After leaving the Ernie Pyle home and museum in Dana, IN, we headed for Champaign, IL, but on our way stopped in to see the Bryant Cottage State Historic Site located at 146 East Wilson Street in Bement IL (217-678-8184).
Bryant Cottage was built in 1856 as the home of Francis E. Bryant, a local businessman and friend of Stephen A. Douglas. According to Bryant family tradition, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas met in the parlor of Bryant Cottage to plan their famous series of 1858 debates. The cottage is maintained with original and period furnishings, providing a glimps of small-town life in the mid-1800s. Bryant Cottage State Historic Site is managed by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.
Francis E. Bryant settled in the village of Bement in 1856. His was only the seventh family to arrive there. Bryant opened the village’s first bank and store and began merchandizing grain, coal, lumber, and salt. The aspiring businessman built his four-room cottage, which was thoroughly modern in its time, just one hundred feet from Bement’s lifeline, the Great Western Railroad tracks.
On July 24 Lincoln had written a letter to Douglas formally challenging him to a series of nine debates, one in each congressional district. Douglas had not yet replied when the two opponents met five days later on the road between Bement and Monticello. Douglas had completed a speech at Monticello and was traveling to Bement with the Bryants when they encountered Lincoln about a mile and a half south of Monticello on present Route 105. Lincoln was scheduled to speak at Monticello – seven miles away – later in the day. The two men conferred briefly and agreed to meet that evening to plan a series of debates. It was in the parlor of Bryant’s Bement cottage that, according to tradition, Lincoln and Douglas worked out the details of the debates. Lincoln then, it is said, took the midnight Great Western train to Springfield.”
The picturesque one-story, four-room wood frame cottage has been “restored” and is interpreted as an example of a middle-class life in mid-nineteenth-century Illinois. The furniture on display is of the Renaissance Revival style, appropriate for a small-town family of the mid-nineteenth century.
The cottage is accessible to persons with disabilities. The site hosts portions of a variety of locally sponsored events throughout the year.
The home is small and doesn’t take much time to go through, but our guide did an excellent job explaining the history and background of the Bryant family, their life in Bement, and the meeting of Lincoln and Douglas there. For more information about the Bryant Cottage State Historic Site, you can check the following websites:
The site is usually open:
March-May, Th-Su 9-5 pm
June-Labor Day in September, We-Su 9-5 pm
Post Labor Day in September-October, Th-Su 9-5 pm
November-February, Th-Su 9-4 pm