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Thursday, March 24, 2005 12:38 am

The neighbors next door

Richard Lusardi, superintendent of the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, has pushed for the addition of two key Lincoln-era residences

Work is under way on the reconstruction of two long-gone residences in the Lincoln Home neighborhood, a project that caps Richard Lusardi’s tenure as superintendent of the national historic site.

The rebuilding of the Burch and Carrigan homes, which sat closest to the Lincoln residence, is expected to give visitors a better sense of the diversity of residents and building styles in the two-block neighborhood where the 16th president lived from 1844-1861.

“We hope to give people more opportunity to connect with Lincoln and how his decisions affect us today,” Lusardi says.

Lusardi, who will retire in June, helped secure federal funding for archaeological investigations that precede the actual reconstruction.

Researchers are examining old photographs and other documents, as well as the lots where the houses stood, in an effort to duplicate the design and footprint of each building. Their findings, which will be summarized in a historical-structures report, represent only the first phase of the project. The Park Service still must secure funding for the next two steps, architectural design and construction. Lusardi says the goal is to complete construction by 2009, the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth.

Although both homes were razed years before the Lincoln neighborhood came under federal protection, researchers already have a wealth of information about the buildings’ exteriors, Lusardi says. Many old photographs of the Lincoln home include views of the Burch and Carrigan homes. Researchers also have access to photographs that feature each of the homes exclusively, he says.

More sources of information keep arriving, Lusardi says, including a 1860s-era stereoptic photograph of the Carrigan home from the collection of the late Lloyd Ostendorf.

One photo of the Burch house is so clear that reconstruction architects and engineers are able to count the bricks.

“It’s amazing what archeological evidence is still there,” says Lincoln Home historian Tim Townsend, who will oversee the reconstruction work after Lusardi retires.

Townsend and Lusardi have examined censuses, old newspapers and city directories, deeds and mortgages, and plat and bird’s-eye-view maps, which were popular before aerial photography became possible. The Lincoln Library has proved an important source of material, but many questions remain unanswered. There’s hope that descendants of the original occupants of the two homes will come forward, but, on the basis of past experience, Lusardi says, “We usually have more information than the families do.”

The historical-structures report is expected to take a year to complete, leading to the selection of a historical architect with background in engineering and knowledge of how buildings were put together in the 19th century. Finally construction will be opened for bidding, which should attract companies specializing in historic restoration. The buildings will include modern features, including lighting, heating, and air conditioning. Floors and supports will be stronger as a means of handling the expected 300,000 visitors a year.

Because no 19th-century photographs taken inside the homes are known to exist, no attempt will be made to reproduce the interiors. The space will be used instead for exhibits. One planned exhibit, The African-American Story, will feature Jameson Jenkins, a black neighbor who drove Lincoln to the depot when he departed for Washington, D.C. The exhibit will examine slavery and abolition and how these forces shaped Lincoln’s life work.

As for the actual residents of the Burch and Carrigan homes, their sketchy stories come from old court records and city directories. Thomas Alsop is the first person identified as a resident of the Carrigan home. A later city directory indicates that he sold watches and jewelry.

Henry and Susan Carrigan owned and operated a hotel, which they lost, according to a 1859 lawsuit in chancery court, but somehow regained by 1860. Carrigan ran for city marshal, and he was later an officer at a meeting to raise volunteers to fight for the Union. The Carrigan home was razed before 1960.

The widower William S. Burch, who lived with his two children directly west of the Lincolns, was listed in the city directory for 1855 as a lumberman. Earlier he was a partner in a retail business; later, he was a clerk. His son Richard Burch sold the house in 1879, and it was gone by 1917.

Not much is known about the relationships among the Lincolns, Burches, and Carrigans. According to a letter written by Mary Todd Lincoln, the Lincolns stored furniture in the attic of the Burch home when they went to Washington.

A recommendation to rebuild the Burch and Carrigan homes was included in a 1970 master plan drawn up after the Park Service took over the historic neighborhood. Slowly the neighborhood has taken shape on the basis of the plan’s recommendations. For example, moving the Corneau House to its original site at the southwest corner of Eighth and Jackson streets and restoring it was completed in 1997, partially through the efforts of the Junior League. The Arnold House, across Jackson Street from the Lincoln Home, was restored in 1985.

The typical home restoration takes three to five years, depending on the funding, Lusardi says. But the efforts will pay off long after.

“We are finishing these for perpetuity,” Lusardi says. “In the years to come, there will be so much more for folks to do.”

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