Mary Todd Lincoln was born in Lexington, Kentucky on December 13th, 1818, to Robert Smith Todd and Elizabeth Parker Todd. Robert was a prominent businessman who also was active in politics in Lexington. In 1825, Mary’s mother died and her father married Elizabeth Humphreys; in all, Robert Todd would be the father of 16 children. To accommodate his growing family, Robert bought a 14 room house at 578 West Main Street in Lexington in 1832. Mary lived in this house from 1832 until she moved to Springfield, Illinois in 1839, to live with her oldest sister Elizabeth Edwards. In 1842, she married Springfield lawyer, politician, and future president Abraham Lincoln. The two of them stayed at the house when they traveled to Lexington to visit the Todds, including a three week visit in 1847 while the Lincolns were on the way to Washington DC after Abraham was elected to the House of Representatives.
In 1849, Robert Smith Todd died during a cholera epidemic. There were legal issues within the family regarding the disposition of the estate, and the house and contents were auctioned off. The building went through several incarnations over the years and by the 1970’s it was in poor condition and used for storage. With construction of nearby Lexington Convention Center and Rupp Arena, home of the University of Kentucky basketball team, in the mid 70s, the building was a candidate for the wrecking ball as the site was eyed as a parking lot. However, the Kentucky Mansions Preservation Foundation stepped in and acquired the house, restored it, and opened it for tours in 1977. It is now known as the Mary Todd Lincoln House. (After she married Abraham Lincoln, she usually went by the name Mary Lincoln rather than Mary Todd Lincoln).
When the furniture and contents of the house were auctioned off, an inventory of the items was compiled. From this inventory, the Foundation acquired furniture and other contents of the house similar to what was present during the Todd’s time there. The Todd and Lincoln families also donated items, including some things used by the Lincolns in the White House. Candelabra from the Lincoln White House are on display on the table in the formal dining room.
In addition to the house, the Todds also had a large garden and several outbuildings, including slave quarters. The well to do Todd family owned slaves, who handled day to day tasks of the household. A portion of the garden has been restored; the rest of the structures have disappeared over time.
Guided one hour tours of the house are offered Monday through Saturday, from mid March through November. An admission fee is charged, the proceeds of which are used by the nonprofit Kentucky Mansions Preservation Society to maintain the house. While most things in the house are, as usual for such places, not to be handled, there is one exception. The original handrail for the staircase up to the second floor used by Abraham and Mary is still in place and visitors are encouraged to touch that. Interestingly, the same thing is true for the handrail at the Lincoln Home National Historic Site in Springfield, Illinois.