— Looking for Lincoln —
The village of Middletown-Mahomet was platted by Daniel Porter in 1832 on the west bank of the Sangamon River near its headwaters. The main street of the village was actually a new road, made necessary by the location of the county seat at Urbana. The state road was moved to the south of the old Fort Clark Road. This change made Newcom's Ford (on the northeast) obsolete and, thus, created a new ford near where the old railroad bridge stands today. The main street of Mahomet was once part of the Bloomington Road, reflected in its diagonal orientation, which would have made it align with the river and its ford.
Middletown or Mahomet? The young lawyer Abraham Lincoln in his travels on the Eighth Judicial Circuit actually visited both places. Lincoln arrived here when the town was called Middletown and visited later as it became Mahomet. Middletown, founded in 1832, was so named because it was the half-way point on the new Danville-Bloomington Road. However, by 1840, when a post office was granted to the growing community, "Mahomet" was the official name assigned, because by that time a site in Logan County had already taken the name "Middletown."
For many years the town did, in fact, use both names. Middletown-Mahomet became a convenient stopping point for Abraham Lincoln and his colleagues on the Eighth Judicial Circuit. Lincoln typically came from the direction of the west, in the early years from DeWitt County, and later from Piatt County, on his way toward Urbana, the Champaign County seat. In an era with no bridges, Lincoln's horse-drawn cart or buggy found the Sangamon River easiest to cross at Bryan's Ford.
The Bryans, in-laws to the landholding Busey family, opened their home to travelers on the east side of the ford. That home would later become the Ohio or Nine Gal Tavern under the proprietorship of Thomas Davidson. So named for Davidson's nine red-headed daughters, the Nine Gal also hosted Abraham Lincoln between 1853 to 1856.
Legend has it that, when Abraham Lincoln passed through, he liked to bounce little Jimmy Davidson on his knee. Another Mahomet inn, the Bloomfield or Rea Tavern (north and west of Mahomet proper) was operated by Sarah Rea. The Rea tavern had two floors and its ceiling was so low that, when Lincoln went up to sleep in the second story, he had to duck his head to pass through the narrow overhead clearance on the staircase.
B. F. Harris brought the first mower, reaper, carriage, organ, and cooking stove to Champaign County. When Middletown-Mahomet needed a doctor, he traveled to Ohio to learn a bit of the physician's art and bring home medicines. He also introduced the first sawmill - - and brought the necessary workers to run it - - in order to build his frame house, in which Lincoln visited from 1852 to 1854.
When B. F. Harris went to Washington in 1861, it was to encourage his longtime friend Abraham Lincoln in his war efforts. Harris also visited with Mary Todd Lincoln and the boys and attended a cabinet meeting during his visit to the nation's capital. When in Middletown-Mahomet, Lincoln dined at the Harris home, situated south and west of the town. Lincoln undoubtedly banked at the Cattle Bank (in Champaign), a bank in which B. F. Harris was a silent partner. Later, Harris would begin the First National Bank of Champaign.
B.F. Harris arrived in Champaign County before the tall-grass prairie could easily be plowed. Harris' fortune was made by profitably grazing cattle on the same unyielding prairie. He accumulated large landholdings in Piatt and Champaign Counties and was know throughout the country for his prize steers, which he himself drove on foot from Champaign County to Pennsylvania and New York. When he died in 1905, the Pittsburgh Livestock Journal referred to him as the "grand old man of the livestock trade - - the oldest and most successful cattle feeder in the world."
B. F. Harris was not the only early Middletown-Mahomet resident that Abraham Lincoln personally knew. B. F. Harris, along with Thomas Davidson, Hezekiah Phillippe, Wiley Davis, John C. Kilgore, and James Fisher helped to start the first Methodist Church in Middletown-Mahomet, the Bethel Church, on Harris' farm. Some of these early church founders had heard the evangelist Peter Cartwright speak "at the headwaters of the Sangamon" in the 1830.s. Peter Cartwright vehemently opposed Lincoln's bid for the United States House of Representatives because Lincoln was not a churchgoer. By way of defense, Lincoln replied that he "never denied the truth of the Scriptures."