Our History

The Harlan-Lincoln House, on the campus of Iowa Wesleyan University is a museum of local, state, and national significance. Its Italianate architecture and warm yellow hue welcome visitors from both near and far to the corner of Main Street and Broad Street in Mount Pleasant, Iowa

Harlan family moves to Mt. Pleasant, Iowa
James Harlan, Iowa Wesleyan University President

The Harlan-Lincoln legacy at Iowa Wesleyan University began in 1853 with the arrival of James Harlan to serve as president of the institution, then known as the Mount Pleasant Collegiate Institute.

Harlan elected as the first Republican US Senator from Iowa
James Harlan, US Senator

As the first Republican Senator from Iowa, James Harlan worked to prevent slavery from expanding into new territory and he was instrumental in the passage of the Pacific Railroad and Homestead Bills. These were important for the development of the central and western states.

Lincoln Family Connection
Friendship with President Lincoln

While in Washington, D.C., Harlan’s friendship with President Lincoln grew. He was selected to escort Mrs. Abraham Lincoln to Lincoln’s second inaugural ball, and the President’s son, Robert, was the escort for Harlan’s daughter, Mary.

Lincoln appointed Harlan to serve as his Secretary of the Department of the Interior; however, Harlan served in the position after Lincoln’s assassination under President Andrew Johnson. Disagreeing with Johnson’s claim that southern reconstruction was an executive prerogative, Harlan resigned in July of 1866.

James Harlan returns to Mt. Pleasant
Harlan House
Harlan-Lincoln House Image

Harlan returned to the Senate in 1867, serving until 1872 when a bid for re-election failed. Harlan and his wife, Ann Eliza, returned to Mt. Pleasant and built the extant house onto the front of an earlier residence. The house is situated on the north edge of the Iowa Wesleyan University campus, a reminder of James Harlan’s presence at the university and community.

Harlan and Lincoln families unite
Mary Harlan and Robert Todd Lincoln Marry
Mary Harlan and Robert Todd Lincoln were married in 1868 in Washington, D.C. After her parents returned to Mt. Pleasant, Mary brought her children to spend summers with the Harlan grandparents. At the time, Robert was an attorney in Chicago and took the train to Mt. Pleasant to spend time with his family. Mary once said Mt. Pleasant was “restful and good for the children growing up.” 
Harlan Lincoln grandchildren form new legacy
James Harlan, Grandparent
A little over a year after they were married, Mary Harlan and Robert Todd Lincoln welcomed their first child. Mary "Mamie" Lincoln was born in 1869, with her brother Abraham Lincoln II, nicknamed Jack, following in 1873. Two years later, the final Harlan Lincoln grandchild was born, a little girl named Jessie. 
Mary Harlan Lincoln receives house
Harlan-Lincoln House

Senator Harlan deeded the property to Mary and Robert Lincoln in 1895. Mary made improvements to the house, including a wide wraparound front porch. She hosted two catered parties in the fall of 1895, welcoming people from the university and community to her home.

Mary Harlan Lincoln gives house to Iowa Wesleyan
Harlan-Lincoln House Donated
Harlan-Lincoln House Today

With her parents no longer living and the family having built their home, Hildene, in Manchester, Vt., Mary Harlan Lincoln gave the house to Iowa Wesleyan University as a tribute to the memory of her father.

Rear section of house dismantled for structural safety
Harlan-Lincoln House dismantling rear

After structural problems were identified, the rear section of the Harlan-Lincoln House had to be dismantled. The front section (the part of the house still standing today) was a more recent and sturdier addition, capable of withstanding the rear demolition. 

Iowa Wesleyan established the Harlan-Lincoln House as a museum
Harlan-Lincoln House Museum
Harlan-Lincoln House becomes a museum

For much of the twentieth century, the house was used as a residence for IW presidents and faculty, a tea room, the chapter room of the Pi Beta Phi organization, an art house, until it finally became a museum in 1959.

Harlan-Lincoln House added to National Register of Historic Places
Harlan-Lincoln Recognized as Historic Place
National Register of Historic Places

The Harlan-Lincoln House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. 

The Harlan-Lincoln House executive committee forms
Harlan-Lincoln House Committee
Harlan Lincoln House Volunteer

The executive committee, composed of individuals from the Mt. Pleasant, Iowa community and greater Southeast Iowa region, has two primary goals. They are to support the museum in carrying out its mission and to realize the museum’s vision in an advisory capacity. 

The Harlan-Lincoln legacy in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa
The Harlan-Lincoln House Today
Harlan-Lincoln House Today

Each year, the Harlan-Lincoln House welcomes hundreds of people to the Harlan family home. Visitors to the house are encouraged to participate in a free tour of the residence, with topics discussing the Harlan family, the Harlan-Lincoln family, and the continuing legacy of the home for Iowa Wesleyan University and Mt. Pleasant.