Mr. Lincoln's city: Springfield abounds with places he touched for 30 of his 56 years

News-DemocratNovember 5, 2013 

— Looking for Abraham Lincoln?

The 16th president lived in or near Springfield for 30 of his 56 years, and there's no better place to learn about the Great Emancipator.

It was in Springfield that Lincoln began his political career. It's where he met and married his wife, Mary Todd. It's where the couple's four sons were born --and where one of them died. And it's where he delivered his famous "House Divided" speech.

It's where Lincoln bid his neighbors "an affectionate farewell" before a train took him to Washington, D.C., to begin his four-plus years in the White House, a presidency cut short by an assassin's bullet. It's where Lincoln's body returned to lie in state as thousands of residents gazed upon his face for the final time.

And finally, it's where Lincoln, Mary and three of their sons are interred at Oak Ridge Cemetery.

There is much to learn and discover about Lincoln and his life in Springfield. One can walk in Lincoln's footsteps in a condensed section of downtown that features many attractions.

Interested in making a day trip to Springfield? These are the must-see Lincoln sites in Illinois' capital city:

The Lincoln Home National Historic Site

The home, operated by the National Park Service, is at Eighth and Jackson streets. The Lincolns lived in this Greek Revival house from 1844-61, and was the only home Lincoln ever owned.

Eighth Street is closed to traffic in Lincoln's neighborhood, a four-block area that includes wood-plank sidewalks, macadamized roads and other historic homes that give visitors a feel for what it might have been like during Lincoln's time.

Tours of the Lincoln Home, which last from 20 to 25 minutes, are free. To obtain a ticket, however, guests must first go to the visitor center at 426 S. Seventh St. The visitor center features two films, a bookstore and other things of interest.

"We probably get around 250,000 (people) a year that walk through the front door of the Lincoln Home," site historian Tim Townsend said. "More than that visit, but for whatever reason, maybe they do the exhibits but don't have time to tour the home."

Townsend said some people come to Springfield and expect Lincoln's home to be a log cabin.

"They always associate Lincoln and a log cabin," Townsend said. "But here, of course, he was the successful attorney, and his house reflects that. People don't often picture Lincoln as being somebody who was pretty well-off --maybe upper-middle class."

Townsend said the home, built in 1839 and purchased by the Lincolns for $1,500, has "50 or so original pieces" owned by the family, including furniture and some of their sons' toys.

"This home, we consider to be an artifact," said Townsend, who has worked at the Lincoln Home since 1991. "And most of it is still the original, including exterior siding, interior doors and woodwork. There are things Lincoln and the family owned."

Upon entering the home through the front door that bears the nameplate "A. Lincoln," one of the first things visitors notice is a replica of Lincoln's famous stovepipe hat hanging on a rack, as if he is around the next corner waiting for your arrival.

There's a black sofa in the parlor that belonged to the Lincolns, a desk Lincoln used when working at home and a shaving mirror on the wall in his bedroom that accommodated his 6-foot-4 frame.

"It certainly is a different atmosphere, and sometimes it's interesting watching people as they walk through the front door and they're finally there," Townsend said. "People come from all over the world, literally. Their ultimate goal is to visit these Lincoln sites. This is where you get that sense of the person that was Abraham Lincoln."

Why is there no charge to tour the Lincoln Home?

"We can all thank Lincoln's oldest son, Robert, for that," Townsend said. "When he deeded the home to the state of Illinois back in 1887, it was under the condition that the home be well-maintained and free of access."

More information: Contact the Lincoln Home National Historic Site at 217-492-4941 or visit nps.gov/liho/index.htm.

The Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

Opened April 19, 2005, the nationally acclaimed library and museum can't be missed on your trip to Springfield. More than 600,000 visitors descended on the sites in the two years after they were opened. About 350,000 people still visit annually.

Located on Sixth Street, near the Old State Capitol, the buildings document Lincoln's life.

The museum includes a life-size replica of the Lincoln family --Abraham standing with Mary and sons Robert, Willie and Tad --and dioramas of Lincoln's boyhood home, rooms of the White House and the presidential box at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C., where Lincoln was assassinated April 14, 1865.

There also are life-size replicas of Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth, Union generals Ulysses S. Grant and George B. McClellan, abolitionist, author and orator Frederick Douglass and women's rights activist Sojourner Truth.

"The Civil War in Four Minutes" is a film that's popular with adults and children and has been used as a teaching tool in classrooms.

But more than anything, the museum is lauded for containing the largest collection of Lincoln artifacts, including a copy of the Gettysburg Address in Lincoln's handwriting, a signed Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln's glasses, briefcase and stovepipe hat, and some of Mary's jewelry and White House china.

Books belonging to the Lincolns, their children's possessions and about 1,600 manuscripts in Lincoln's handwriting are on hand. One of the manuscripts is a pardon granted by Lincoln a few hours before his fateful carriage ride to Ford's Theater.

James Cornelius has been the museum curator since May 2007 and can answer virtually any question about Lincoln's life or the expansive collection of Lincoln memorabilia.

"It's exciting almost every day in different ways," Cornelius, 54, said of his job. "We hear from scores of different people every month who are asking questions about Lincoln's views or trying to confirm a quotation. That takes some effort.

"We're trying to teach people the straight facts, because Lincoln's life doesn't need to be misquoted or misrepresented. It's fascinating in all of its own qualities. He really was born in a log cabin, essentially on the edge of the frontier in the middle of nowhere, just off a dirt floor.

"He was self-made. He was bright from an early age. He learned story-telling from his father (Thomas). His father was probably literate, but seems not to have had any use for literacy. Lincoln rose and he became incensed --in a very quiet, calm way --about the problem of slavery and the inequality of the situation in a place where, supposedly, all men are created equal."

Cornelius, who began collecting Lincoln pennies as a 5-year-old growing up in Minneapolis, said many people are "blown away" by what they see in the museum.

"People cry, in a few cases, when they see the Emancipation Proclamation or the Gettysburg Address," he said. "They're deeply moved, terribly moved, when reading about the assassination and Mary's rather tragic widowhood. ... It is moving.

"A lot of it is pretty small-scale, too. It's little personal things. There's a nice pair of white, kid-leather riding gloves that are on display right now that Lincoln used briefly toward the end of his life which were given (to the museum) by the family. There's Mary's music box, which still plays the music that they had. These are things that humanize the Lincolns for us.

"It's wonderful to work here because the public loves it."

There are many more things to see in the museum, including interactive exhibits, a 17-minute "Lincoln's Eyes" presentation with special effects, and the mysterious "Ghosts of the Library," a 15-minute program that leaves people asking: "Was that man real?"

Entrance to the museum is $12 for adults, $9 for students with an identification, $6 for children 5 to 15.

More information: Contact the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum at 800-610-2094 or visit www.alplm.com.

The Old State Capitol

Lincoln spent countless hours here as a lawyer, a member of the Illinois House of Representatives (1834-42) and a one-term member of the United States House of Representatives (1847-49).

On June 16, 1858, Lincoln accepted the Republican Party's nomination as Illinois' candidate for U.S. senator, a race he eventually lost to incumbent Stephen A. Douglas, a Democrat.

Lincoln lumbered to the podium in Representatives Hall and told his Republican delegates: "A house divided against itself cannot stand. ... I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved --I do not expect the house to fall --but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other."

Lincoln's speech, nearly as popular as his Gettysburg Address issued Nov. 19, 1863, at the height of the Civil War, came in the same room where he would lie in state less than seven years later.

Read the complete speech at abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/house.htm.

Troy Gilmore, assistant superintendent of the Springfield historic sites, said about 110,000 people visit the Old State Capitol each year.

"The absolutely amazing thing about this building is this is where Lincoln worked," Gilmore said. "This is where he served as both a legislator and a representative, and he was a lawyer here arguing cases before the Supreme Court. And he was a politician here. This is where he started his political career."

Lincoln's desk in Representatives Hall is marked by a stovepipe hat.

"People can come here and learn about Lincoln's early political career. They can learn about all of the cases he argued before the supreme court. They can learn about the relationship between him and Stephen Douglas in that building," Gilmore said.

"But when you're in Representatives Hall, there's something unique about that particular room, where you realize this is not only where it all began, but where it all ended, too."

Entrance is free, although donations are welcomed.

More information: Call the Old State Capitol at 217-785-7960 or 217-785-9363. Tours last about 30 minutes. You also can visit illinoishistory.gov.hs/old_capitol.htm.

Other Lincoln attractions

*Just a hop, skip and jump away from the library and museum complex and the Old State Capitol is the office where Lincoln practiced law in the building from 1843-52, including 1847-49 with partner William H. Herndon.

Tours of the office are free. The phone number is 217-785-7289.

*The Lincoln Depot is at 930 E. Monroe St., and it's where Lincoln on Feb. 11, 1861, made a touching speech to Springfield residents, many of them dear friends, minutes before he left for Washington, D.C. They were his last words spoken in Springfield.

Read the speech at abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/farewell.htm.

The depot is owned and maintained by the Noll Law Office. For information, call 217-544-8441.

* Oak Ridge Cemetery is where Lincoln, Mary and sons Eddie, Willie and Tad are interred. Robert is buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Lincoln's body is in a cement vault 10 feet below the surface of the burial room.

Adults and children for years have rubbed the nose of Lincoln's bust in front of the entrance to the tomb, dedicated in 1874. The belief is that rubbing his nose will bring good luck.

Call 217-782-2717 for more information or visit illinoishistory.gov/hs/lincoln_tomb.htm.

* New Salem State Historic Site is about 20 miles northwest of Springfield, near Petersburg. Lincoln lived in New Salem, founded in 1828, between 1831 and 1837, serving as a boatman, shopkeeper, postmaster, county surveyor and general-store owner.

Also during this time, Lincoln was a captain in the Illinois Militia during the Black Hawk War. He met his first love, Ann Rutledge, in New Salem. Rutledge's death from typhoid fever at age 22 in August 1835 left Lincoln in a state of depression.

For information about New Salem, call 217-632-4000 or visit lincolnsnewsalem.com.

* In the mood for a book about Lincoln or the Civil War? Prairie Archives is just south of the Old State Capitol and a few steps away from the Lincoln-Herndon Law Office. The store is loaded with used and rare books, prints and magazines. Call 217-522-9742.

Contact reporter David Wilhelm at dwilhelm@bnd.com or 239-2665.

Belleville News-Democrat is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service