Abraham Lincoln ~ A Hero in Bristol

05 Mar

Hundreds of commuters drive by it.

Dozens of people walk and run passed by it everyday day. And they might not know the historic ground they are tracking.

The blue post with a plaque that reads “Abraham Lincoln” on top is a pride and joy of Bristol. The plaque, which was dedicated on Jan. 1, 1991, reads in yellow lettering, “On Feb. 21, 1861, the train carrying the President-elect from Springfield, Ill. to his inauguration in Washington D.C. stopped briefly near this point. Mr. Lincoln appeared on the rear platform and spoke to the assembled crowd, estimated at more than a thousand people.”

On Feb. 21, 1861, near the commemorative post close to the intersection of Bristol Pike and Pond Street, President-elect Abraham Lincoln waved and greeted Bristolians during a brief scheduled train stop while on his way to Washington to be inaugurated on March 4, 1861.

“In those days inaugurations weren’t in January like…now,” said Harold Mitchener, a Bristol historian. “The inaugurations in those days were in March.”

Because several states in the south had withdrawn from the national government after Lincoln’s election, in an effort to gather support to preserve the Union, Lincoln launched an inaugural tour with stops in northern states on his way to the White House, according to

“Elected with less than 40 percent of the popular vote in a four-way contest for president, his legitimacy as chief executive was literally at stake,” the website states.

The 16th president of the United States left his Illinois home on Feb. 11, 1861, and made a few other brief stops along the way before arriving at Bristol’s train depot, near what is now a bank building, Mitchener said.

According to Doron Green’s 1911 book “History of Britol, Pennsylvania,” Lincoln left his home with his family and “started on his long journey to Washington, via New York, Philadelphia, Harrisburg, (PA) and Baltimore, (MD).”

But it wasn’t the first time such a dignitary would appear in the square-mile borough.

Because Bristol sits on a well-traveled corridor between New York and Philadelphia, many politicians stopped in the town. During the Victorian Era, the wealthy and politicians such as Presidents John Tyler, John Adams, James Madison, and Millard Fillmore visited the King George Inn, which opened in 1681 in the borough.

Through word of mouth, Bristolians learned that Lincoln was in New York and would stop in their small town before heading to Philadelphia in the afternoon. So a large group of Bristolians gathered to wait to see the president-elect, including a group of students who attended the towns’ only school then.

Before becoming president, Lincoln was a practicing lawyer and served one term in the U.S. House of Representatives as a Whig for Illinois. He ran under the Republican presidential ticket a few years after Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, leaving it up to territories and individual states to determine whether to allow slavery. The act repealed the 1820 Missouri Compromise, which allowed Missouri to be a slave state, and Maine and portion of Louisiana to be non-slave.

Although Lincoln believed that slaves were not equals to the white population, he was a strong believer that all people were created with inalienable rights, a political stand that wasn’t popular among slave states.

Lincoln’s train stopped, and out came the tall and slender man from the rear platform of the last train car, in which Lincoln was traveling with his family – his wife Mary and their three sons, Robert, Willie, and Tad.

“They made the welkin ring with their cheers for the new president,” Green wrote in his book, which described the entire event in one paragraph.

Mitchener said the train didn’t stop for Lincoln to get off it, rather it was merely for the president-elect to brief show his face to the American people.

In the book, a man only identified as Frank Woodington, Sr., walked towards the soon to be head of state and reached for this hand and said, “Mr. Lincoln, when you get to be president , enforce the laws.”

Lincoln shook the man’s hand and said, “That I will try to do, my friend.”

According to, Woodington was a young laborer who was the first Bristol resident to shake Lincoln’s hand.

Then a black man proceeded to meet Lincoln. However, Green’s book doesn’t mention the black man’s conversation with Lincoln.

The last area resident to see Lincoln up close was carpenter Gilbert Tomlinson, who was a former school board director, leaped from the moving train as it departed Bristol, according to

As the train traveled away from Bristol’s train station, Lincoln stood on the doorway waving to the roaring crowd until he disappeared from view, Green wrote.

Four years later, Lincoln’s casket made the same route, Mitchener said. That time, the train didn’t stop, though, he said.

“It just passed on by,” he said.

After winning the Civil War (1861-1865), Lincoln was assassinated in April 1865 by Confederate sympathizer John Booth at the Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C.

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Posted by on March 5, 2012 in Uncategorized


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