David Davis Mansion History
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.
David Davis: The Man
David Davis (1815-1886)-a lawyer, politician- distinguished jurist and businessman--was born in Maryland, educated at Kenyon College in Ohio, and studied law at Yale University. In 1836, after losing his bid to marry the beautiful, young Sarah Walker, daughter of a Massachusetts probate judge, Davis settled in Bloomington, where he began practicing law. After making a modest fortune, he married Sarah and the couple returned to Bloomington to set up housekeeping on what was then the western frontier.
In 1844, Davis won election as a Whig to the Illinois legislature, and four years later was elected Judge of Illinois' Eighth Judicial Circuit, where he served on the bench during Lincoln's remaining years as an attorney on the circuit. The two became close friends, and Davis worked diligently as Lincoln's campaign manager at the 1860 Republican nominating convention in Chicago. In 1862, President Lincoln appointed Davis to the United States Supreme Court, where Davis wrote the majority opinion in Ex parte Milligan, a landmark decision restricting the rights of military courts to try civilians. In 1877, he resigned from the court after being elected to the United States Senate by the Illinois legislature. Davis served as Senate president pro tempore from 1881 to 1883, and was known unofficially as "Mr. Vice President." He retired from the Senate in 1883 and spent the remainder of his life at Clover Lawn.
Davis had the distinction of being the largest landowner in Illinois. Although he was not as wealthy as the state's wealthiest businessman, Cyrus McCormick, Davis owned more land than any other man in Illinois. At his death, his estate was valued at between four to five million dollars-a huge fortune in his day.