One hundred and fifty years ago today, President-elect Abraham Lincoln passed through Haverford, PA, on his journey by train to the presidential inauguration in the capital city of Washington, DC. His trip began on February 11, 1861 as he and his wife boarded a train at the Great Western Railroad depot in Springfield, IL. That day, he gave brief remarks along the way in Springfield, Tolono, and Danville, IL, at the Indiana State Line, and in Lafayette, Thorntown, and Indianapolis, IN.
The inaugural route from Illinois to Washington, DC, is now famous for its avoidance of what has become known as the “Baltimore Plot.” As the first president to be elected from the Republican Party and with Southern states threatening to secede over the issue of slavery, there was considerable tension over a possible plot to assassinate the President-elect on his journey to the capitol. The Pinkerton National Detective Agency was hired to provide security on the journey and a route that took the President-elect through Baltimore at night (and in disguise) was secretly planned to secure his the safety.
The inaugural route wound its way through seventy towns and cities, from Illinois through Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania and on to New York State. Arriving in the City of Brotherly Love from New Jersey, the President-elect gave several speeches including those to the Mayor and the citizens of Philadelphia and to a delegation from Wilmington, DE. He gave two rousing speeches at Independence Hall on February 22 before continuing his journey to Harrisburg and on to Washington, DC.
We know from A History of Haverford College For the First Sixty Years of Its Existence (1892) that Lincoln “appeared on the rear platform of the train and bowed to the students assembled at the station” and student Thomas Battey, class of 1863, later remarked in a letter that “As the train passed by the successive groups that had gathered along the bank sloping down to the road bed, the tall form of ‘Old Abe’ appeared on the rear platform, hat in hand, and bowed graciously to each group” (Providence, 5 mo. 4, 1927). At the time, Haverford Station on the Pennsylvania Railroad was located at the edge of campus on what today we call Railroad Avenue. While there is no evidence that his train stopped or that he gave a speech, his brief appearance must have made a deep impression upon the 65 male students enrolled in the College. For a time there was a historical marker on this spot.
Another who saw the President-elect was Charles Roberts, class of 1864. Soon to become an avid collector of autograph letters, the young Roberts had received Lincoln’s signature from November 17, 1860, just 11 days after he won the presidential election. This letter would become the nucleus of an extensive collection of autograph letters collected by Roberts over the course of his life. In 1903, his collection of over 12,000 items was donated to the College by his widow, Lucy Branson Roberts.
The brief passage through Haverford would not be the only time that the students would get to see Lincoln. Sadly, on April 22, 1865 the assassinated President’s body would again pass through Haverford Station, this time retracing the inaugural route in reverse. Haverford Professor (later President) Thomas Chase spoke at Collection on the day of his assassination and his wife, Alice, remembered receiving the news:
Was it not a terrible blow on Seventh day. A student, Allan Thomas, came before we had left our room in the morning. Thomas [Chase] went down to see him and soon returned so overcome with grief that I knew something unexpected and dreadful had happened, but could not prepare myself for anything so horrible as the truth, and when he told me I was almost as much overwhelmed as himself (Lawnside [Haverford], April 19, 1865).
Special thanks to Diana Franzusoff Peterson, Manuscripts Librarian and College Archivist, and Anne Upton, Quaker Bibliographer and Special Collections Librarian, for providing assistance researching this event.