The rich heritage of Abraham Lincoln stretches across the United States, but history buffs needing a Lincoln fix can find one about three hours away in Janesville, Wis.
In 1859, Lincoln conducted a speaking tour that started in Milwaukee and continued to Beloit, Wis. William Tallman, a Janesville attorney, traveled to Beloit with other members of the local Republican Party to hear Lincoln speak. They extended an invitation to Lincoln, which he accepted, to address the Republican Club in Janesville and spend that October weekend with the Tallmans in their new home.
Originally from New York, Tallman had purchased what he called “rich, productive, agricultural and mineral land" in Wisconsin and built a home in Janesville sometime between 1855 and 1857. It is the only private home in Wisconsin still standing where Lincoln stayed.
The 26-room Italianate villa-style mansion, under the auspices of the Rock County Historical Society, offers guided tours by docents during the year. But it's in December when the home really shines.
"The decorations are up by Nov. 21," said Madge Murphy, director of the RCHS, "and the house is just gorgeous."
Elaborate holiday decorations, along with related stories, enthrall holiday visitors. The house is filled with period Christmas decorations that reflect the grand lifestyle of the Tallman family.
One of the trees was the first in the area to feature electric lights, and it has all white decorations. "The downstairs kitchen is filled with greens ready to go up, and the dining room is decked out in red and golds - very Victorian," said Christine Rebout, head of the Janesville Convention and Visitors Bureau. "The dining room was formal because at that time, the library was considered more of a family room. There is a huge Victorian tree with 500 glass ornaments. Everything, including the docents' clothes, is correct for the period," she said.
Holiday tours at the house, 440 N. Jackson St., start on Nov. 21 and continue through Dec. 30. There is an admission fee. Both Murphy and Rebout say visitors should try to take in some of the other holiday displays in Janesville:
-- The Beloit Janesville Symphony will present George Frederic Handel's "Messiah" on Saturday, Dec. 13, at the Janesville Performing Arts Center and Sunday, Dec. 14, at Eaton Chapel, Beloit College. This year's soloists are soprano Lyssandra Walsh, countertenor Tim Lilly and tenor James Kryshak.
-- The Armory, 10 S. High St. Janesville's Armory, built in 1930, was used during World War II by the 192nd Tank Battalion and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The historic building has been renovated into an exciting entertainment venue offering three distinctive dining experiences. In December, the dinner theater show is "Forever Plaid: Plaid Tidings." This a brand-new show that offers the best of "Forever Plaid" tied up in a nifty package with a big Christmas bow on top. Filled with Christmas standards that have all been "Plaid-erized." Call ticket office for show times and pricing.
-- Holiday Light Show at The Rotary Botanical Gardens, 1455 Palmer Drive. Eighteen acres of internationally themed and specialty gardens are illuminated with more than 150,000 lights. The gift shop offers unique general and gardening gifts. Sip a beverage and enjoy the Wisconsin Garden Railway Society's model trains as well as quilt masterpieces from the Rock Valley Quilter's Guild. Dec. 13 through Dec. 31 from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Nominal fee.
-- Parade of Lights, Traxler Park, 700 S. Main St. The public is invited to attend and drive through the park to view dozens of huge, holiday-themed light displays. Sponsored by the South Central Wisconsin Builders Association, donations are accepted and go to benefit the Rock County Habitat for Humanity. From 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. weekends in December. **
And don't forget to visit the Angel Museum in Beloit on the way back to the Springfield area.
-- The Angel Museum is the world's largest angel museum. It features more than 6,000 angels from one collector in addition to the Black Angel Collection donated by Oprah Winfrey. It is a not-for-profit organization that emphasizes angels as symbols for what is joyful, noble and good. It refrains from promoting religion or a theology of angels. With several thousand angels - from musicians to sports figures, biblical references to cartoon characters, and other themes - the museum has angels for everyone and draws international visitors. Visit the gift shop.
For more information on these attractions, visit www.janesvillecvb.com.
** Editor's note: The Parade of Lights display, presented by the South Central Wisconsin Builders Association, has moved from its former location in Traxler Park to south of Hedberg Public Library along Main Street.The display is open from 5 to 10 p.m. each night from Friday through Dec. 25. The display is to be viewed from your vehicle. No donations will be collected at the display this year, however, those who wish to donate to Rock County Habitat for Humanity may do so by sending a check on behalf of the Parade of Lights to Rock County Habitat for Humanity, P.O. Box 8204, Janesville, WI 53547.
Story published Friday, November 7, 2008 ( Volume 3, Number 6 )