Friday, September 05, 2014

A Visit to the David Davis Mansion!

At first glance, the roof line of this fine historic mansion reminded me of the old TV Show, The Munsters!

Doesn’t it?  The shape of the top turret brought those childhood memories to me…..but of course, this place has been much better preserved than any old Munster’s house.

Or maybe it was the Adams family.

Upon my arrival in Bloomington, my guild-buddy Marie asked what I’d like to do ----and knowing that I love all things historic, suggested we take a tour of this fabulous place.  I readily agreed.

And as it turns out, we were lucky to be given a private tour and got to spend an extra long time talking to the docents about different aspects of the mansion.

I took photos of the outside, but unfortunately photos were not allowed inside…..

However, thanks to the internet….I’ve found a collection of google photos HERE!

When you visit the mansion, you take a short trip to the near by visitor’s center first where you are shown a video of the history of the home which really brings it to life.  It helped me to get to know who these people are ---what they did, what they are remembered for.


Lovely day for strolling the grounds!

From the David Davis Mansion website:

The David Davis Mansion, completed in 1872, combines Italianate and Second Empire architectural features and is a model of mid-Victorian style and taste. Known as Clover Lawn, it was the home of David Davis, the friend, mentor and campaign manager for Abraham Lincoln. As President, Lincoln appointed Davis as United States Supreme Court Justice in 1862.
Judge Davis commissioned French-born architect Alfred Piquenard (1826-1876) to design the Victorian-style mansion, primarily as a residence for his wife, Sarah Davis (1814-1879), who wanted to remain in Bloomington rather than move to Washington, D.C. Piquenard, one of the Midwest's leading architects of the time, could boast of several important commissions, including the state capitol buildings in Des Moines, Iowa and Springfield, Illinois.


Love that the top windows are DIFFERENT than the bottoms ones!

The David Davis Mansion stands as an impressive reminder of the important role that Illinois played in America's history during the nineteenth century. The elegant Victorian home tells the story of the generation of men and women that created an orderly society out of a chaotic frontier world and then led the United States through the Civil War and early years of Reconstruction. This generation, which included David Davis, Sarah Davis and Abraham Lincoln, based its leadership upon a set of rules and values that might be called genteel. The David Davis Mansion embodies and reflects those refined values.
In the 1850s and 1860s, the citizens of Bloomington, Illinois (including Sarah and David Davis) endorsed many of the Whig political values that Abraham Lincoln had embraced. The Whig ideology espoused gentility and middle-class behavior, and Whigs argued that individuals could become successful if they adopted the values of self-initiative, self-discipline, and a solid work ethic. Both Lincoln and Davis shared the Whig desire for self-improvement, believing that individuals could free themselves through their own efforts from the constraints imposed by circumstances of birth or by the region where they lived.


Front door!

Neither Lincoln nor Davis rose to prominence solely because they were self-made men, however. It was the genteel lifestyle of women such as Sarah Davis and Mary Todd Lincoln that also played an important role in their husbands' accomplishments. Sarah Davis was a cultured woman who helped to bring gentility and middle-class values to the masculine frontier when she arrived in Illinois in 1839.
Her influence, and the influence of her female contemporaries, culminated in the building of large, impressive houses in post-war Victorian America. The story of the transformation of the Davis property from working farm to suburban estate is the story of the intertwined social, political and legal networks, which developed on the western frontier and which then catapulted Lincoln and Davis into national prominence.
The three-story, yellow-brick, genteel home, which Sarah Davis helped to design at the eastern edge of downtown Bloomington, comprises 36 rooms and was very advanced for its day. It not only had elegant furnishings and architectural features, it also had the most modern technological conveniences of the era: indoor plumbing, hot and cold running water, a central furnace, the most up-to-date gas lighting, and two modern communication systems. These were, indeed, the precursors to the modern, comfortable and convenient systems that Americans take for granted today.


Believe it or not, this heirloom plant is ORIGINAL to the house!  It has come back every year to climb the trellis….how fabulous is that?  I don’t remember what this plant is called….but I was fascinated by it.

A wooded, park-like setting originally enhanced the rural atmosphere of Clover Lawn. What remains today are 4.1 acres, containing an 1872 wood house, an 1850s barn and stable (dating back to Abraham Lincoln's day), two privies, a foaling shed, a carriage barn, and an ornamental, flower garden. The circular drive around the Mansion remains as it was originally configured. The property was entered on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972 and in 1975 was declared a National Historic Landmark.


Beautiful detail around the bay window.

David Davis: The Man

David Davis (1815-1886)-a lawyer, politician- distinguished jurist and businessman--was born in Maryland, educated at Kenyon College in Ohio, and studied law at Yale University. In 1836, after losing his bid to marry the beautiful, young Sarah Walker, daughter of a Massachusetts probate judge, Davis settled in Bloomington, where he began practicing law. After making a modest fortune, he married Sarah and the couple returned to Bloomington to set up housekeeping on what was then the western frontier.


Inset date above middle window – 1870!

In 1844, Davis won election as a Whig to the Illinois legislature, and four years later was elected Judge of Illinois' Eighth Judicial Circuit, where he served on the bench during Lincoln's remaining years as an attorney on the circuit. The two became close friends, and Davis worked diligently as Lincoln's campaign manager at the 1860 Republican nominating convention in Chicago.
In 1862, President Lincoln appointed Davis to the United States Supreme Court, where Davis wrote the majority opinion in Ex parte Milligan, a landmark decision restricting the rights of military courts to try civilians. In 1877, he resigned from the court after being elected to the United States Senate by the Illinois legislature. Davis served as Senate president pro tempore from 1881 to 1883, and was known unofficially as "Mr. Vice President." He retired from the Senate in 1883 and spent the remainder of his life at Clover Lawn.
Davis had the distinction of being the largest landowner in Illinois. Although he was not as wealthy as the state's wealthiest businessman, Cyrus McCormick, Davis owned more land than any other man in Illinois. At his death, his estate was valued at between four to five million dollars-a huge fortune in his day.

For your viewing pleasure, I found a youtube video about Victorian era tea parties showing the interior of the Davis Mansion ---it’s very fun and fascinating.  Take a good look around at the surroundings during the video and you’ll see just what we saw!

We are just about to head out to dinner ---it’s Biaggi’s with the guild girls tonight!

And when I get back…I’ve got a loaner 301 and plan to spend some time tonight SEWING!

Love from Bloomington, IL --

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  1. I love touring with you and seeing America through your camera lens.

  2. Definitely the Addams Family house. I drew a picture of it for an art class in high school. Looks like a great place!

  3. Anonymous11:36 PM EDT

    What an interesting post! Loved learning about the mansion and some of the Victorian customs as well! Thank you for sharing!

  4. Anonymous12:49 AM EDT

    Bonnie, I loved reading and viewing all about the Davis Mansion. i learned a lot!! After watching the program about the calling cards I thought the business to be in during the Victorian times was the printing business! Imagine leaving two or three cards on one visit!! CAROLYN BARNETT

  5. Bonnie as of today I am not a fan of 3M Sotch Brite
    They have a pop up ad no "x" in the corner and it covers your whole blog text and moves to stay covering when I scroll
    ER ER ER er er
    So I can't read your blog I use an iPhone I had to open your blog in a new page and well er er er
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  6. What a fabulous mansion. It very much reminds me of a museum we visited in Croatia or Slovinia earlier this year. The entrance is almost identical. A very interesting post. Thanks Bonnie.

  7. Thank you so much, that was delightful!

  8. I, too, love history. Thank you for that info. I am now going to watch the video.

  9. I think the mystery plant is a "Dutchmans Pipe" or Aristolochia macrophylla. It was used a lot in Victoran gardens. It has flowers shaped like an old fashioned smoking pipe.


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