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History of the Homestead

c. 1837
House built by Butler Denham as a farm house surrounded by almost 1300 acres of farmland

Original House:

  • Mostly built of black walnut from the local sawmill

  • White oak used for sills, studs and floor joists; bark left on floor  joists

  • All timbers were connected by mortise and tenon, secured by heavy wooden pins

  • Lath was hand-split from scrap wood from the sawmill

  • Mortar was made from mud

East section of house added

Eunice (Denham) Lovejoy died. Her daughters and one of Owen’s sons lived in the home for 7
years, and then it became a tenant home for those who farmed the land.

Home was purchased by Jay Spaulding and his daughter, Sue Gross, who did some restoration work. It was opened to the public as a private period museum.

The home changed owners many times and was vacant for a number of years.
The building deteriorated and birds even nested inside.

Concerned citizens of Princeton formed a Restoration Committee, and the home
was saved from the bulldozer when the State of Illinois purchased it.

Grant for $30,000 was obtained from the State of Illinois to restore the home.

The home was restored. Building was raised 8 feet into the air by a professional house mover and a new concrete block foundation was constructed with a brick facing on the outside. (Old bricks were used to keep the character.) Steel I-beams were installed in the basement to support the home.

Additional improvements:

  • Porch rebuilt

  • Siding replaced where necessary

  • Roof strengthened and hand-split wood shingles put on wooden v-shaped gutters were repaired and barrels were placed at the corners of the house to catch rain water

  • Insulated

  • Rewired

  • Plumbing replaced

  • Plaster repaired or replaced

  • Electric baseboard heating installed


State deeded house to the City of Princeton (October)

House placed on the National Register of Historic Sites

Recognized by the Daughters of the American Revolution

House designated a National Historic Landmark

Homestead was admitted to the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program

Created this web site for the Owen Lovejoy Homestead

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Biography of Owen Lovejoy

Lovejoy was born in Albion, Maine in 1811.  The details of his early life are sketchy, but it is known that he attended college for a few years and taught school for a short time before moving to Illinois.  In 1836, Owen arrived in Alton, Illinois to be with his older brother, Elijah, and study for the ministry.  Elijah was the editor of an anti-slavery newspaper and was eventually murdered by an angry mob of pro-slavery citizens.  After his death, Owen devoted the rest of his life to the abolitionist cause.

He came to Princeton, a village of about 200 people, in 1838 to assume the ministry of the Hampshire Colony Congregational Church for the salary of $600 a year.  He held that position for seventeen years, preaching his views against slavery.

Lovejoy boarded and roomed with the Butler Denham family for three years.  After the death of Mr. Denham, Lovejoy married his widow and continued to help operate the farm. (The Denhams owned nearly 1,200 acres, but only 240 acres were listed as “improved” in the 1850 Census.)  They raised her three daughters in addition to six children of their own.

The home became an important station on the Underground Railroad.  The Denhams were abolitionists and it is believed that they sheltered runaway slaves before Owen Lovejoy’s arrival in Princeton.

Lovejoy’s reputation as an abolitionist spread, and he eventually felt the need of political power to fulfill his life purpose.  In 1854 he was elected to the Illinois legislature.  Two years later he won the nomination for the U.S. House of Representatives by one vote, and was elected to four consecutive terms.

After the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, Lovejoy was appointed a Colonel of the infantry.  He took a leave of absence from Congress to serve in the war.

Lovejoy was an acquaintance of Abraham Lincoln, and Lovejoy was one of the special guests invited to witness the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Lovejoy died in 1864 of Bright’s disease (a liver and kidney disorder) at the age of 53.  He is buried in Oakland Cemetery in Princeton.  His widow lived to be 89 and continued to live in the house for a number of years after his death.  One of their sons owned the home and farmed the land until his death in 1931.

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Biography of Eunice Lovejoy

Eunice Lovejoy was a remarkable woman in her own right, but her place in history is overshadowed by her more public husband, Owen Lovejoy.

Eunice Storrs was born in Trenton, near the city of Utica, New York in 1809.  Her parents were Joshua and Mary Perkins Storrs, and her grandfather, Rev. John Storrs of Mansfield, Connecticut, was a chaplain in the Continental Army.  Eunice married Butler Denham when she was twenty-six years old, and came to Princeton in 1838 where she lived the rest of her life.

Butler Denham died in 1841, and Eunice married Owen Lovejoy two years later.  The Denham’s land and other assets always remained the property of Eunice—the title never passed to Owen Lovejoy, even though the farm became known as the Lovejoy Homestead after Owen and Eunice were married.  (The three Denham girls also went by the name of Lovejoy, although Owen never legally adopted them.)  Butler Denham’s will required that his estate be used to support his daughters, and as early as the 1850s, the estate was forced to sell some parcels of land to pay for the daughters’ school expenses.

By all accounts, Eunice Lovejoy was a congenial and sensible woman.  She successfully handled the business of the farm during her husband’s absences in Washington, D.C., and was also a good parent to her children.

After Owen Lovejoy’s death, Eunice remained at the farm with several of her daughters and her son.  She died in January 1899 at the age of 89 and is buried in Oakland Cemetery in Princeton, Illinois.

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The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad was maintained in the northern states to aid Negro slaves in their attempt to reach Canada and freedom.  It wasn’t a real railroad and it was not under the ground.  It was called “underground” because it was secret and “railroad” because it seemed to run regularly like train routes.  The Princeton station was probably the most important in Illinois because of the powerful personality of its conductor, Owen Lovejoy.

Runaway slaves came up the Mississippi River and stopped at many stations between Quincy and Galesburg before reaching Princeton.  Each stop was usually about ten miles apart.  Transportation was sometimes by wagon with the Negro hidden under a load of hay or straw, but many walked during the night.  The trip to Canada could possibly take a year.

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Lovejoy Homestead   Owen Lovejoy   Eunice Lovejoy   Underground Railroad