Destination Illinois: Lincoln’s New Salem

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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.

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 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,” according to Trevor Thompson, Site Interpretive Coordinator at New Salem.

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.

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.

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!

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