Civil War-era artifacts on display in historic Codman Sq. church

Historic banner: Olive Knight, Pastor Victor Price and Ayana Price display a campaign banner from the 1864 presidential election that was discovered among the artifacts in a vault at the Second Church of Dorchester in Codman Square. The banner will be among the items on display at the church beginning this week. Photo courtesy Cliff Hersey.Historic banner: Olive Knight, Pastor Victor Price and Ayana Price display a campaign banner from the 1864 presidential election that was discovered among the artifacts in a vault at the Second Church of Dorchester in Codman Square. The banner will be among the items on display at the church beginning this week. Photo courtesy Cliff Hersey.

Abraham Lincoln came to Dorchester just once - in 1848 - to campaign for the Whig party's nominee for president, Gen. Zachary Taylor. Then a U.S. Senator from Illinois, Lincoln addressed a supportive audience at Richmond Hall in Lower Mills.

There is no evidence that the future Great Emancipator and savior of the Union made a stop to worship in Codman Square. But if his journey through the pastoral town of Dorchester took him up Washington Street and past Codman Common, he no doubt would have admired the stately spire of Dorchester's Second Church. Built it 1806, the congregational church was one of the few tall structures in the still-autonomous town of Dorchester.

Years later, the church was one of many in this region that helped to support Lincoln's own candidacy. Recently, the men and women who now worship in the historic building - the Church of the Nazarene - uncovered evidence of Lincoln's local popularity and of the townspeople's many sacrifices for the causes that Lincoln came to personify.

With help from Gordon College, the church will open an exhibit of this memorabilia this weekend, with a special open house set for next Thursday, the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth.

The exhibit will include photos and letters of some of the 54 members of church who enlisted in the Union Army. Fifteen of these men were killed or died during the war and 11 of them are buried in nearby Codman Cemetery.

The church has a big connection to Dorchester's participation in the Lincoln campaigns in 1860 and '64," says Cliff Hersey, the Dean of Global Education at Gordon College, which is helping the church prepare the exhibit. "We thought we'd take the occasion of Lincoln's birthday to honor those men and their contribution."

One of the most interesting items in the collection is a muslin banner emblazoned with the names Lincoln and Johnson, an artifact of the 1864 re-election fight. That year, it was hung across Washington Street near Melville Ave., along with a second banner that read: "The Union It Must and Shall Be Preserved." There is no known photograph of the banners, but the church's 19th century archivist - Henry Clap Kendall - left behind extensive writings about the period. Kendall's wartime records have been condensed into a book that will be sold at the church during the exhibition.

Hersey says that much of the focus in the exhibit will be on the Dorchester men killed in the war. Another key figure from the church during that time was Mary Houghton, a church member who worked as a nurse alongside Clara Barton, who went on to found the American Red Cross. Houghton's wartime letters home from a hospital in Point of Rocks, Virginia are also on display.

The public is invited to attend the Lincoln birthday celebration at Second Church in Dorchester, which will take place on Thurs., Feb. 12 from 7 to 9 p.m. The exhibit will also be shown on Fri., Feb. 6 (6-8 p.m.), Sat., Feb. 7 (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.), and Tues., Feb. 10 (2 to 5 p.m.). Guests should enter by the Centre Street entrance. Handicap access is by the Moultrie Street entrance. Parking available in church lot or on the street. For more information call the church office at 617-825-2797.