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a cover photo of Mary Todd Lincoln's House in Lexington, Kentucky
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Explore a Lexington, Kentucky Landmark: the Mary Todd Lincoln House

Mary Todd Lincoln was undoubtedly one of the most fascinating first ladies in U.S. history. The wife of 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, came from a well-to-do family. Today, her childhood home is a popular museum and landmark in Lexington, Kentucky. Travel with PullOverandLetMeOut to explore the Mary Todd Lincoln House.
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Hi, I’m Anna Marie. I’m a wife, mother, Irish dancer, and pug mom living in North Carolina. I also love to travel. Come along for the ride! If you see something you like, don’t be afraid to say, ‘Pull over and let me out.’

Upon pulling up in front of the house at 578 W. Main Street, it’s hard not to be taken aback at how beautiful the red brick home is and wonder how impressive it must have been when it was built all those years ago. Located in the heart of downtown, this grand Georgian-style house is one of the oldest buildings in Lexington. What is more, this is the girlhood home of one of the most famous first ladies in American history. Today, from March 15th through November 30th, the magnificent home serves as a museum offering a glimpse into the life and times of Mary Todd Lincoln.

The Mary Todd Lincoln House

This is a home with a compelling story. Originally, it was constructed as an inn, between 1803-1806. In 1832, the Todd family acquired the house. Mary Todd, who was born in 1818, lived here until moving to Springfield, Illinois to live with her sister in 1839.

Although Mary met Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, she did bring him to visit the family home in 1847. The Todd family resided here up until the passing of Mary’s father in 1849. Thereafter, a series of legal disputes and other misfortunes forced the family to place the house and its contents up for auction. The house was sold in 1852.

Over the years, the home served an array of purposes from grocery store to brothel, and ultimately falling into a state of disrepair. Thankfully, in 1977, a group of citizens led by a woman named Beula C. Nunn, got together to restore the home and turned it into the museum it is today.

the front of a Georgian-style red brick home with black shutters
Mary Todd Lincoln House 578 W. Main Street in Lexington

Touring the Mary Todd Lincoln House

Mary’s father, Robert Smith Todd, and her mother, Eliza Parker Todd, were both from families involved in the founding of Lexington and prominent citizens. Sadly, Mary’s mother died after complications from childbirth when Mary was only six years old. Robert remarried a year later and it was here his blended family resided.

The home is filled with outstanding period pieces and portraits that belonged to both the Todd family and the Lincolns. The curators of the museum have done an excellent job of exhibiting artifacts and providing the details of their significance.

Touring the home gives visitors the opportunity to get a sense of what life would have been like for the family.  At the time the Todd family lived here, there would have been multiple outbuildings such as a kitchen and a carriage house. However, those buildings and their footings have been lost to time. What remains is artfully restored and decorated to replicate the family’s time in the home.

a parlor decorated as it would have been in the mid 19th century.
Today the home features portraits and furnishings from the Todd and Lincoln families.
a picture of a fireplace in a family parlor
The family parlor
a woman's reflection in a mirror on a piece of furniture
The home is filled with period pieces.

A House Divided

The museum deftly examines the complexities of Mary Todd Lincoln’s times. While there is some evidence Mary was an abolitionist herself and her husband was the great emancipator, her family did own slaves. Likewise, Mary had relatives fighting on both the Union side and the Confederate side during the war. There are exhibits in the home detailing these complicated issues.

Moreover, the stories of the numerous losses Mary endured are expertly outlined. From losing her mother as a child to her husband’s assassination, and three of her children preceding her in death, she was impacted by heartbreaking losses. Consequently, those losses took their toll. The museum skillfully touches on the later years of her life that were marked by financial difficulties and mental illness. To that point, one comes away with a profound empathy for Mary Todd Lincoln and the heartaches she endured.

2 photographs of men from the Civil War enclosed in a glass case.
Mary's brother and three half-brothers served in the Confederate Army.
old fashioned photos in a glass case
Mary's life was filled with loss.
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The mission of the Mary Todd Lincoln House Museum is to preserve and share the history of this well-known first lady. To that end, their website has a wealth of educational materials, some of which are excellent worksheets and exercises for families and homeschoolers. Lessons about Mary's passion for poetry, the first family's pets, outdoor activities, and even a coloring page are included. As a former homeschool educator, I love discovering excellent materials.

Tips for Planning Your Visit to the Mary Todd Lincoln House

Open Monday through Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm, March 15th through November 30th, the Mary Todd Lincoln House in Lexington is a terrific itinerary item if you are spending a day exploring downtown.

The tour is a self-guided one but there are multiple costumed interpreters who are there to answer any questions you might have. I suggest giving yourself about an hour to explore the entire museum. Be that as it may, you might wish to spend more or less time depending on the travel styles of you and your companions. I am a reader so I take a little longer than most to make my way through all of the displays.

Each weekday at 3:00 pm there is a guided tour. You will want to book this ahead of time as the tour size is limited to 15 people and typically sells out. The guided tour lasts about an hour.

Tickets can be purchased online ahead of time, but they do welcome walk-ins as well. However, if you purchase tickets at the door, you may have a slight wait. They try to limit the number of guests in the house at one time to keep it from getting too crowded. Also, this makes time spent here more enjoyable since you’re better able to move about the museum and see things up close.

The museum also has a museum shop where you can find books and a number of Lincoln related items and souvenirs. Additionally, there is a small garden behind the house and free parking as well.

Explore Lexington

If you’re exploring Lexington, the museum website features downloadable guides for a couple of walking tours of the area. Lincoln’s Lexington, Family Quest, and A House Divided: Lexington Cemetery and the Civil War guided walking tours can be found by visiting their website.

Furthermore, the site has an excellent Neighborhood Guide that includes a list of restaurants and eateries within close proximity of the museum for your convenience.

a portrait of a young Mary Todd Lincoln over a fireplace
Mary Todd Lincoln

A Small But Robust Museum

The Mary Todd Lincoln House in Lexington is a small but robust museum that history buffs will adore. The meticulously laid out displays provide powerful insights and historic facts that allow guests to come away with a better comprehension of this famous first lady.

The docents are enthusiastic about what they do and about the museum. This shines through as visitors tour the home. What is more, they cater to a variety of visitors and do their best to make this historic home as accessible as possible. For example, the museum offers large print documents of all exhibit labels. Additionally, although the second floor isn’t wheelchair accessible, they do offer a photo album of the upstairs should you choose not to climb the steps.

Parting Thoughts

When I look back on our visit to the Mary Todd Lincoln House, what stands out the most is how friendly the staff are and how wonderfully they’ve made the information contained in the house attainable.

Unpretentious, informative, approachable, and powerful. Time spent at the Mary Todd Lincoln House is all of these and more. If you enjoy history, and even if you don’t, it is a must-see when visiting in Lexington, Kentucky.

Mary Todd Lincoln House
578 West Main Street
Lexington, Kentucky 40507

a garden enclosed by a brick fence
The garden behind the Mary Todd Lincoln house.

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Explore a Lexington, Kentucky Landmark: the Mary Todd Lincoln House

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