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Mary Todd Lincoln history in Batavia, Illinois

Mary Todd Lincoln's bed and dresser are on display at Batavia Depot Museum
Mary Todd Lincoln's bed and dresser are on display at Batavia Depot Museum
Cindy Ladage

For Springfieldites in the Land of Lincoln, it seems that almost all the Lincoln sites are right here in Central Illinois. That is not always true though, some other areas of the state can also lay claim to some Lincoln History, like Batavia, Illinois where Mary Todd Lincoln was committed after a Chicago jury pronounced the widow insane.
It was ten years after Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated when Robert Lincoln accompanied his56-year-old mother by private train to Batavia when she entered Bellevue Place. The bed and dresser she used is on display at the Batavia Depot Museum in Batavia, Illinois
This sad portion of Lincoln history occurred from May 20, 1875 until September 11, 1875 when public pressure secured her release after a barrage of visitors and letters sharing displeasure of her commitment kept arriving at Bellevue. A brochure about Bellevue Place produced by the Batavia Historical Society states, “Dr. Patterson and Robert (Lincoln) did not think she was well enough, but in the end they gave into public pressure…”
After she was released, Mary Todd Lincoln returned by train to Chicago and then Robert again escorted her, but this time to her sister Elizabeth’s Edwards home in Springfield.
The chore had been left to the Lincoln’s only remaining son Robert Todd Lincoln, then a practicing to determine what to do with his mother’s increasingly erratic behavior. At this time Illinois law required a jury trial for involuntary commitment to a mental institution. Mary Todd Lincoln did not know what awaited her when she was taken to trial and 17 witnesses verified Robert’s account of her behavior.

There are still questions today by historians as to whether Mary was or was not insane some think she was suffering from tabes dorsalis a fatal disease with side effects that would have made others believe the insanity issue.
While at Bellevue Place, Mary Todd Lincoln had more freedom than most. The Batavia Historic Society reported, “Mrs. Lincoln had the privilege to go outside and take walks around the grounds. She could sit on the front steps and look down Union Avenue. A horse and carriage were at her disposal.”

It is said that Robert Lincoln did visit his mother on a weekly basis and that by July of her visit she was requesting to go to her sisters.
Bellevue Place was originally built in 1854 at a cost of $15,000 as a private boarding high school named Batavia Institute. By 1867 it became Bellevue Place. Dr. Richard J. Patterson, one of the physicians who advised Robert Todd Lincoln, along with others bought the building and established a mental hospital for disturbed women. The home was set on a sixteen acre estate outside of Bellevue and had a greenhouse, orchards and vegetable garden that provided fresh in season food. The building changed owners several times after Mary Lincoln's stay in 1875 and has been converted into apartments.

While Bellevue is not open to the public, visitors can come to the Batavia Depot Museum to see the bed and dresser and learn a bit about this Lincoln history in northern Illinois.

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