DANVILLE — When the Smiths contacted local historian Larry Weatherford after purchasing the Harmon house, he was “very pleased.”
Weatherford and his wife, Rhea Ann, visited with them and shared some of their favorite O.F. and Bess stores.
“(Colonel Harmon) didn’t like to be called Oscar,” according to Weatherford, which is why he refers to Harmon as O.F. or the colonel. Weatherford said Col. Harmon signed his letters home to Bess as O.F.
According to Weatherford, when the Harmon family lived in the house, it’s believed that the layout on the first floor included a parlor on one side when visitors first walked in the front door, and a sitting room on the other. The stairs also were near the front entrance rather than to the side as they are now. A hallway ran from the front door to the rear of the home with a bedroom behind the parlor and another room behind the sitting room.
More bedrooms were upstairs. A dining room and kitchen were at the rear on the west side of the home, making it an “L” shaped structure. Harmon’s 30-acre “Little Farm” as he called it, extended down to Stoney Creek. There were several other buildings on the property, including a stable, a carriage house, an ice house, a milk house and a smoke house.
Weatherford said Abraham Lincoln probably spent the night with the Harmons more than at any other home in Danville. He chose to stay with O.F. and Bess during a court term when the McCormack House and the other taverns in town were closed because of a “contagious fever.” He spent several nights that session with the Harmon family.
Tradition has it that the future president stayed in the front bedroom on the west side of the house. He also visited the home for Thanksgiving dinner on several occasions, as O.F. Harmon and his law partner Oliver L. Davis alternated hosting the Eighth Circuit attorneys during the November session each year.
Weatherford is not sure whether the room behind the west front room was part of a double parlor and/or a more formal dining room for entertaining. Historian Roger Pavey seems to think it was probably a bedroom, but Weatherford doesn't think so. There was definitely a kitchen and dining area down the west side to make the L shape, but Weatherford tends to think it was too small to accommodate the Thanksgiving dinner-size crowds. That's why he believes that room was either part of double parlor used as a dining room for special occasions, or a permanent formal dining area.
As for the Thanksgiving visits and the "contagious fever," those are documented by several sources.
“We don't know for sure how many days he stayed other than several, because the sessions lasted from one to two weeks,” Weatherford said about Lincoln.
The Harmons also visited with the Lincolns in Springfield, when O.F. Harmon was serving as a state legislator. After Lincoln’s death, Mrs. Harmon was sent a lock of the president’s hair as a keepsake.
Weatherford has researched, studied, portrayed and written about Harmon for more than 25 years. A lot of the historical information is acquired knowledge that comes off the top of his head from the various sources he’s researched and put into his programs and writings on Harmon.
Those sources range from the Illinois State Archives to Harmon’s daughter Lucy McPherson's writings about him, various original sources, previously written biographical and newspaper publications, and validation through others who have studied the colonel, such as Roger Pavey whose research for his book on the colonel came up with sometimes similar and sometimes conflicting interpretations on the colonel.
Harmon spent one term as Danville's state representative in Springfield in the Hall of Representatives until partisan fighting with Dr. Fithian and a letter from Abraham Lincoln to Fithian, which has largely been misinterpreted, caused both of them not to run for the office in 1860.
Regarding the Harmon home’s layout, Weatherford’s knowledge about it comes from visiting the home over the years and talking with previous owners. He also has gone through the home many times before and after renovation, seeking the original layout of the home through the floors and foundation. He has knowledge about how homes were laid out at that time, as well as talking with experts of 1850s construction.
According to Rabbittown Neighborhood history--
1853: Oscar F. Harmon, local attorney (1854), buys home/ property on East Main Street. Mr. Harmon was a friend of Abraham Lincoln.
1858: Harmon was elected Representative from 37th Senatorial district in the 21st General Assembly. Term 1858-1860.
1862: Sept. 4, Harmon joins the Union Army with the 125th Volunteer Infantry. He is given the rank of Colonel.
1864: Col. Harmon, 125th Volunteer Infantry, perishes during the June 27 battle at Kennesaw Mountain, Ga. Mrs. Harmon remained at this home until 1881 when she moved to Chicago. Corrine Street adjacent to the east of the homestead is named after their daughter. Elizabeth Street to the west is named for Mrs. Harmon. The Harmon Mansion still stands at 522 Main St. Elizabeth Harmon died in 1906 at the age of 82 and was laid to rest in Spring Hill Cemetery with her husband and children. Corinne had preceded her in 1901.