A trip to Springfield, Illinois is the ultimate Lincoln experience, but for an abbreviated version, travel to Metamora, just eleven miles east of Peoria. It’s Lincoln lite, one of many opportunities to visit a central Illinois town that has a connection with our 16th President.
Metamora features an 1845 court house where Lincoln practiced law on the Eighth Judicial Circuit. Twice a year, Lincoln traveled from one county seat to another in a fourteen-county circuit. Court was held in each community for about 3-5 days before moving on. Lincoln and the other lawyers riding the circuit represented the local people in court.
This building is one of two original courthouses remaining from the Lincoln circuit days. (The other courthouse is in Mt. Pulaski and dates from 1848.)
The Metamora courthouse is a state historic site and nicely restored. It’s a two-story building – the downstairs features exhibits on local history and the early court system, including life on the Eighth Judicial Circuit.
Upstairs, the courtroom has been restored to the era when Lincoln appeared there. It’s a fascinating look at the court system back then, with the testifying witness standing in a box, facing the judge and jury. (The square on the floor is a tobacco spittoon.)
Among the original artifacts is the table used by Lincoln during the 1860 Presidential campaign.
The trim board was notched out to accommodate Lincoln’s long legs.
A guide tells you about one of Lincoln’s more well-known trials that took place in the courtroom. On October 10, 1857, Lincoln attempted to defend Melissa Goings, a seventy-year-old woman accused of killing her abusive husband. Most people felt sorry for her and didn’t want to see her prosecuted. During a break in the proceedings, Mrs. Goings escaped. A bailiff accused Lincoln of chasing her off, but according to local legend, Lincoln responded, “I did not run her off. She wanted to know where she could get a good drink of water, and I told her there was mighty good water in Tennessee.” No one went looking for Mrs. Goings. In the park across the street from the courthouse, there’s a statue of Lincoln and Melissa Goings.
Lincoln and Douglas sort of had a debate in a nearby park, and a boulder commemorates that spot. The two men couldn’t get their calendars lined up for an actual debate so they gave speeches on separate days in the fall of 1858. Douglas spoke on September 30th, and Lincoln on October 4th.
We’ve memorialized Lincoln in a lot of different ways, and here’s an interesting one. Take the Metamora-Washington blacktop about five miles out of town to see a Lincoln Circuit Marker. Back in the early 1920s, members of the DAR, along with the Lincoln Circuit Marking Association, decided to place markers on the county lines of the Eighth Judicial Circuit. A total of nineteen were placed, with fourteen remaining today. Lincoln scholar Guy Fraker wrote that the markers resemble an eight-foot-tall chess piece. That’s an apt description.
After a visit, I’d have to say that Metamora offers a satisfying little slice of Lincoln history. You’ll enjoy it!