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Two centuries after his birth, Springfield's best-known resident remains a revered icon, a leader who bore the weight of destiny to his untimely demise. Born in dire poverty and self-educated, Abraham Lincoln rose to lead our nation during its darkest time. His words inspired Americans during the Civil War, and they inspire us today.
Lincoln was born in Kentucky, grew up in Indiana and came into his own in Illinois. As a young man, he arrived in New Salem. A year later, he was elected captain of a militia company in the Black Hawk Indian wars. When the pioneer village helped elect Lincoln to the state legislature, he had to borrow money to purchase a suit. At the age of 28 he moved to Springfield without enough money to buy a bed. Through initiative, hard work and talent, he became an established and respected lawyer, was elected to the U.S. Congress, debated Stephen Douglas in an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate, and in 1860 was elected the 16th president of the United States.
As Lincoln left for the nation's capital in 1861 and the Civil War appeared imminent, he prophetically told a crowd assembled at the train station in Springfield: "I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested on Washington."
After Lincoln's assassination, a grieving nation cast him as a mythic figure. Over the years Springfield has become a destination for many American pilgrimages. But in Lincoln's hometown you'll find not only the remnants of Honest Abe the rail-splitter, you'll also discover a more complex, shrewd and wondrous man than the one likely encountered in your high school textbooks.
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum
212 N. Sixth St.
Whether you're a Lincoln researcher or just curious about the life of the Great Emancipator, you should begin your visit at the museum, on the northeast corner of Jefferson and Sixth streets. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum parking ramp is off Sixth Street between Madison and Mason streets.
All museum exhibits are located on the ground floor, and all facilities are in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. On the entryway floor, a compass points visitors to the plaza where the historical tour begins. Visitors see a replica of Lincoln's boyhood home in Indiana and the front of the White House as it appeared in 1861. From that sunny atrium-like area, with its 70-foot ceiling, visitors may proceed to any of the display areas.
This state-of-the-art facility was carefully designed with exacting historical detail. Amazingly well-preserved artifacts tell the entire life story of our nation's 16th President. Dedicated to the life and legacy of Abraham Lincoln, the Presidential Museum, unlike any other in the U.S., features high-tech exhibits, interactive displays, and multimedia programs, as well as a reproduction of the White House as it looked in 1861.
The holographic and special effects theaters will entertain, educate and mesmerize you with ghostly images, live actors and high action. Witness the 1860 Presidential Election as though it were happening today, complete with television news coverage and campaign commercials.
Items from the institution's world-class Lincoln Collection, numbering in the tens of thousands, are exhibited on a rotating basis in the Museum's Treasures Gallery, including an original hand-written copy of the Gettysburg Address, the evening gloves in President Lincoln's pocket the night he was assassinated, and the quill pen used to sign the Emancipation Proclamation.
In Mrs. Lincoln's Attic, kids can play with a model of the Lincoln Home, try on period clothing, perform chores from the 1800s, and play with reproduction historic toys. They can also have their photos take with life-size models of Abraham Lincoln as a boy and an adult, as well as with Mary Todd and the Lincoln children.
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library
112 N. Sixth St.
The Lincoln Presidential Library is just across Jefferson Street from the museum and contains an overwhelming treasury of carefully preserved Lincoln documents and artifacts, including more than 12 million items from the Illinois State Historical Library. The Lincoln Collection is also housed in the library, as is the Papers of Abraham Lincoln research project.
The library is home to a rotating display of paintings, sculptures and other creations from local arts organizations. Whether learning more about the life and times of President Lincoln or following your own family's genealogical ties to Illinois, the Presidential Library is an amazing resource of information for families, historians and scholars.
Union Square Park
Union Square Park, also located across the street from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, is home to two Abraham Lincoln statues and "Acts of Intolerance," a sculpture by Preston Jackson commemorating the Springfield Race Riot of 1908. The park is the site of occasional concerts and special events hosted by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.
Lincoln Home National Historic Site
426 S. 7th St.
Free (free ticket required for home tour)
The National Park Service invites you to walk in the footsteps of Abraham Lincoln at Lincoln Home National Historic Site. Conveniently located in downtown Springfield, the four-square-block historic site is within easy walking distance of several other historic sites, hotels and restaurants.
In 1861, Abraham Lincoln left his home of 17 years – the only home he ever owned – to serve as the 16th President of the United States. The Lincoln Home has been completely restored to its 1860 appearance and reveals much about Lincoln as husband, father, neighbor and politician.
Tours of this national treasure are conducted by National Park Service Rangers. Free tickets are required for house tours and may be obtained at the Lincoln Home Visitors Center – which also houses a scaled model of 1860 Springfield. A complete tour of the historic site takes approximately two hours. Onsite parking is $2 per hour, and admission to the Lincoln Home, exhibits and movies are free.
A variety of historic exhibits are located throughout the four-block neighborhood surrounding the Lincoln Home and can be viewed on a self-guided basis.
Before his days as president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln spent countless hours at the building we now call the Old State Capitol. It is also the place where Lincoln served his final term (1840-1841) as an Illinois state legislator.
As an attorney, Lincoln tried several hundred cases before the Illinois Supreme Court housed here. It is also the site where Lincoln delivered his famous House Divided speech. During the 1860 presidential campaign, Lincoln used the Old State Capitol's governor's room as his headquarters. John Jones, Frances Gage and many other leaders worked here as well to expand the meaning of freedom in Illinois.
On May 3 and 4, 1865, following Lincoln's assassination, 75,000 mourners convened at the Old State Capitol to bid farewell as Lincoln's body was lying in state in the building's Representatives Hall.
In the 1960s, the Greek Revival-styled building was reconstructed. Today, the first floor features a central hall flanked by rooms interpreting government offices, a library and the Supreme Court room. Also, a new video room and artifact gallery are located on the first floor. The second-floor rooms were recreated to include a magnificent rotunda, legislative chambers and smaller offices and meeting rooms. Visitors can take a 30-minute guided tour or view the rooms on their own. The State Historic Sites at Springfield are managed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Office of Land Management.
Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices
1 S. Old State Capitol Plaza
The first floor has recently reopened as the Springfield Visitors Center, operated by Visit Springfield. Visitors can also see a re-creation of a post office that was in the building during Lincoln's time. The two upper floors are currently closed for reconstruction.
Though Lincoln practiced law at a variety of locations, Springfield's Lincoln-Herndon Law Office is the only such structure still in existence today. Originally designed as a commercial structure, Lincoln and law partner William H. Herndon rented space in the building to practice law from 1843 to about 1852.
Edwards Place Historic Home
700 N. Fourth St.
This antebellum mansion has recently undergone a full-scale restoration to its 1850s appearance. Visitors will see the house as it appeared when it was owned by Benjamin S. Edwards and his family, who were relatives of Abraham Lincoln through marriage. The Lincolns were frequent guests in the home. Another Lincoln connection is the "courting couch" and "wedding piano" now displayed in the front parlor of Edwards Place. Both originally belonged to Mary Lincoln's sister, Elizabeth, with whom Mary lived before her marriage. Closed January-February.
A 117-foot granite tomb in Oak Ridge Cemetery houses the remains of Abraham Lincoln, his wife and three of their four sons (Lincoln's oldest son, Robert, is buried in Arlington National Cemetery). Designed by famed sculptor Larkin Mead and completed in 1874, this beautiful landmark is nestled in Oak Ridge Cemetery. The cemetery also contains a public receiving vault, which was constructed in 1860 and served as the scene of President Lincoln's funeral.
At the entrance to the Tomb itself, there is a bronze bust of Mr. Lincoln where visitors from around the world have stopped to rub the nose of the statue for good luck.
While at the cemetery, you can visit the gravesites of a number of other prominent Illinoisans, including governors, poet Vachel Lindsay and United Mine Workers leader John L. Lewis. The State Historic Sites at Springfield are managed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Office of Land Management.
Lincoln's New Salem State Historic Site
15588 History Lane, Petersburg
(about 20 miles NW of Springfield on Route 97)
A visit to Lincoln's New Salem State Historic Site will transport you to a century long gone, while giving you a better understanding of life as a pioneer. See where Abraham Lincoln split rails, clerked in a store and served as postmaster, among other positions that influenced him to eventually become the Great Emancipator. Watch and interact as history comes to life through the costumed characters of the people who lived here more than 150 years ago.
While many of the structures were rebuilt over the original sites in the early 1930s, the town adheres to an impressive and painstaking attention to 1830s authentic detail. Interpreters in period dress effectively explain and demonstrate life in the 1800s.
Lincoln's New Salem has a visitor center where guests can view the film Turning Point - an introduction to Abraham Lincoln's New Salem experience. The visitor center also contains a museum exhibit, highlighting artifacts used by original New Salem residents. A souvenir shop and restaurant are also available on site. Theatre in the Park presents musicals and plays in the outdoor theater during the summer.
The site hosts a variety of special events throughout the year, such as the Candlelight Walk and Pioneer Life Summer Day Camp. Lincoln's New Salem is also home to a well-equipped campground. You can easily spend at least a day here, if not a weekend, depending on when you're visiting.
Lincoln Family Pew
First Presbyterian Church
321 S. Seventh St.
For 12 years, Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln paid a fee to rent pew 20 at the First Presbyterian Church when they attended services at the church's former location at Washington and Third streets. Despite the pew rental, Abraham Lincoln never joined this – or any – church. Since then, the church has moved to South Seventh Street, which also served as the location for funeral services for Mary Todd Lincoln.
Between 1890 and 1922, seven memorial windows by the world-famous glassmaker and artist Louis Comfort Tiffany were installed. Until air conditioning proliferated beyond movie houses and taverns, their bottom portions swung open to permit better air circulation during sweltering summer Sunday services. Sealed and protected against the elements since the mid-1960s, they are a historical testament to a unique art form – symphonies of sunlight for Springfield citizens and tourists.
Chase Bank lobby
531 E. Washington St.
While Lincoln is often referred to as The Great Emancipator, a glimpse at Lincoln's banking ledger shows that his life was not much different than that of the average citizen. The exhibit features bank statements for expenditures for everyday necessities, such as groceries and monthly mortgage payments. What did he buy? Visit and see for yourself!
930 East Monroe St.
When Lincoln left Springfield by train from the Great Western Depot on the morning of Feb. 11, 1861, he was headed for Washington, D.C., to assume the presidency.
"To this place and the kindness of these people, I owe everything," Lincoln said, addressing the crowd which gathered to bid him farewell. His assassination in 1865 ensured he would never return alive, making that train station the last place he ever set foot in Springfield.
Now called the Lincoln Depot, the station still stands at the intersection of the 10th Street rail corridor and Monroe Street. Although the depot has been remodeled several times – once due to a suspicious fire in 1968 – its appearance remains largely true to how it appeared the day of Lincoln's departure from Springfield. The first floor is open to visitors for self-guided tours, while the second floor, added around 1900, serves as a private law office, befitting Lincoln's profession. As fate would have it, Springfield attorney Jon Noll, husband of depot owner Pinky Noll, is a descendant of Lincoln's law partner, William Herndon. The depot was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2014. A short film entitled "Abraham Lincoln's Inaugural Journey" is on continuous display in the lobby.
The Illinois Gallery hosts a changing variety of presentations about Illinois history and art. Upcoming exhibits:
The State of Sound (April 30, 2021 – Jan. 23, 2022)
From Muddy Waters to REO Speedwagon, Cheap Trick to Earth Wind and Fire and Chance the Rapper, the land of Lincoln has produced some of the most highly celebrated music in rock history. Musicians, legendary radio stations, and musical gear have shaped the sonic history of Illinois and the world. This exhibit will showcase the achievements and contributions of Illinois' finest in music. Written by award-winning author, documentary-producer and former Chicago Sun-Times columnist and critic, Dave Hoekstra.
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum
Lincoln's Life in Letters (Coming in 2021)
At its heart, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is a showcase for the millions of items housed in its collection devoted to Illinois history and Abraham Lincoln. On any given day, at least 100 of those items are on display. Included in the collection are more than 1,600 documents in Lincoln's hand. Explore Lincoln's life through some of the documents that shaped the museum exhibits and the stories they tell.
Written by ALPLM historians, designed and created by ALPLM's exhibit team, Lincoln's Life in Letters will be installed throughout the first-floor atrium of ALPLM's Library building. Lincoln's life, from childhood through his presidency, will be told through his own correspondence in a semi-permanent display. The exhibit will feature 10 facsimiles of letters from ALPLM's collection which are curated and interpreted to help illuminate significant milestones in Lincoln's life.
Looking for Lincoln Story Trail
To learn more about people and places with connections to Abraham Lincoln, keep your eyes open for the Looking for Lincoln storyboard signs. These attractive wayside exhibits tell stories that reveal interesting facts about Lincoln, individuals with whom he interacted, and the surroundings Lincoln would have experienced. There are nearly 50 Looking for Lincoln signs in Springfield alone. The signs include historical information about the specific location, a timeline, and a unique medallion to make a souvenir rubbing. Examples include locations of the office of Lincoln's dentist where he had a painful tooth extracted, the store where Lincoln bought Mary's wedding ring, and a haberdashery shop where one of Lincoln's stovepipe hats was made.
Lincoln-related stories extend far beyond Springfield in the 43 counties of the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area. The Looking for Lincoln Story Trail includes 265 wayside exhibits in more than 55 communities throughout central Illinois. The displays tell the Lincoln stories that are unique to each community and were developed by local historians and Lincoln enthusiasts. From Ottawa to Vandalia, Danville to Nauvoo, and communities throughout central Illinois, there are Lincoln stories to explore. For a complete description of the Looking for Lincoln Story Trail, complete with GPS listings for each location, and to download a template to make your own rubbing, go to www.lookingforlincoln.org.