— Looking for Lincoln —
Until the Illinois Central Railroad rolled into town, geese flocked to a pond in this vicinity. The IC cleared the pond and donated the land to the Congregationalist (today the Community United Church of Christ). Their sanctuary, completed near the corner of University and First Street in 1856 was fondly known as the Goose Pond Church for its first inhabitants. In this yet unfinished church, Abraham Lincoln addressed a crowd in June 1856 (and possibly later that same year). Lincoln appealed to the congregants' strong antislavery and abolitionist views to rally votes for Fremont, the new Republican Party's presidential candidate. This photograph shows the church after a tornado in the early twentieth century.
Abraham Lincoln during his campaign against "The Little Giant" in 1858 was met at the Doane house by an enthusiastic crowd. Between debates, Lincoln and Douglas followed each other from town to town campaigning. On September 23rd Douglas spoke, and the following day Lincoln spoke, at the fairgrounds in Urbana. Judge Cunningham gives this account of the eager Lincoln supporters who assembled on this corner: "At an early hour people began to flock into town. . . . At ten o'clock a procession, led by the Urbana Brass Band, the German band and Danville band, and over sixty young ladies on horseback with their attendants, thirty-two of whom represented the states of the Union, marched to the Doane house for the purpose of escorting Mr. Lincoln to the Fairgrounds." The Doane house, an inn which served as the Depot building, was north of the Goose Pond Church on the east side of the railroad tracks. A Chicago newspaper wrote about Lincoln's speech that day: ". . . the number present was nearly, if not quite as large as those in attendance at the Douglas demonstration of yesterday, the enthusiasm ten times as great."
Not only did Lincoln make speeches in West Urbana (later Champaign), he also formed friendships here. He stayed with the Baddeley's, prominent storekeepers, who lived at the corner of Randolph and Hill. He dined with Mark Carley, entrepreneur and old-line Whig, who owned the first grain elevator in the new Depot town. Henry Clay Whitney, later a biographer of Lincoln, ran his legal practice out of his father's home on the west side of the tracks. Lincoln's friend from rural Mahomet, B. G. Harris, was a partner in the Cattle Bank (on the northeast corner of First Street and University). As Lincoln was escorted to the fairgrounds, he would have passed the newly opened bank.