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David Davis Mansion Marks 150 Years; Commemorative Book Tells New History

Courtesy of David Davis Mansion
The David Davis mansion turns 150 next year. A new book called "The David Davis Mansion: 150 Years at Clover Lawn" contains hundreds of rarely-seen photographs and lesser-known stories about the late Supreme Court justice's Bloomington home.

There's a big birthday coming up for the David Davis Mansion—and a new limited-edition book to commemorate it.

The book is called "The David Davis Mansion: 150 Years at Clover Lawn." It contains hundreds of rarely-seen photographs and lesser-known stories about the late Supreme Court justice's Bloomington home, which will mark 150 years since its completion in 2022.

Marcia Young is a historian and author who served as executive director of the Davis Mansion for nearly a quarter century. Young said the narrative of the mansion has long centered on David Davis’ relationship with Abraham Lincoln and the philanthropic work of his wife, Sarah.

“However, we got tasked with this new challenge of expanding the story even further in this memorial book,” Young said. “We are looking at the story as it continues into the 19th century. This is going to be after Lincoln's death.”

Critical to that history is David Davis’ son, George Perrin Davis. Young said he’s often been written off as a footnote. In this book, he’s positioned as a main character.

“When you look at any obituary about George, about two out of four columns are taken up with David Davis's biography,” Young said. “I thought, ‘Well, I think there's a bigger story here, perhaps that we've been missing.’ And in fact, there is.”

Courtesy of David Davis Mansion
The David Davis Mansion was constructed in 1872. Historians say it was Davis' son George who played the leading role in how the home developed.

Young said George Davis oversaw much of the construction of the Victorian mansion, as documented by letter correspondence with his father, who was in Washington D.C. at the time. She said George Davis was integral to installing many many of the then-new technologies in the home.

George Davis lived in the Davis Mansion longer than almost anyone, Young said. He also played a critical role in preserving artifacts of the home’s construction, as well as his father's career and communication with Lincoln.

“The documentation for the mansion is incredibly significant to scholars all over the world,” Young said. “These documents—which are very unique because they cover so much American history, and not just politics but the quality and the details of everyday life—are left in George's hands.”

Young said the book is also about the history of museums. George Davis was one of the Founders of the McLean County Historical Society, which is now the McLean County Museum of History. He’s also one of the founders of the Illinois State Historical Society, which is now the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

But the story continues through present day and into the future, Young said, particularly when it comes to the sustainability of historic preservation work.

“Museums have been under attack, museums have had funding difficulties—even those that are well-established,” she said. “The pandemic has raised the challenge up to the highest level—unanticipated levels of challenge and difficulty.”

Young said the Davis Mansion’s story is also about adapting to the times, becoming as much a cultural center as it is a historic site. She notes all of the car shows, holiday events, school field trips and other events that solidify the mansion as a forum for people to gather.

Courtesy of David Davis Mansion
Historian and Author Marcia Young says the David Davis Mansion is much more than a historic site. It's a cultural hub and public forum.

“One hopes that the community continues to feel rewarded in the stories that the mansion is telling—and that you know that there will be a place for the mansion in the future,” she said.

The David Davis Mansion Foundation is seeking public support for Young’s book, “The David Davis Mansion: 150 Years at Clover Lawn.” For more information contact Program Coordinator Adrienne Huffman at 309-706-4180 or adrienne.r.huffman@gmail.com.

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Dana Vollmer is a reporter with WGLT. Dana previously covered the state Capitol for NPR Illinois and Peoria for WCBU.