Riding the circuit was a common practice for judges and lawyers in the 19th century. As communities began popping up in sparsely populated areas, judges and lawyers would travel from county to county to hold court sessions. Abraham Lincoln, based in Springfield, Illinois, rode the 8th Judicial Circuit for three months twice a year. Weather often made travel difficult. Lincoln would stay with friends or sometimes a tavern. Taverns during Lincoln’s time were a type of inexpensive hotel, often dirty and seedy; not like the taverns of today.
Pittsfield, Illinois, the county seat for Pike County, was a regular stop for Abraham Lincoln when he was a lawyer riding the circuit. I’m sure Lincoln enjoyed his time in Pittsfield. He had close friendships with several of Pittsfield’s citizens; three would later move to Washington D.C. to work with President Lincoln in the White House. The charming community has a rich heritage of Lincoln connections and a unique way to share it.
Pittsfield’s Talking House Tour is fun, entertaining, and amusing. The tour begins at the Pittsfield Visitor Center where you pick up a driving tour map. Then the fun begins! Continue driving your car from house to house, stopping at each one and tuning the car radio to the FM station indicated on the map. Through the car’s speakers, an occupant of the house from Lincoln’s time tells stories of their relationship with the circuit-riding lawyer. For example, at the Scanland House, Mrs. Scanland tells about an occasion when her turkey dinner got cold because Abe and her husband, Mayor Scanlan, were at the local drug store telling tales and chewing the fat. It’s wonderful to look at a house where Lincoln was often a guest and listen to stories about him. It’s not hard to imagine that the year is 1852 and Abraham Lincoln is in town for the twice-a-year court session.
If Lincoln is in town, most likely he can be found in the William Watson Hotel lobby gabbing, discussing politics, and chatting it up with the locals. Although he usually stayed in friend’s homes, Abe would often pop in to the William Watson for a visit with Pittsfield’s citizens. Since it is still a wonderfully delightful boutique hotel, I took the opportunity to stay in the “Lincoln Suite” overnight. The experience was simply lovely. If you are ever in Pittsfield, Illinois, (which I recommend you make a point to go) I encourage you to stay at the William Watson Hotel. The attention to detail, terrific service from the staff, a coffee shop right next door, and affordable rates makes for a great place to rest your head for the night. And don’t forget: Abraham Lincoln hung out here!
Lucky me! I stayed in the beautiful Lincoln Suite at the charming and comfortable William Watson Hotel!