Did Abraham Lincoln Ever Visit Edgewater?

Vol. XX No. 1 - SPRING 2009

By: LeRoy Blommaert

The question is not a purely speculative one, for the story has been told that indeed Lincoln visited what is now Edgewater when he was campaigning for President, and that story has become part of Chicago folklore. The source for the story was Peter Kransz, the second child of Nicholas Kransz who was the first European* to have taken up permanent residence in what is now Edgewater. The first written reference to a Lincoln visit was a February 29, 1936, article in the Chicago Tribune, announcing the impending demolition of Seven Mile House. This was the name given to Nicholas Kransz’s original homestead. It was given this name because it was approximately seven miles from the Court House in Chicago. The reference reads as follows: “One of Chicago’s oldest landmarks, the house at the northeast corner of Ridge avenue and Clark street at the intersection of Thorndale avenue, erected in 1849 by Nicholas Kransz and one visited by Abraham Lincoln, is being wrecked by its present owner, Peter P. Kransz, son of the builder.”

The second written reference was a June 22, 1940, Chicago Daily News article that John Drury wrote about Peter Kransz’s house at 5896 Ridge. It was the 63rd article in a series that he wrote titled “Old Chicago Houses.” In that article, he wrote “A one time visitor to the Seven Mile House, according to Peter Kransz, was Abraham Lincoln. ‘Lincoln was brought to my father’s place to attend a Republican caucus of farmers in the vicinity’ says the white-haired insurance executive. ‘That was when Lincoln was a candidate for president. My father was a Republican and an admirer of Lincoln.’”

The third reference was identical to the second. In November 1941, John Drury compiled all his Chicago Daily News articles on Chicago’s old houses into a book, appropriately called “Old Chicago Houses.” It was this book, which has since been reprinted, that probably is most responsible for propagating the story and giving it credence. In an August 3, 1986, article in the Chicago Tribune, Abigail Foerstner states without qualification: “And from the porch of the Seven Mile House, an Inn operated by Nicholas Kransz on a homestead where Senn High School now stands, presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln addressed a Republican caucus of farmers.” The erection of a statue of a young Lincoln on the site of the Kransz homestead derives from the story and gives it further credence.

Lois Kransz, Peter’s granddaughter, in a 1989 interview with Gloria Evenson for the Edgewater Historical Society’s oral history project, related that she heard her grandfather tell the story of Lincoln’s visit many times and, while she believed it probably true that he visited Seven Mile House, she also disclosed that her grandfather loved to tell stories and “was known to exaggerate and his stories became embellished with time.”

The key question, of course, is whether the story is true. We’d all like it to be.

One thing is certain: the story is possible. Getting to Seven Mile House would not have been difficult for Lincoln. The Chicago and Milwaukee Railroad, which would later become the Milwaukee division of the Chicago and North Western Railroad, began operations in 1855 and Rosehill Cemetery was opened in July 1859, with a stop at its entrance. A buggy could have picked Lincoln up at the station and transported him in a couple of minutes down Cemetery Drive to Green Bay Road (now Clark St.) and thence north to Ridge. He could have even walked.

Of course, for Lincoln to have easily made the journey, he would have had to be staying in Chicago at the time. As we all know, Lincoln lived in Springfield and getting to Chicago from there took even longer in his day than it does today – almost a full day, even by train. And that reality presents the first of several impediments to the story’s being true.

Lincoln is one of the most studied and written about men who ever lived. One consequence of that is that a compilation has been made of his actions and whereabouts for almost all of the days of his adult life, certainly after 1855. It is called Lincoln Day by Day. This compilation shows that he visited Chicago on only two occasions in 1860.

The second was in November; he was in Chicago for four full days (the 22nd to 25th) and his purpose was to meet with his vice-presidential running mate, Hannibal Hamlin of Maine, whom he had never met, to discuss cabinet and other appointments. At this time he was no longer a candidate for President of the United States; he was President Elect. There was thus no need to meet with local farmers, if indeed it ever was a judicious use of his time.

His first visit to Chicago in 1860 was for 13 days (not counting travel days). His purpose was not politics but the law. He had come to represent defendants in the case of Johnston vs. Jones and Marsh, also known as the “sandbar” case. It also is instructive to note that during this visit he was not yet a candidate for President; he hadn’t yet secured the Republican Party’s nomination for President. That would come in May when he was back in Springfield.

It was during this visit that he sat for sculptor Leonard Volk several times and visited Waukegan and Evanston, both of which visits were documented.

It is clear from the record that when Lincoln was a candidate for President he was not in Chicago and thus could not have visited the Kransz homestead. In fact, unlike his primary opponent, Stephen A. Douglas, who traveled extensively campaigning, Lincoln stayed in Springfield and relied on his party’s formidable organization in the northern states to carry him to victory. Even when he was in Chicago in March-April before he secured his party’s nomination (which came May 18th), there was no need for him to campaign in Illinois for it. He was already Illinois’ favorite son among Republicans and had the strong support of its delegation – at least for the first few ballots. (As it turned out he won the nomination on the third ballot.)

A second reason to doubt the authenticity of the story is that it has not been corroborated by any other source. Peter Kransz is the only source. Given that Abraham Lincoln achieved iconic status almost immediately after his assassination (at least in the north), it is reasonable to expect that if Lincoln had met with a group of local farmers at Seven Mile House, others in the group would have remembered that visit, and that some record of that meeting would have emerged later, if not from the actual participants then from their children.

A third reason to doubt the authenticity of the story relates to its only source: Peter Kransz. When the first written record of it appeared in 1936, Peter was 77 years old; he was 82 when John Drury’s article appeared in the Chicago Daily News. More relevant than his age at the time is his granddaughter’s recollection that he was prone to “exaggerate” and that his stories “became embellished with time.” A key question is how did Peter come to know about Lincoln’s visit. Did he remember the visit itself or did he remember being told about it? Either answer presents problems. Born May 1, 1858, he was less than two years old when Lincoln first visited Chicago in 1860 – an age that few people remember anything. If he remembered being told about it later, presumably by his parents, why was there no remembrance of it by any of his other siblings or their children. Surely if true, his parents would have told their other children and the story would have been passed down to their children.

For the reasons given above, it is highly unlikely that Abraham Lincoln visited Seven Mile House. Though Lincoln probably thus never visited Edgewater, it is documented that he passed through Edgewater – on its western border – not once but at least five times by rail: To and from Waukegan (April 2, 1860); to and from Evanston (April 3 and 4, 1860) and to Milwaukee (September 29, 1859). So, whenever we take a Metra North train or pass by Ravenswood avenue, we can pause and reflect: “Abraham Lincoln passed this way too.” This “pass through” doesn’t have the cachet of a visit, but at least we know for sure that it happened.

*Since this was written we have discovered that Nicholas Kransz was not the first European settler in Edgewater; that honor goes to Tegal Trader.