Land of Lincoln selling at auction

01-23-2019 Scott Wingert 0 Comments

So anyway, I talked to a man today whose great-grandfather shook the hand of Abraham Lincoln before the Coles County lawyer left Illinois and headed off to Washington to become our nation's 16th president and one of the most famous people in U.S. history.

No, really.

The long, though shirt-tailed history of the Lincoln and Best families comes full circle next month on Feb. 12 when Ron Best sells all his 590 acres in Coles County at auction in a Charleston, Ill., hotel - on Lincoln Avenue, no less.

Thirty acres of Mr. Best's land, and the last of nine tracts selling that day, were once owned by Abraham Lincoln, who in 1841 bought those acres and 10 more for his father, Thomas, who was having trouble making his payments. Abraham, who bought those 40 acres for $200, in turn leased the land back to his father for life for $1. Click here for a detailed account of this story.

Fast forward a century and a half to Jan. 26, 1989, when 30 of those acres ended up the property of Mr. Best, who bought the land at a foreclosure auction. And like many of the foreclosure auctions in the 1980s, locals dressed up in period clothes and re-enacted their presence and non-bidding as a form of protest to the hard times of the day. Mr. Best bought 125 acres that day for $98,500, including the Lincoln land.

"I wasn't trying to make a fortune off the ground," Mr. Best said. "I just wanted to farm it."

And so he has for most of three decades. But now health concerns have persuaded Mr. Best to liquidate it all and end quite a chapter in Coles County history. Mr. Best's ancestors came to the county in the 1830s from Kentucky and were quite likely the same hardscrabble folk as their neighbors the Lincolns. And sometime after Abraham Lincoln was elected president, he stopped at the schoolhouse of Mr. Best's great-grandfather to shake hands with some of the children before heading to Washington.

Mr. Best tells that story a bit sheepishly. "Yeah, sure, right," he said is often the response.

The auctioneer on Feb. 12 is one of my longtime customers, Mike Stanfield, who has conducted hundreds of land and machinery auctions over the years but knows this one will be different. The auction has been advertised heavily throughout Illinois and a few television stations have indicated they will be there to chronicle the event.

And in case you were wondering, the auction date of Feb. 12 - Lincoln's birthday - is not a coincidence.

"I'm not very smart, but that's not an accident," Mr. Stanfield said.

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