described the cemetery roads paved with cinders. 

     I recall the cinder roads in New Union, Holy Cross, and Old Union Cemeteries from the days I raced my motorbike around the twists and turns of the cemeteries, occasionally taking a spill and having to pick the gritty cinders from the abrasions on my arms and legs.  Amazing that I did not develop blood poisoning because I never did more than wash the wounds.

27.22:  Very Rare Colorized Picture Postcard of the LSS&C Campus

     The artist has used the typical style of painting the horizon as if to suggest sunrise or sunset.  I know the orientation of this scene, and its background is in the west.  The artist has painted the buildings skillfully to suggest the setting sun shining on their red brick facades.

27.23: Lincoln State School Marching Band, Directed by George Treatch

(Photo from Paul Beaver, Logan County History 1982, p. 133)

     The marching band and drum and bugle corps of the Lincoln State School were renowned.  This scene is from the 1953 Lincoln, Illinois, centennial parade on Broadway Street, northeast side of the Logan County Courthouse Square.  In the center background is the celebrated Kangaroo Court Jail of the legendary Brothers of the Brush.

     Below is a photo that, I believe, shows the LSS&C Drum and Bugle Corps:

27:24: Drum and Bugle Corps of the Lincoln State School in 1958

(Photo by Richard Leonard, Ph.D., of Bloomington, Illinois)

     This photo shows a parade in the fall of 1958, perhaps a Labor Day parade or Homecoming parade. The musicians are marching east on Broadway, where it intersects with Chicago Street. The tracks in the foreground are those of the interurban.

27.25:  Old Barn on South Edge of Grounds (Leigh Henson photo, 7-02)

Example of Training at the Lincoln State School



Dear Leigh:

     The following is a short story about my grandfather, Henry Stringer, who taught brush making at the Lincoln State School and Colony from the l890s to the early 1920s.  Also attached is a picture of my grandfather another teacher and a small group of their pupils and a second picture that includes brushes that were made at the school. 


     In 1880 Henry Stringer immigrated to Chicago from Walsall, England.  Walsall is famous for the manufacture of saddles and other gear for horses and their care.  When granddad came to this country, he and my grandmother already had four children.  Initially the plan was he would find work here and then send for the family.  Unfortunately, he was not a good money manager, and after the second year of waiting grandmother arrived while the children waited in Walsall with an aunt.  After sufficient money was saved for passage the aunt with her children and my grandparents’ children came to the states. 


     I’m told by my cousin, Loren Stringer that grandfather attempted to establish a brush making shop in Chicago, but he was burned out twice by the unions.  Labor relations were rough and tumble in those days.


     Sometime in 1894 or the following year my grandparents moved to Lincoln, and granddad became a brush making instructor at LSS&C.  The residents of LSS&C varied in the individual capacities and dispositions, and while some might receive training others were totally unsuitable for it.  Regrettably, not all of the residents really belonged in the institution.  Occasionally, a resident had been committed to the institution, who really should have been left in society.  The explanation that I heard for this had to do with the juvenile court system.  If the parents were influential, the judge might direct the juvenile to LSS&C rather than prison.  To compound matters, the youngster might be ignored and forgotten by the family.  Today, we would recognize this as the “thrown away child” syndrome.


     Occasionally, granddad would get such a boy in his shop.  When this happened, granddad would help the boy gain basic civil skills, which included following directions.  After the boy was 18, granddad provided the young man with enough money to buy a train ticket to St. Louis with the instruction to enlist in the army.  Was the army a good recommendation?  Yes probably.  By eighteen the young man was conditioned to being institutionalized.  It could further transition to a free life.


     Unfortunately, not all residents were docile, shortly before retirement one boy became quite angry with granddad and clubbed him aside of his head.  Granddad suffered a severe vision problem in one eye after that.


     The reverse of the first picture states, “Top left Henry Stringer Top right Mr. Peters.”  The same man appears to be identified as “C. J. Paesler” in a group picture in Paul Gleason’s Lincoln a Pictorial History.  Please also note the brush held by the fourth resident from the left.  It bears the initials “H S.” 


     The second picture includes some mementoes of granddad’s.  The hidden from the camera, the top left brush also bears the initials “HS.”  The box in the upper right is a puzzle brought from England.  The history of the gavel is unknown other than it was granddad’s.  The large semicircular brush is a clothes brush.  The curved brush is for sweeping crumbs from the dinning table.  The remaining brush is also a clothes brush.


     I trust you find the story and pictures interesting. Merry Christmas and the best in 2005. 

Kindest regards,




     Respond to Stan Stringer at sstringer@cox.net


27.26: Henry Stringer (Top Left) and Residents

(Photo courtesy of Stan Stringer.
Click for larger version.)

27.27: The Craftsmanship of Henry Stringer

(Photo courtesy of Stan Stringer)


The Genius Patient of the Lincoln Asylum for Feeble-Minded Children

     His name was Henry Darger, and he was institutionalized in Lincoln for four or five years during his adolescence, finally escaping in 1909 after several attempts. He fled directly to his native city of Chicago, where he became a reclusive, compulsive writer and "outsider artist," who painted the scene below.

     The painting below is not typical of Darger's work because it has a recognizable landscape (non-abstract)--the prairie of central Illinois with the GM&O double railroad tracks that ran through Lincoln, Illinois, between St. Louis and Chicago. These tracks ran close to the Lincoln State School and were clearly visible from the institution. I know this because I worked there in 1963 as described above; and countless times as I grew up in Lincoln I walked, rode my bike, or drove my first car--a 1949 Ford--on the cinder road that ran parallel with these tracks between them and the institution on my way past the power plant to the common man's recreational paradise of the "back lakes," "hoot 'n holler," and Salt Creek.

     Darger was probably transported to Lincoln on a train using these tracks, and perhaps he even traveled by train when he escaped to Chicago, where he lived for decades in a one-room apartment in the Lincoln Park neighborhood.

Henry Darger Painting of the Vivian Girls in a Prairie Landscape

          The painting shows the rising dark smoke of the coal-fired steam locomotive, trees, and farm structures on the far distant horizon; and the utility poles, including the glass insulators, that parallel the railroad tracks can be seen even today (2006) along the tracks (now a single set belonging to Amtrak). The clouds to the right appear to be tinted dark from the locomotive's smoke, suggesting a Dickensian theme of a blight on nature and humankind traced to a symbol of the Industrial Revolution. Darger read Dickens--a copy of Oliver Twist was found in his room--; and of course Dickens, like such other British writers as Wordsworth, Blake, and Matthew Arnold, expressed concern for the harmful effects of industrialization on society. We see this theme in Dickens especially in Oliver Twist and Hard Times. In Darger's painting above, the polluting, carcinogenic black smoke has mutated the clouds into an enormous, ominous flying dragon moving toward the innocent girls in readiness to prey on them.

     Have the uniformed girls recently disembarked from the train, or are they awaiting its arrival? In either case, they are playful, innocent free spirits, symbolizing Darger's lost childhood that led him to a compensatory fantasy world in voluminous words and pictures.

     Curiously, another genius who lived in Lincoln--William Maxwell--attempted to recapture his lost childhood through the art of creative writing. Both Darger and Maxwell were inspired to pursue this common purpose and theme as a result of the untimely deaths of their mothers. Maxwell was born in Lincoln in 1908--the year before Darger left there. In Lincoln, Darger had lived in an abusive institutional environment, and that probably played a role in shaping him as an "outsider" artist and writer who lived an anti-social life in obscurity. In contrast, Maxwell had a loving, privileged home life in Lincoln, and that experience probably helped to shape him as a loving, beloved husband and father and as the ultimate literary "insider": he enjoyed triple roles as a venerated fiction editor at the New Yorker magazine; a sociable, communicative, and popular member of the literati; and a celebrated, compassionate writer who empathetically portrays human foibles and lives darkly colored by misfortune and tragedy.

     An excellent introduction to Darger appears at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Darger, including the alleged reason for his institutionalization at Lincoln. For a wealth of other information about Henry Darger, search with his name on Google.


Debunking the Myth of Lincoln, Illinois,
Choosing the Asylum over the University of Illinois

     In "Extra! Extra! Old Rumor Disproved," Nancy Gehlbach debunks the myth that the City of Lincoln chose to lobby itself as the site of the Asylum rather than the site of the University of Illinois.  The question of where the state would locate the university, first referred to as the Illinois Industrial College or the Agricultural College, occurred in 1867.  The question of where the state would locate the asylum occurred eight years later, in 1875, so there was no "either. . . or" decision.  In fact, Lincoln attempted to become the site of both.

     In 1867, in a bid to become the site of the university, "the city and county offered the state $350,000 for the privilege ($50,000 to come from the city of Lincoln and $300,000 from Logan County).  On February 13, 1867, the city hosted the legislative committee "assigned to view the sites":  a local group with "the Lincoln Band and 50 carriages started out to visit the three possible locations, one of which was the Brainerd farm."  Afterward a dinner was held at the Spitly House [hotel] across from the train station; then the visitors left on the 5:00 p.m. train.  On February 29, 1867, Governor Richard J. Oglesby signed legislation designating Champaign as the university site. 

     Ms. Gehlbach notes that "eight years later, the committee appointed to choose a site for the Illinois Asylum for Feeble-Minded Children chose Wyatt's Grove near Lincoln.  The state paid Latham and Wyatt $7,500 for the 40 acres, with an option to buy 20 more.  No lavish dinner, no financial offers, no band--just success" (Gehlbach).

    I wonder what the politics were the led Oglesby to sign the bill designating Champaign as the site of the university.  I would have expected this governor to use his political influence in favor of Lincoln because he had personal connections to President Lincoln and the city of Lincoln.  "In 1882 Oglesby moved to Lincoln [from Decatur] and occupied the residence at the northwest corner of what is now known as Latham Park.  It was while a resident here that in 1884, he was nominated a third time for Governor of the state and a third time elected, entering upon his third term in January, 1885" (Stringer, vol. 1, p. 625). 

Sources Cited

     Beaver, Paul J. History of Logan County 1982. The Logan County Heritage Foundation.  Dallas, TX:  Taylor Publishing Company, 1982.

     Gehlbach, Nancy Lawrence.  "Lincoln State School:  A Little History of a Big Place."  Our Times. vol. 5, no. 4, winter, 2001.  Sam Redding, Publisher. Prairie Years Press. 121 N. Kickapoo St., Lincoln, IL 62656

     Goodrich, Ken. "Courier Man of the Month:  L.S.S. Chaplain Molen Cited for Humanitarian Service." Lincoln Daily Courier, March 30, 1965.

     "Lawmakers Tour Lincoln State School." Lincoln Evening Courier. date unknown.    www.lincolndailynews.com    (see archives for June 11, 2002).

     "Lincoln, Dixon Choose Outstanding Aides."  The Welfare Bulletin. The Illinois Department of  Public Welfare. no date, no page.

     "Progress and Problems in Illinois' Mental Hospitals." The Welfare Bulletin.  The Illinois Department of Public Welfare. vol. 33, no. 3:  5-6.

    "State Doing Fine Job Since 1875."  Lincoln Evening Courier. Centennial Edition, Section Three, Wednesday, August 26, 1953, p. 15.

     Stringer, Lawrence B. History of Logan County Illinois (1911). Reprinted by UNIGRAPHIC, INC., Evansville, IN:  1978.


     Email comments, corrections, questions, or suggestions. 
Also please email me if this Web site helps you decide to visit Lincoln, Illinois: dlhenson@missouristate.edu .

"The Past Is But the Prelude"

The founding fathers of this town asked their attorney, Abraham Lincoln, for permission to name this new community after him, and he agreed.  On the first day lots were publicly sold--August 27, 1853--, Abraham Lincoln, near the site of the train depot, used watermelon juice to christen the town as Lincoln, Illinois.  It thus became the first town named for Abraham Lincoln before he became famous.