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This building was the home of James Harlan, who served as president of the Mt. Pleasant Collegiate Institute from 1853-1855 and led the petition to change the name to Iowa Wesleyan University. Harlan resigned to become the first Republican Senator of the newly formed state of Iowa in the US Congress and maintained the home in Mt. Pleasant. Harlan also served as Secretary of the Interior and as a trustee of Iowa Wesleyan from 1855 until his death in 1899. He served as college president again in 1869-1870. Harlan's daughter Mary married Robert Todd Lincoln, son of President Abraham Lincoln, and Mrs. Robert Todd Lincoln gave her father's home to Iowa Wesleyan in 1907. The building has been the president's home, an administrative home, and has housed the art department. The home has a place in the college, community, state and national history.
The building is being maintained, and the current restoration projects are being driven by a Harlan-Lincoln House preservation committee. The group is working to restore the building and determine the focus of the museum.