Museum of Springfield History

The Lincoln Essay Contest 2016

Submitted by:  Mr. and Mrs. Farrell Gay, Contest Sponsors, and

                         Mrs. Linda Denk, Contest Coordinator

The Lincoln Essay Contest sponsored by The Museum of Springfield History at the Elijah Iles House was held at the Old State Capitol.  This marks the sixth year of the contest.

In the 1920s the Illinois Watch Company was a major employer in Springfield.  Not only did they make the best watches of the time they felt they had a civic duty to help promote the study of Abraham Lincoln.  They fulfilled their duty by developing an essay contest.  Over 5,000 schools from all over the country participated.  Due to the generosity of Mr. Farrell Gay and his willingness to share his outstanding collection of Illinois watches and memorabilia it has been possible to recreate much of the original contest.  The Springfield contest has been patterned  after the same guidelines that were used in those first competitions.

It was decided to do this essay contest for 2 basic reasons

  • 1.      to promote an interest in the history of Springfield so students can learn that their hometown                    has a unique history.
  • 2.      and because it is our responsibility to pass this history on to the next generation.

This year the essay topic was based on a speech that Abraham Lincoln gave in 1860 in New haven, Connecticut.  In that speech Mr. Lincoln talked about the fact that a person who works hard can better themselves as a person as well as their standing in their world. Students examined Lincoln’s ideas as well as related the topic to today’s world.

Using paper that is a reproduction of the original letterhead used at the Illinois Watch Company, students hand wrote their essays in one class period.  This year 200 essays were submitted for the contest.   All six of the city high school participated in the contest.

The first place winner from each school had their choice of an original wrist watch that was made between the years of 1915 and 1932 at the Illinois Watch Company.  All the watches are from the personal collection of Mr. Farrell Gay.

The first place winners from each school also received one of the original bronze medallions that were awarded in the essay contest in the 1920’s.  These medallions are unique and rare.  Mr. Gay spends a great deal of time and effort searching out the original medallions to use as awards for this contest.  The medals are made of solid government bronze and were made exclusively for the original essay contests.  The only way a person could get one was to win the essay contest.    Both the watches and the medallions are special pieces of Springfield history.


Second and third place winners from each school were awarded an original Lincoln watch fob.  The fob is mounted on a plaque with the student’s name, contest information and school engraved on it.  All winning students received a reproduction of the original essay booklet and a certificate.  Both the essay booklets and certificates are exact copies of the ones used in the original contest. 

There were 3 scholarships awarded. 

The winner of the third place scholarship was Janie Sutherd from Lanphier High School.

The winner of the second place scholarship was Julia Mitchell from Southeast High School

The winner of the first place scholarship was Anna Benoit from Sacred Heart-Griffin High School.

The individual winners from each of the city high schools were:

Calvary Academy

1st place-Chance Coelho, 2nd place Halee Hillyer, 3rd place Kacey Moore

Lanphier High School

1st place-Janie Sutherd, 2nd place –Stevie Richards, 3rd place Elijah Baylor

Lutheran High School

1st place John Antoine, 2nd place- Nathaniel Bahr, 3rd place- James Brunner

Sacred Heart—Griffin High School

1st place-Anna Benoit, 2nd place- Andrew Gonzalez, 3rd place-Kelly Kiel

Springfield High School

1st place Jeremy Albert, 2nd place Rahmah Ahmad, 3rd place Lauren Harney

Springfield Southeast High School

1st place Julia Mitchell, 2nd place Megan Crain, 3rd place Blake Roberts

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