It’s not every day that Fort Wayne makes history, but this day has been in the making for five years.
On January 10, the Rolland Center for Lincoln Research opened to the public. Located on the ground floor of the Allen County Public Library, the center is dedicated to all things Abraham Lincoln, ranging from original handwritten notes and letters, photos, documents, and furnishings.
ACPL and the Friends of the Lincoln Collection of Indiana LLC have partnered to create the center, which showcases the thousands of items in the Lincoln Collection and curated by ACPL, according to the ACPL website.
The interactive and educational space features digital screens that tell viewers about Lincoln’s childhood and his move to Indiana in 1816 and Illinois in 1830, his journey to the presidency and, eventually, his assassination and his funeral procession.
Two of CPRA’s Lincoln Librarians, Jessie Cortesi and Emily Rapoza, worked on the venture, using resources that had already been digitized and adding to the collection by digitizing items that had not yet been.
Some delays occurred due to supply chain issues for the chips, but the project came to fruition and CPRA staff couldn’t be happier.
According to the CPRA website, CPRA has provided space for the center in the Great Hall of the Main Library, near the Plaza entrance. The Friends of the Lincoln Collection provided financial support for all building-related expenses, including technology, specialist lighting, security and fire suppression systems, and archival space.
The family of Ian Rolland, former CEO of Lincoln Financial in Fort Wayne and a member of Friends of the Lincoln Collection, donated the center’s name.
“The collection has been at the library for over 10 years,” said CPRA communications director Stephanny Smith. “However, in order to protect it, we have retained a lower level of the library which is not accessible to the public. Our goal in developing this center is to make the community more aware of this incredible collection. We hope to attract everyone from school groups to Lincoln scholars.”
The content of the physical screens and digital interactive screens of the center focuses on the following areas:
- Introducing Lincoln
- The Lincoln Family Scrapbook
- Lawyer and legislator
- Commander in chief
- Slavery/Emancipation Proclamation
One of the main goals of the expo is to make the center a destination for people inside and outside the community.
According to Curt Witcher, Director of Special Collections and the CPRA Genealogy Center, the exhibit is truly a “create your own adventure.”
“The three of us really worked for two years to get this off the ground,” Witcher said. “Over the three days we’ve been open, we’ve had so many people having fun with the Lincoln family album.”
The collection, which was once housed at the Lincoln Financial Museum in Fort Wayne before Lincoln National Corp. only moved its headquarters from the city to Pennsylvania, is now split between the CPRA and the Indiana State Museum and Historical Sites. The library houses and preserves two-dimensional items such as photographs and letters. The ISMHS houses three-dimensional objects such as clothing belonging to the President and First Lady, as well as other personal items.
Witcher describes Lincoln as “the most talked about president”.
“So many books are still being written about Lincoln even today,” Witcher added.