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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.)

illinois land of lincoln road sign
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Illinois is the Land of Lincoln!
[photo by Doug Kerr on Flikr]

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 todayAnother 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.

A very large statue of Abraham Lincoln stands in New Salem, where Lincoln lived and worked as a young adult. There is now a living history site open to the public.
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A very large statue of Abraham Lincoln stands in New Salem, where Lincoln lived and worked as a young adult. There is now a living history site open to the public.
One of the many buildings at Lincoln's New Salem State Historic Site. I'm sure I have more pictures somewhere but this is all I could find at the moment. Trust me - there's plenty to see here. (23 buildings in fact!)
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One of the many buildings at Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site. I’m sure I have more pictures somewhere but this is all I could find at the moment. Trust me – there’s plenty to see here. (23 buildings in fact!)

 

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.

Entrance sign at Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park
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Because I always want a picture of the sign…
Sinking Springs where Abraham Lincoln was born. The original cabin is gone but the spring is still here.
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Sinking Springs where Abraham Lincoln was born. The original cabin is gone but the spring is still here.
This monument design reminds me of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. Inside the building is the replica of the cabin where Abraham Lincoln was born.
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This monument design reminds me of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. Inside the building is the replica of the cabin where Abraham Lincoln was born.
A replica of the cabin where Abraham Lincoln was born is housed inside the memorial building at Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Park
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A replica of the cabin where Abraham Lincoln was born is housed inside the memorial building.

 

 

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)

I thought the entrance sign for Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial was pretty cool.
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I thought the entrance sign for Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial was pretty cool.
At the Lincoln Boyhood Memorial in Indiana, the visitors center and museum are located in this building. The outside of the building has various scenes from Lincoln's life.
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At the Lincoln Boyhood Memorial in Indiana, the visitors center and museum are located in this building. The outside of the building has various scenes from Lincoln’s life.
The visitors center at Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial has a museum with information and artifacts of Lincoln.
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The visitors center at Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial has a museum with information and artifacts of Lincoln.
outline of original cabin at Lincoln Boyhood home Indiana
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The footprint of where the original cabin stood has been outlined in cement.
The main cabin at the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial living history site.
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The main cabin at the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial living history site.
Next to the main cabin... in the background are some of the other buildings at the farm. There are live animals and volunteers working at the farm.
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Next to the main cabin… in the background are some of the other buildings at the farm. There are live animals and volunteers working at the farm.

 

Lincoln, IL

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 World's Largest Covered Wagon is located in Lincoln, IL driven by none other than Abraham Lincoln himself!
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The World’s Largest Covered Wagon is located in Lincoln, IL driven by none other than Abraham Lincoln himself!
While visiting the World's Largest Covered Wagon, be sure to admire the cute little thirteen-striped ground squirrels that have set up home in the grass all around the wagon.
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While visiting the World’s Largest Covered Wagon, be sure to admire the cute little thirteen-striped ground squirrels that have set up home in the grass all around the wagon. Our dog was most interested in this part of the park!
posing next to the Worlds Largest Covered Wagon in Lincoln, IL
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Photographic proof that my kids have seen the World’s Largest Covered Wagon! Taking a picture in the mid-day sun is hard though so try to disregard the squints. Also, notice that the dog is too busy looking for more ground squirrels to face the camera. This is real-life vacation photo taking right here. Haha!
Close up of Lincoln reading a law book on the World's Largest covered wagon in Lincoln, IL
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They say he always had his nose in a book… even while driving a giant wagon!
Two blocks from Postville Park is the Postville Courthouse where Lincoln would attend court during his years as a traveling lawyer.
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Two blocks from Postville Park is the Postville Courthouse where Lincoln would attend court during his years as a traveling lawyer.
Want to play baseball or horseshoes where Lincoln once played? Then be sure to stop by Postville Park in Lincoln, IL.
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Want to play baseball or horseshoes where Lincoln once played? Then be sure to stop by Postville Park in Lincoln, IL.

 

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!).

East Room at the White House
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East Room at the White House – Abraham Lincoln lay in state here after his assassination.
The State Dining Room at the White House
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The State Dining Room at the White House – this portrait of Lincoln was painted by George PA Healy in 1869.

 

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.

Outside the US Capitol building in 2016.
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Outside the US Capitol building in 2016.
Inside the rotunda room at the US Capitol building. In 2016 it was covered in scaffolding so very hard to see all the art and architecture properly.
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Inside the rotunda room at the US Capitol building. In 2016 it was covered in scaffolding so very hard to see all the art and architecture properly.
Painted ceiling of the dome, looking up in the Rotunda room at the US Capitol building.
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Painted ceiling of the dome, looking up in the Rotunda room at the US Capitol building.
During tour days, the capitol building is full of people everywhere you look. This is the National Statuary Room.
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During tour days, the capitol building is full of people everywhere you look. This is the National Statuary Room. It was originally intended to hold 2 statues from each state but 100 statues would make it much too crowded for the tourists to fit in too so some of the statues are located elsewhere in the building.  (Wouldn’t it be nice if you could do like Night at the Museum and walk around here at night all by yourself, taking it all in?)

 

Lincoln Memorial

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.

night photo of Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC
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Hey look! I managed to get a decent photo of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC at night. Complete with the man himself! The darkness makes it hard to see the tourists swarming the place even at night.

 

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.)

Outside the fancy new visitors center and museum at Gettysburg National Military Park
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Outside the fancy new visitors center and museum at Gettysburg National Military Park
Outside the visitors center at Gettyburg is a bust of Lincoln
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Outside the visitors center is a bust of Lincoln
Inside the museum at the Gettysburg National Military Park visitors center
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Inside the museum at the Gettysburg National Military Park visitors center
The Soldiers National Cemetary and battlefield area in Gettysburg is filled with various monuments and statues.
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The Soldiers National Cemetary and battlefield area in Gettysburg is filled with various monuments and statues.
Headstones at the Soldiers National Cemetary in Gettysburg, PA
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Headstones at the Soldiers National Cemetary in Gettysburg, PA
This area, Zieglers Grove, is now under renovation to be returned to how it looked at the time of the Battle of Gettysburg.
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This area is now under renovation to be returned to how it looked at the time of the Battle of Gettysburg. This picture is from 2010.
The Soldiers National Monument is located near the center of the Gettysburg National Military Park.
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The Soldiers National Monument is located near the center of the Gettysburg National Military Park.

 

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!

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President Abraham Lincoln started his life at Sinking Springs Farm in Kentucky then moved to Indiana and eventually Illinois before starting his political career. Follow in his footsteps across the US and visit the many places he has been. Walking in Lincoln's footsteps will bring history to life.
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2 Comments

  1. I’m telling you…The Lincoln Museum in Springfield is where it’s at. They had his beaver top hat that he famously stored his important papers. There were worn spots where his fingers held the brim of the har in windy weather. They had tons of interactive exhibits and a holographic Lincoln. Loved it!

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