New tree commemorates historic site where Abraham Lincoln spoke

Urbana celebrated a historic connection with Abraham Lincoln on Monday evening.

At the location where an elm tree once stood 156 years ago — where Lincoln gave a speech at a political rally — about 30 Urbana residents gathered to celebrate a new tree, which Urbana officials planted last spring. A commemorative plaque was also installed at the site.

Officials determined the location to be nearby the AutoZone store at 606 E. Main St.

“(AutoZone representatives) were very gracious about it and allowed us to plant this tree on their property,” Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing said.

Rebecca Bird, a planner for the city of Urbana, said the original tree died fromDutch elm disease, but the new elm tree is resistant to this disease.

The story of the original tree was rediscovered by Urbana Alderman Dennis Roberts, Ward 5, by using sources from the Champaign County Historical Archives during Urbana’s Lincoln Bicentennial Celebration.

The archives featured local newspaper articles that talked about the locally well-known elm tree, according to a news release.

According to the archives, the speech was given during a political rally for John Frémont, the first presidential candidate for the Republican Party.

Prussing said officials were originally trying to locate a pine tree that Lincoln was said to have planted himself after accidentally knocking over another tree near the area.

“We could never track that down and verify it,” Prussing said. “But Dennis Roberts got interested in the history of the trees around here and came across the story of this magnificent elm tree, and he’s the one who spearheaded this.”

Roberts said one of the articles he used to determine the location of this tree came from The Daily Illini in 1902 called “The Famous Elm.”

“‘Possibly some of the University community do not know of the famous elm at only a short distance from our campus’,” Roberts read from the article. “‘The tree is located about two blocks east of the courthouse in Urbana. It is said that beneath the limbs of this huge tree, the Indians first met the whites of this county to draw a treaty of peace. Lincoln, during his frequent visits (to) Urbana, also visited this spot.’”

Roberts said he appreciates everyone who assisted him in uncovering this connection between Urbana and the former president.

“I want to thank the people of the Champaign County Historical Archives for a lot of their help in pinpointing this tree through documentation,” Roberts said.

_Steven can be reached at [email protected]_