MOUNT PLEASANT — The formation of a 501c3 and cooperation with lenders and the Board of Directors of Iowa Wesleyan University has saved the Harlan-Lincoln House from being another casualty of closure of the school earlier this year.
Wednesday’s announcement that the Harlan Lincoln House ownership has transitioned to a 501c3 non-profit organization, was made on the front porch of the home, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and sits at the edge of the IWU campus.
The 150-year-old home, once occupied by the Harlan and Lincoln families, was gifted to the University in 1907 and has been a continuously operating museum since.
The Board of Directors of the newly formed Friends of the Harlan-Lincoln House were on hand along with IWU Board Chairman Robert Miller, when the announcement was made.
“This home has heard the laughter and the sorrows – and the footfalls of the Lincoln and Harlan grandchildren,” said Elizabeth Garrels, who is the Secretary of the IWU Board of Directors and a member of the newly formed 501c.3 organization charged with the preservation and operation of the museum.
The home was the property of IWU and utilities, and maintenance costs were part of the IWU budget. The Friends organization will now be responsible for all of the costs of maintaining and operating the home/museum.
U.S. Senator James Harlan built the home in 1876. He was a friend and political ally of President Abraham Lincoln. Harlan’s daughter Mary and Robert Todd Lincoln, the president’s son, married and their children spent summers here with the Harlan grandparents. Today the home contains artifacts from the different generations of the Harlan and Lincoln families. Among them are the collar of the coat Lincoln was wearing when he was assassinated; a mourning veil belonging to Mary Todd Lincoln; a wooden recliner designed by James Harlan; and items from the Robert Todd Lincoln home in Chicago, to name a few.
A public re-opening event is planned for Saturday, Oct. 21 from 1-4 p.m. at the Harlan-Lincoln House. Future plans for the Harlan-Lincoln House open hours for tours and special events.
Efforts now are focused on fundraising and increasing the pool of available volunteers to assist in the maintenance and operation of the historic home. Friends member Lynn Ellsworth, Mount Pleasant, said about 20 people attended a recent meeting organized to gauge interest in volunteering at the house. Volunteers are needed to be docents, provide housecleaning and yard work duties and to assist in raising funds to pay the cost of operations.
Ellsworth said IWU also provided support for the house by providing marketing materials and services, mailings, in addition to covering utility costs and maintenance. “We are on our own now,” Ellsworth said.
Miller said the formation of the 501c3 and the transition of the property to the Friends of the Harlan Lincoln House will ensure its continued operation as a museum and that the property won’t get sold off as the board continues to dispose of the property that comprises the IWU campus.
The Mount Pleasant School District is conducting due diligence on the central portion of the campus, and purchase agreements have been signed for the campus dormitories, but the property has not been closed yet, Miller said. “The Board continues to be concerned with what happens to the remaining assets. We are doing everything we can to make sure we do what is best for Southeast Iowa and Mount Pleasant,” Miller said.
Garrels and Ellsworth are joined by Tricia File, Lea Bradley, and Pat White, from Mount Pleasant and Paul Juhl, Iowa City, as members of the Friends of the Harlan-Lincoln House. Garrels said more information about upcoming events at the Harlan-Lincoln House can be found by following Harlan-Lincoln House on Facebook or through the organization’s website: harlan23.wixsite.com/hlhm.