Courthouse Visited by Lincoln Gets Anonymous Upgrade Gift

By Eric Althoff

THEBES, Ill. — Before he was a senator and later the 16th president, Abraham Lincoln was a scrappy, partially self-taught attorney making a name for himself throughout Illinois — which would honor its famous resident with the state slogan “Land of Lincoln,” beginning in 1955.  

In 1860, the same year he became president, Lincoln visited an unassuming courthouse in the town of Thebes, located on the banks of the Mississippi River in sleepy Alexander County.  Dred Scott, whose case was crucial to the issue of slavery leading up to the Civil War, was once held in its jail.  But despite those famous visitors, and being on the National Register of Historic Places, the courthouse, built in the late-1840s, has largely languished in obscurity —with its infrastructure failing — after the county seat relocated to Cairo, 30 miles southeast, in 1860.  

However, the courthouse’s fortunes may be changing thanks to a New Year’s Day announcement that an anonymous donor is gifting $83,000 to update the historic courthouse, according to ABC 57.

The Southern Illinoisan reported that a 2014 survey of the courthouse found that in addition to needing to a new roof, the upgrade would also necessitate new flooring, tuckpointing updating as well as stabilizing the upper balcony, with its view across the Mississippi into neighboring Missouri.   

According to the site, the $83,000 “facelift” will overhaul the upper balcony as well as repair the columns that hold up said balcony.  It will be the first major overhaul to the courthouse since the 1970s. The donation will also help to offset the cost of moving a log cabin to the courthouse lawn, to give visitors a little taste of what life was like in this sparsely populated region in the middle of the 19th century.  

Several attempts to reach Alexander County Sheriff Tim Brown for comment were unsuccessful.  

Debbie Goins, the Thebes Historical Society president, was quoted in a report by KFVS saying that had the anonymous donation not come through, the fate of the 19th century structure would have been in serious jeopardy, perhaps even bulldozed, as it no longer hosts trials.  

County officials hope the project will be completed by next summer, according to ABC 57.