Coles County, Illinois Homepage

History of the Coles County Courthouse

County Courthouse 1832 County Courthouse 1858 Courthouse Today
County Courthouse 1832 County Courthouse 1858 Courthouse Today

The Coles County court house existed a few years before Abraham Lincoln would enters its' chambers to practice his trial skills. It would start out as a cabin down by the Town Branch between 6th and 7th Streets, until Charles Morton and other town leaders would plat the town and make a square a little farther north. This would create an opportunity for businesses to build and locate around it. The square and the later court house (1835) would become the cultural and business center of the little hamlet. Instead of covering the physical history of the building, this virtual field trip would like to consider the court house and square as a meeting place for one of America's greatest Presidents, Abraham Lincoln, to develop friendships and relationships in politics to mold his future. He had a whole list of relatives, and lawyers in the county that would actually guide and tutor him to success. Lincoln would practice with all the judges and lawyers of Coles County, but was actual partners with Orlando Bell Ficklin and Usher Ferguson Linder. Both of these men were of the Whig party, and then later would join the Democrat party, after the Whigs dissolved. Lincoln, of course was a Whig and then helped start the Republican Party of Illinois. Ficklin was a year older than Lincoln, while Linder was born the same year as Lincoln. They were all in their 30's when practicing law in Coles County. According to Dr. Coleman, in his book Lincoln in Coles County, 1955, Abraham Lincoln's court win/loss record in Coles County was about average and adequate. Records have been found for twenty-four cases. Twenty-two were civil cases of a large variety. Two were criminal cases. When he represented the plaintiff he won nine and lost two. When representing the defendant he won four, and lost five cases. In both of his criminal cases, both defendants lost, but he got pardons for both. Lincoln can be described as always being well-prepared and always doing his share of the work when working with a partner. Probably his most famous case was representing a slave-owner by the name of Matson (October of 1847), that wanted his slaves returned to him. Lincoln went against his friend Usher Linder, who was defending the slaves. Lincoln lost this case. The slaves were freed.

Abraham Lincoln did not practice in Coles County after 1857, but represented Coles residents at the Supreme Court in Springfield for appeal cases.

Ficklin and Usher would advise the politician Lincoln throughout his career in Illinois. Communication would also occur after Lincoln would move to Washington D.C. as President. Neither would receive appointments by him, but neither expected that. Linder would have appreciated it in his later career. He came under hard times financially when moving to Chicago.

The Court House and the square would be a place for Abraham to visit with his nephews and nieces, cousin Dennis, and other step-relatives. He would have to travel down to Goosenest Farm to see his father and step-mother, as he often did. He could be seen on the square and in its hotels and taverns telling stories, talking politics, and finding out just what was going on in the mind of Charleston residents. He was called "Uncle Abe" by all the Hank children. He was also known for joining in on a game with them. He would even have a running race around the court house on another occasion.

Contact Us

651 Jackson Ave.
Room 309
Charleston, IL 61920

Tel: 217-348-0521
Department Hours:
8:30 a.m. -- 4:30 p.m.