With thousands of volunteer man-hours and generous donations, the Livingston County Historical Society is slowly working towards its goal of preserving the Jason W. Strevell house in Pontiac, Illinois. The Strevell home is the last existing structure in the county known to have hosted the nation’s 16th President, Abraham Lincoln. According to the Livingston Historical Society president, Bob Sear, saving this home is one of the most important current projects of the historical society.
Jason Strevell came to Pontiac as a young man from his birthplace in upstate New York. He passed the Illinois Bar exam to become a lawyer and developed into one of the leading citizens of the city. He served two terms in the Illinois House of Representatives and one term as a senator. During his political activities, he befriended Lincoln as they shared many political views. In January of 1860, Lincoln came to Pontiac to speak to the Pontiac Young Men’s Literary group at the Presbyterian Church. After the speech, Lincoln went to Strevell’s home on Livingston Street to wait for the early morning train to take him to Bloomington. During the evening’s conversation, according to Strevell’s own account, they spoke of many of the trouble facing the nation. In a letter to his son, Charles, Strevell relates that while Lincoln believed that he might be nominated as a vice-presidential candidate, Strevell argued that Lincoln would get the top spot on the Republican ticket for the 1860 election.
The Strevell house has undergone a complete exterior restoration. The outside work has included a new roof, replacement of some shingles, restoration of doors and windows, and replacement of ornamental fret work. The foundation has been repaired and the exterior has been painted in a historically accurate paint scheme. Currently, work is underway on the interior of the structure where much needs to be done.
In a recent interview, Sear acknowledged that countless hours of volunteer labor has contributed to the work thus far accomplished. “Many businesses involved in doing the work on the house have provided free labor,” Sear stated. “We have to pay for materials, and that is expensive, but with the donation of time and effort, we have been able to do so much with not a lot of money.” Sear estimates that the amount of money spent on the project to date is around $60,000. The interior restoration and repair will be even more expensive as there is much that needs to be done. The Strevell house had been chopped into apartments prior to its acquisition by the Historical Society. It was threatened with demolition before being saved by a group of concerned citizens in 2008.
“Monetary contributions from individuals, businesses and charitable trusts have resulted in just enough funds to carry the project this far,” Sear said, “to continue with our progress we need to raise more money.” The main fund-raising tool for the Strevell House work has been the sale of memorial granite bricks which have been placed to create the main walkway to the front door of the building. Bricks come in a variety of sizes and can be engraved with a name, a message, or memorial. Ellie Alexander, director of Pontiac Tourism, is overseeing the Memorial Brick project and noted, “The bricks are still available and could make a wonderful Christmas gift for someone you love.” For information on purchasing a brick or learning more about the Strevell House Restoration Project, contact Ms. Alexander at (815) 844-5847.