David Davis Mansion State Historic Site, Bloomington

#1 of 14 in Things to do in Bloomington
Historic Site · Tourist Spot
The David Davis Mansion, completed in 1872, combines Italianate and Second Empire architectural features and is a model of mid-Victorian style and taste. Known as Clover Lawn, it was the home of David Davis, the friend, mentor and campaign manager for Abraham Lincoln. As President, Lincoln appointed Davis as United States Supreme Court Justice in 1862.

Judge Davis commissioned French-born architect Alfred Piquenard (1826-1876) to design the Victorian-style mansion, primarily as a residence for his wife, Sarah Davis (1814-1879), who wanted to remain in Bloomington rather than move to Washington, D.C. Piquenard, one of the Midwest's leading architects of the time, could boast of several important commissions, including the state capitol buildings in Des Moines, Iowa and Springfield, Illinois.

The David Davis Mansion stands as an impressive reminder of the important role that Illinois played in America's history during the nineteenth century. The elegant Victorian home tells the story of the generation of men and women that created an orderly society out of a chaotic frontier world and then led the United States through the Civil War and early years of Reconstruction. This generation, which included David Davis, Sarah Davis and Abraham Lincoln, based its leadership upon a set of rules and values that might be called genteel. The David Davis Mansion embodies and reflects those refined values.

In the 1850s and 1860s, the citizens of Bloomington, Illinois (including Sarah and David Davis) endorsed many of the Whig political values that Abraham Lincoln had embraced. The Whig ideology espoused gentility and middle-class behavior, and Whigs argued that individuals could become successful if they adopted the values of self-initiative, self-discipline, and a solid work ethic. Both Lincoln and Davis shared the Whig desire for self-improvement, believing that individuals could free themselves through their own efforts from the constraints imposed by circumstances of birth or by the region where they lived.

Neither Lincoln nor Davis rose to prominence solely because they were self-made men, however. It was the genteel lifestyle of women such as Sarah Davis and Mary Todd Lincoln that also played an important role in their husbands' accomplishments. Sarah Davis was a cultured woman who helped to bring gentility and middle-class values to the masculine frontier when she arrived in Illinois in 1839. Her influence, and the influence of her female contemporaries, culminated in the building of large, impressive houses in post-war Victorian America. The story of the transformation of the Davis property from working farm to suburban estate is the story of the intertwined social, political and legal networks, which developed on the western frontier and which then catapulted Lincoln and Davis into national prominence.

The three-story, yellow-brick, genteel home, which Sarah Davis helped to design at the eastern edge of downtown Bloomington, comprises 36 rooms and was very advanced for its day. It not only had elegant furnishings and architectural features, it also had the most modern technological conveniences of the era: indoor plumbing, hot and cold running water, a central furnace, the most up-to-date gas lighting, and two modern communication systems. These were, indeed, the precursors to the modern, comfortable and convenient systems that Americans take for granted today.

A wooded, park-like setting originally enhanced the rural atmosphere of Clover Lawn. What remains today are 4.1 acres, containing an 1872 wood house, an 1850s barn and stable (dating back to Abraham Lincoln's day), two privies, a foaling shed, a carriage barn, and an ornamental, flower garden. The circular drive around the Mansion remains as it was originally configured. The property was entered on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972 and in 1975 was declared a National Historic Landmark.
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David Davis Mansion State Historic Site reviews

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181 reviews
  • You must stop here. Great house to go through and learn about the history of this place and Lincoln.  more »
  • My husband and I have an interest in Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. This mansion is a fine representation of the period. Very nicely up kept and the docent was very knowledgeable.  more »
  • The David Davis mansion is honestly the most movie haunted house place I’ve ever seen that was actually a real house someone lived in. This thing is surreal to see and honestly in the whole time I was there(for a car show at the time) I never got over how strange the place looks; it’s so tall and yet tiny, the proportions just seem wrong and somehow it’s a real historic mansion David Davis stayed at, definitely worth stopping by, especially if they’re having an event on the outside of the mansion. You’ll never get over the feeling your on a set for a ghost movie either😂
  • Terrific vehicle show on the grounds today. The show included a wide variety of cars, motorcycles, and even a few wood boats. Beautiful place for an event like this.

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