“The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they can not fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.” – Abraham Lincoln
Starting with these words on October 3, 1863, Abraham Lincoln set aside the last Thursday in November as a national day of thanks. To this day, we give thanks for Abraham Lincoln and nowhere do you get a better sense of who Lincoln was as a husband, father, and President than Lincoln Home National Historic Site in Springfield, IL. Lincoln Home National Historic Site includes the only home Lincoln ever owned, a visitor center, and a fully restored four block neighborhood, containing twelve historic structures, around the home.
As Illinois is the Land of Lincoln, it makes sense that Springfield is Illinois’ state capital. In addition to Lincoln Home National Historic Site (NHS), Springfield is home to numerous authentic historic Lincoln sites including Lincoln’s tomb and Lincoln’s law offices. We only had a few hours in Springfield as we were driving from Indianapolis, IN to Quincy, IL as part of the first stage of our 10,000 mile cross country roadtrip. However, even with just a couple hours, Lincoln Home NHS immersed our family into Lincoln’s world.
Our first stop was the Visitor Center where we picked up tickets for a house tour as well as Junior Ranger books for the children. After touring the exhibits and a brief movie about Lincoln, we left the Visitor Center to explore the neighborhood. Walking down the street toward Lincoln’s home, we learned about Lincoln’s neighbors and their roles in the community. There was Mr. Shutt, a fellow lawyer, but supporter of Stephen Douglas, Lincoln’s opponent in the election of 1860. Another neighbor, Jesse DuBois, was an auditor for Illinois and a close friend of Lincoln. William Beedle was a railroad fireman. As we learned about each of his neighbors, we were able to engage the life of Mr. Lincoln, not just his presidency. Interesting exhibits, such as a Lincoln campaign wagon, helped the children to experience some of the differences between the political process in 1860 vs. today while also learning about the history of Lincoln Logs! One of the favorite Junior Ranger activities was a “Neighborhood Bingo” where we examined each new building, tree, flower, animal, etc, to see if anyone could check the box on their bingo board.
On our visit to Lincoln Home, we were fortunate to find Mr. Lincoln at home! We met Mr. Lincoln in the backyard of his house and explained to him that we had come all the way from Virginia to meet him. Mr. Lincoln was very interested to learn that we were from “Virginny” and he was curious if we knew any of his acquaintances from that area, but alas, we did not. Mr. Lincoln shared his knowledge and was eager to answer questions ranging from the path to his Presidency, to trains, to the amount of clover in his backyard. After a thoughtful and entertaining discussion, we thanked Mr. Lincoln for his time and returned to the Visitor Center.
At the Visitor Center, the children turned in their completed Junior Ranger books and received their official Junior Ranger badge. So what about the tour of Lincoln’s home itself?
It turns out that we didn’t allocate enough time for visiting Lincoln Home on a busy Saturday in the summer. As we needed to be on our way to Quincy before it was time for our tour, we returned our tickets and hit the road. In the end, it probably didn’t make a difference – especially for the children. While the home is beautiful and full of interesting artifacts, the tactile experience of enjoying Mr. Lincoln’s neighborhood and conversing with Mr. Lincoln himself left a much stronger impression. So, if you have some time in Springfield, IL with your family and want to learn more about Lincoln and his time, here are some sample itineraries:
- 1 hour – walk around Lincoln’s home and the neighborhood.
- 3 hours – tour Lincoln’s home, walk around the neighborhood, watch some of the movies in the Visitor Center or complete the Junior Ranger program.
- All day – do everything above at Lincoln Home National Historic Site and visit Lincoln Tomb as well.
Photo credits: Full Van Fun