Lincoln’s Law Office: Bringing Ghost Signs Back to Life

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Painted signs on buildings were the billboards of the nineteenth century. They could be large and numerous. Today, reminders of these signs grace older buildings throughout cities from London to Chicago in the form of “ghost signs“: faded remnants of painted signs that disappear a little more each year. In most cases these signs are not repainted. Nor are they emulated by current building occupants. But both of these things have recently happened in Springfield, Illinois. Not only have the signs at President Lincoln’s law office been restored to their former glory, other buildings are starting to follow in their image with modern sign designs.

The Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices are located in an 1841 building in the center of downtown Springfield. President Lincoln had an office in the building from 1843 to 1852. The building has been restored both inside and out to provide interpretation and education to visitors (see a picture of the building pre-sign restoration here).

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Sure, repainting historic signs makes sense for a historic site. But what about using the old sign style for a new building? Enter King Technology, a neighbor across the Old State Capitol square from the Lincoln-Herndon Law Office. Old building, new business, new sign. But the sign mimics those on the Lincoln-Herndon Law Office building. I have previously written and expressed skepticism about adopting this old method for new signs. It can easily be tacky, convey a false history, and damage the building. But in this case? I love it. Note that they even used a material overlay rather than paint, which will better preserve the bricks.

Perhaps the best sign is a sign that gives a nod to the history of a building while still being firmly rooted in the present.

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Sources and Further Reading:

The Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices, from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Additional information available at Visit Springfield Illinois. (Note that the site is currently closed for historic restoration.)

Check out Free Sky Studios for pictures of the project in progress!

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5 thoughts on “Lincoln’s Law Office: Bringing Ghost Signs Back to Life

  1. I am a bit ambivalent about this, as well. I enjoy seeing ghost signs on Seattle’s old buildings but repainting them for a business which is not there any more, would be confusing. I don’t know of historic ghost signs in Seattle being repainted. It might be better for the current business to include in its signage, “such-and-such in the historic Fisher Flour Building” or something like that.

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