Mt Pleasant News

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Neighbors Growing Together | Mar 21, 2018

Grand reopening of Harlan-Lincoln House this Friday

New exhibit ‘Etched into History’ showcases depictions of President Lincoln
Feb 19, 2018
Photo by: Grace King The grand reopening of the Harlan-Lincoln House is Friday, Feb. 23, showcasing a new exhibit “Etched into History.”

By Grace King, Mt. Pleasant News


On the edge of Iowa Wesleyan University’s campus sits a small yellow house, which Anna Villareal says holds nationally significant stories in small town Mt. Pleasant.

As the new museum director, Villareal is helping to breathe new life into the Harlan-Lincoln House, starting with a grand reopening on Friday, Feb. 23, from 4 to 6 p.m.

Although the house has been a museum since 1959, Villareal is working with the Friends of the Harlan-Lincoln House, an annual membership group, to continue to develop new exhibits and touch on new topics within the Harlan and Lincoln family stories.

“It’s a way to not only keep and preserve history, but show how we can help influence history as it continues in the community,” Villareal said.

The house’s history begins when Harlan served as president of Iowa Wesleyan University (IW) in 1853. Harlan first lived at a place near campus before building the Harlan Hotel in what is now downtown Mt. Pleasant. That was his primary residence until he moved to the Harlan-Lincoln House in 1876.

“I think it speaks very highly that they picked a place so close to campus,” Villareal said. “He served as president [of IW] twice, but then he was still a professor, a Board of Trustee member … his connection to the University stayed pretty consistent the rest of his life.”

During Harlan’s time in the U.S. Senate, he became friends with President Abraham Lincoln. Their children, Mary Harlan and Robert Todd Lincoln, were married in 1868 in Washington, D.C. When Harlan retired in Mt. Pleasant, Mary and Robert Todd brought their children, Mary, Abraham II, and Jessie, to spend summers with their grandparents.

One of Villareal’s favorite artifacts in the museum today is Jessie’s rock collection. “I love that they left things here,” Villareal said. “I think sometimes historic houses can feel unrelatable, and when you think about it in terms of a grandparent’s house, it brings a lot more connection because you think about your grandparent’s house.”

“This is just a rock collection. That’s something I did [growing up],” Villareal continued. “It’s so interesting to think that now it’s a museum artifact because of who it was saved by.”

Of course, the most prized artifacts the museum holds is a piece of Abraham Lincoln’s coat from the night he was assassinated and two mourning veils, one worn by the president’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, and the other worn by Mary Harlan Lincoln.

The house is also debuting a new exhibit called “Etched into History” on the museum’s newly-opened second floor, which displays different artistic depictions of President Abraham Lincoln. Unlike the rest of the house, which is a historic interpretation of how it was used throughout the years, Villareal says this display is more modern and allows people to see more of the house.

“We had [IW] students coming through who took selfies with themselves and the pieces, and you think about how easy it is for us to now document our lives versus going to a professional artist to document things back then,” Villareal said as she reflected on the new gallery.

While the first level of the museum is handicap accessible, the second level is not. The museum does, however, have an exhibit binder of all the images from the second floor available for people who can’t or don’t wish to go up to the second floor. Villareal said that it is in the museum’s long-range planning to see how they can make the second floor more handicap accessible.

The Harlan-Lincoln house was always more than a home. It also served as a place for Harlan to visit with students, and later, once the house was gifted to IW, served as an art house, a tea room and an additional classroom space.

Today, the house still is a sort of meeting place for students. Villareal is delighted when IW students bring other students. “They will have come in earlier in the week and seen something that connected with them, and later bring in other students to show them,” she said.

“I think it’s great being so easily available on campus,” Villareal continued. “Students can just pass through on their way to class. They can engage in [the museum] in different ways during different visits.”

During Friday’s open house, a ribbon-cutting ceremony by the Mt. Pleasant Area Chamber Alliance is set for 4:15 p.m. Following, will be tours of the museum and a reception in the International Room of the Chadwick Library on IW’s campus.

The museum is open Monday through Friday from noon to 4 p.m. It is free admission.

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