In 1840 Abraham Lincoln frequently walked from his lodgings in Springfield, Illinois, down to Ninian Edwards' house on South Second Street to call on vivacious young Mary Todd, sister of Ninian's wife Elizabeth.
Twenty-five years later, Elizabeth recalled: “Mr L and Mary Saw Each other in that parlor there.I have happened in the room where they were sitting often & often and Mary led the Conversation — Lincoln would listen & gaze on her as if drawn by some Superior power, irresistably So: he listened — never Scarcely Said a word.” After a rocky, on-and-off again courtship, the Lincolns were married in the Edwards’s parlor on a rainy Friday evening in November of 1842.
Ninian Edwards’s house is no longer standing, but an Empire-style, horsehair-covered sofa from Ninian Edwards’s parlor survives in the collection of the Springfield Art Association of Edwards Place in Springfield, Illinois.This is the sofa where Lincoln and Mary sat as they were courting, and where the Lincolns’ wedding guests sat as they watched the future President and First Lady exchange their vows.
Although this sofa is structurally sound, it is showing the effects of its age (nearly 180 years!): the upholstery on the seat is torn, the casters are loose, there is veneer loss on the skirt and feet, the mahogany needs to be cleaned and waxed...the list goes on!
The sofa is currently undergoing restoration at The Conservation Center in Chicago. Upon initial examination an exciting discovery was made: the original horsehair upholstery was hidden under the replacement fabric on the seat back and arms. This is the very fabric that Abraham and Mary Lincoln once leaned up against!
Restoration of the “courting couch” is supported by the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation and the Abraham Lincoln Association, as well as generous gift from The Prairie Eye and Lasik Center and Richard and Ann Hart, but treatment costs have far exceeded the amount budgeted and raised. (View the treatment proposal and projected cost here). The Springfield Art Association is seeking help from the public to fully fund the restoration of this priceless piece of American history.
The Springfield Art Association is celebrating its centennial anniversary in 2013. As part of that celebration, we are undergoing a capital campaign to raise funds for new art facilities, renovation of our art gallery, and the restoration of the interior of historic Edwards Place to the grandeur of its mid-19th century appearance. Any funds raised above and beyond what is necessary to restore the courting couch will go towards the restoration of Edwards Place and the conservation of other objects in its decorative arts collection.
The "courting couch" is just one of several deeply significant objects at Edwards Place. These include an 1831 mahogany sideboard signed by the cabinetmaker and originally owned by Springfield's founding family; an 1850s center table originally belonging to the Edwards family; a rare 1830s upright grand piano originally belonging to Congressman William L. May, and many others. These are all objects from antebellum Springfield that Lincoln would have seen in the homes of his friends. Like the "courting couch," they are all suffering the effects of time and could use some professional care to restore them to their optimal condition and preserve them for future generations.
Risks and challenges
We are currently in a bit of a race with the clock: we have a grand unveiling planned on February 11, sponsored by the Abraham Lincoln Association and coinciding with Abraham Lincoln's birthday, and treatment on the couch needs to be completed by then! However, The Conservation Center has assured us that this will not be a problem.
In terms of risks, the professionals at The Conservation Center will do everything in their power to stabilize, restore, and conserve the sofa, but they cannot turn back the clock on 180 years of use. We run the risk that, even after treatment, losses to the seatback, discoloration and staining, and undulation to the seat back will still be visible. The sofa will never look brand new, but it WILL be restored to its best possible appearance and preserved for generations to come.
- (60 days)