What is it about President Abe Lincoln that fascinates so many people? Why are so many locations and events in his life commemorated in historic sites still today? Perhaps it is his rise from poverty in his younger years to a man of such great character who became President. As an Illinois native I have a slightly more personal connection to him. After all, Illinois is the Land of Lincoln. (Want to know why? Read this article.)
I was born in Illinois and lived there for about 10 years total over the course of my life, in between other places. I visit my Grandma and the rest of my dad’s family there almost every year and I like to take my kids to see various Lincoln historic sites when we pass through. While I did not think I had been everywhere (still haven’t been to Ford’s Theater for example), I felt like I had seen most of the main places. Oh boy was I ever wrong! A little internet research can show you more locations than you ever imagined. One website lists 65 places associated with President Lincoln that you can still visit today. Another website that focuses just on the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area has even more than that. Probably not going to see every site after all. But… it is another goal to add to my travel bucket! 50 states, every National Park Service site, and now – every Lincoln Historic Site. Why not?
Okay, on second thought, perhaps a more reasonable goal might be to visit one new Lincoln site each time I drive through Illinois. Yeah. Let’s go with that instead.
So, how am I doing so far?
Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site
The first Lincoln site I remember visiting is New Salem. I lived in Illinois during my elementary school years and in fifth grade we went on a school field trip to New Salem. I remembered my visit fondly and it’s also conveniently located not too terribly far from Grandma’s house so I took the kids here pretty early on in our summer road trips. Now that I think about it, I even took my college roommate to New Salem when we were at Grandma’s for Thanksgiving one year. Apparently I really like visiting New Salem and think that everyone else should see it too.
New Salem is a reconstruction of the village where Abraham Lincoln spent his early adulthood. He lived in New Salem for 6 years and while he was there, he worked as a store clerk, split rails, served as Postmaster and Deputy Surveyor, and enlisted to serve in the Black Hawk War. He had a failed business and a failed run for election to the Illinois General Assembly followed by two consecutive wins in 1834 and 1836.
Even if you’re not specifically interested in Lincoln, the village is a nice representation of life along the river in Illinois in the 1830s.
Abraham Lincoln Birthplace and Boyhood Home
Two summers ago I finally made it to the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace in Kentucky. We usually drive through Ohio to get to Grandma’s but I decided to go via Kentucky instead so I could check this one off the list. Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, in a one room cabin on Sinking Spring Farm. Just down the road is the Lincoln Boyhood Home at Knob Creek where he lived from age 2 1/2 to 8 years old.
Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial
As a follow-up to seeing his birthplace and first boyhood home in Kentucky, this past summer we were able to see his boyhood home in Indiana. Lincoln lived in Indiana from 1816 to 1830. This site includes a museum/monument with information and artifacts from his life. It also has a footprint of the original cabin (no longer standing) as well as a living history farm that represents how his life would have been during his time living here. (see more on my Big Trip Lucky 13 post – Day 2)
As I’m sitting here researching this town a little more, I realize I missed a few of the key attractions when we were there. I’ll use the excuse that it was early in our Big Trip tours so I wasn’t as experienced in my planning methods back then. We saw the World’s Largest Covered Wagon and we stood outside the Postville Courthouse where Lincoln appeared in court twice a year during his time working as a lawyer. But apparently we missed the watermelon christening marker and sculpture and also the Lincoln Heritage Museum. Looks like we’ll have to go back again sometime!
The White House
If I had tried to visit the White House during Lincoln’s time, it would have been much easier! Apparently he had a very “open door” policy. I can’t remember where I read that. Maybe in one of the childrens books about the White House that I read when writing about my visit? These days you have to contact your senator or congressman months in advance to arrange a tour.
Anyway, I did manage to finally visit the White House. You can read about my visit here (and see more pictures too!).
The US Capitol
Did Lincoln ever visit the current US Capitol Building? My initial thought was no. But then I looked it up. Apparently construction began way back in 1793. George Washington himself laid the cornerstone, in fact. It burned (but not completely) in the War of 1812 and basic reconstruction finished in 1826. (Click here for some interesting history about the evolution of the Capitol buildings from the beginning to current day.) Lincoln delivered his first inaugural address under the unfinished dome in 1861 and the final piece to the dome was added in 1863.
I visited the US Capitol in 2016. The original building has grown into a sprawling complex with many underground tunnels leading to the various congressional office buildings. The Capitol Visitor’s Center is a nice addition. When we were there, the restoration construction was still on-going so we had to view the rotunda through scaffolding. Despite my dislike of going to downtown DC, it was nice to check this off the list.
The Lincoln Memorial is easily accessible 24 hours a day. As a DC area resident, I have been to this memorial several times. It is always quite striking to see the super-size marble statue of Lincoln looking out from above. It’s often crowded and busy so finding a perfect photo is difficult at best. Definitely a must-see for any DC visitors.
Gettysburg National Battlefield Park
Everyone knows the opening line to Lincoln’s famous speech after the Battle of Gettysburg. “Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” No investigation of Lincoln’s life would be complete without a visit to Gettysburg.
A visit to Gettysburg National Battlefield Park is also full of Civil War history. We have been there twice. While researching this article, I learned that they are rehabilitating a few areas of the park to reflect the topography, landscape, and culture that played a part in the battle of Gettysburg. (The NPS has an interesting article about the rehabilitation research process here if you’re interested.)
Where to next?
As I mentioned, there are so many places you could visit to follow along Lincoln’s past and learn about his life. The big ones remaining on my “to visit” list are the Springfield, IL area where you can see the current state capitol building as well as the Old State Capitol, the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, and the Lincoln Tomb Historic Site.
In Washington, DC I need to visit Ford’s Theater.
Everything after that is just gravy.
Want to know where I’m going next?
Click the photo below to find out!