About Harlan-Lincoln House

The Harlan-Lincoln House, located on the north side of the Iowa Wesleyan University campus, has been maintained as a museum since 1959. The museum includes artifacts belonging to the Harlan and Lincoln families: a fragment of the coat Abraham Lincoln was wearing when he was assassinated; Mary Todd Lincoln’s mourning veil; Harlan’s desk, globe, and recliner; a door measuring the heights of the grandchildren in 1883; grandson Jack’s rock collection and tennis net; family silver, dishes, books, furniture, and clothing.The Harlan-Lincoln House was built in 1876 by U.S. Senator James Harlan. Harlan’s daughter, Mary, married Robert Todd Lincoln, son of President Abraham Lincoln. The Lincolns brought their three children to spend summers here in the late 1870’s and 1880’s.

Later, the Robert Todd Lincolns owned the home, added a wraparound front porch, and spent extended periods of time here. The house tells the story of the 50-year relationship between a prominent American family and this small Iowa college and community.

Harlan-Lincoln History

Harlan_JamesSenator James Harlan

The Harlan-Lincoln legacy at Iowa Wesleyan College began in 1853 with the arrival of James Harlan to serve as president of the institution, then known as the Mount Pleasant Collegiate Institute.

Harlan’s acceptance of the position hinged on three goals: fundraising to build a second building; the establishment of a baccalaureate level of academic work; and the change of the name to Iowa Wesleyan University to reflect its collegiate nature and its relationship to the Methodist Episcopal Church.

With his goals accomplished, Harlan was elected to the United States Senate in 1855. As Senator, Harlan worked to exclude slavery from expanding into new territory and he was instrumental in the passage of the Pacific Railroad and Homestead Bills, which were important for the development of the Midwest.

Robert Todd LincolnRobert_Todd_Lincoln

While in Washington, D.C., Harlan’s friendship with President Lincoln grew. He was selected to escort Mrs. Abraham Lincoln to Lincoln’s second inaugural ball, and the President’s son, Robert, was the escort for Harlan’s daughter, Mary.

Lincoln appointed Harlan to serve as his Secretary of the Department of the Interior; however, Harlan served in the position after Lincoln’s assassination, under President Andrew Johnson. Disagreeing with Johnson’s claim that southern reconstruction was an executive prerogative, Harlan resigned in July of 1866.

He returned to the Senate in 1867 serving until 1872, when a bid for re-election failed. He and Mrs. Harlan returned to Mt. Pleasant and built the extant house onto the front of an earlier residence. The house is situated on the north edge of the Iowa Wesleyan College campus, a reminder of James Harlan’s presence at the college and community.

Harlan served Iowa Wesleyan as president, professor, and long-time trustee. He was active in the Methodist Episcopal Church as lay preacher and leader; he managed business interests; he was in demand as a public speaker, and he continued to be involved in the Iowa Republican Party. Harlan served as Chief Justice of the Second Court of Alabama Claims from 1882-1888.

Mary Harlan Lincoln

Mary Harlan and Robert Todd Lincoln were married in 1868 in Washington, D.C. After her parents returned to Mt. Pleasant, Mary brought her children, Mary, Abraham II, and Jessie, to spend summers with the Harlan grandparents.

She said Mt. Pleasant was “restful and good for the children growing up.” At the time, Robert was an attorney in Chicago and took the train to Mt. Pleasant to spend time with his family.

Senator Harlan deeded the property to the Robert Todd Lincolns in 1895, and Mary made improvements, including a wide wraparound front porch. She hosted two catered parties in the fall of 1895, welcoming people from the college and community to her home.

By 1907, with her parents no longer living and the family having built their home, Hildene, in Manchester, Vt., Mary Harlan Lincoln gave the house to Iowa Wesleyan College as a tribute to the memory of her father.

Harlan-Lincoln House Tours

Tours of the Harlan-Lincoln House are temporarily suspended while renovations take place. To be notified when tours are available, please contact us at 319.385.6215 or alumni@iw.edu.