Destination Illinois: Walking In Lincoln’s Footsteps

Destination Illinois - Central

NEW SALEM, IL (WCIA)

Being the Land of Lincoln, Illinois obviously has a ton of proud history associated with our 16th President. And since we are talking about one of the most important people in our Nation’s 242 year history, our ability to learn about his life isn’t just limited to Abraham Lincoln’s years in the White House. The state has opportunities all over for the public to learn about his years as a lawyer, an up-and-coming politician, and even how he grew up.

Faithfully Recreating History

Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site, located about 20 miles northwest of Springfield in the town of Petersburg, is a beautifully recreated 1830’s village of where Abraham Lincoln spent his early adulthood. Spanning 700 acres along the Sangamon River and celebrating its 100th year as a historic site, the Lincoln New Salem Historic Site is the most visited historic site in the state.

New Salem State Historic Site: National Park Service Photo

New Salem is known as Lincoln’s Turning Point because he lived and worked here from 1831 to 1837. It is here where he established his reputation that we know today through his hard work.

18 of the 23 buildings on site are on their original foundations. This means that you can literally walk in Lincoln’s footsteps!

A lot of people have never heard of New Salem and unless you go to the Presidential Museum and you see the room, you’re doing a drive by of Lincoln’s life and then you’re like hey there’s a whole village of 700 acres of property. This is the land that Lincoln really walked, he lived here for six years, he spent a lot of time here. You’re walking in Lincoln’s footsteps at our site.

Trevor Thompson: Site Interpretive Coordinator at Lincoln’s New Salem Historic Site

Original and period correct buildings are cool, but what is really neat about New Salem is that there are volunteers and even full time historical interpreters who will be dressed up as they would be in the 1830s and talk about how life was like. Since Abraham Lincoln would not be President until 1861, Lincoln was still just a commoner, and if the interpreters were acting as they would have exactly been in the 1830s, they wouldn’t be able to talk much about him because he wasn’t a household name yet. So instead, the historical interpreters act in the third person, so they talk about who they represent. This means the guests can ask questions with historical context and it promotes learning over just being a gimmick.

That it is very historic, and it shows how people lived back then in the 1800s.

Matthew, 11 from Massachusetts

99% of the site is volunteer run!

Laying The Foundation For The Man We Know

The six years that Lincoln spent living and working here set him on the path to the Presidency. It is here that we can see the working-man side of Lincoln. He worked in a store, was deputy surveyor for Sangamon county, served as postmaster, and even split rails. He never owned a home here, but lived with a few of the local families and had no problem doing more of the domesticated work in the home as well, a trait that was pretty rare back in the day. It is also in New Salem that his ‘Honest Abe’ nickname would begin, due to his great diligence at being a fair surveyor. The Rail-Splitting President name also came from here too. He was everyone’s President because he worked hard like everyone.

These six years in New Salem are when he began to study law and is where he thought about a political career in the State Legislature.

This is kind of seen as the most important and when you get out here you get the sense, and you get it at other places too, but you get the sense of without this, nothing else is possible for Lincoln.

Trevor Thompson: Site Interpretive Coordinator at Lincoln’s New Salem Historic Site

Visitors from all 50 states come in during the year, and even quite a few international visitors too. Many are traveling along nearby historic Route 66, so this makes for a perfect stop to stretch the legs and learn some history!

For park hours, events, and even a virtual tour, click the button below to go to the official site. It is open all year long and great for the kids too, they love the bakery!

More Lincoln For The Whole Family

20 miles to the southeast of New Salem is Springfield, home to an incredible amount of history dedicated to Lincoln.

The Old Capitol Building. Lincoln practiced law across the street

This is not because Springfield is the Capitol of the Land of Lincoln, but rather because this is where he worked, lived, and practiced law before becoming the 16th President. Combined with New Salem, you can spend days learning about Lincoln between the two cities at all the historical sites.

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

The crown jewel of Springfield’s Lincoln history, and arguably the best place to learn about his entire life, is the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. You can spend an entire day in here and it is great to see all the different aspects of his Presidency. There are also rotating exhibits, so there is something new there every time you visit.

Lincoln Home National Historic Site

Just a few blocks away from the library and museum is the Lincoln Home National Historic Site. Here you can view the only home Abraham Lincoln ever owned as well four blocks of preserved homes showing what Springfield looked like before he was President. It is great to see the home and see him in the light of a husband and father, rather than just his political career.

The Lincoln Tomb

Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth while attending a play at the Ford’s Theater in Washington D.C. on April 14th, 1865. After the President laid in state, his body as well as his that of his son Willie traveled for three weeks by train across the country back to Springfield. Lincoln’s final funeral services were held on May 4th, 1865. His wife Mary and three of their four sons are buried there as well. Edward, William, and Thomas, known as Tad lay there. Robert, the oldest son, is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

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