With Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday approaching, visitors will be flocking to New Salem, Illinois. It’s already a very popular place.
New Salem was the home to a young Abraham Lincoln for six critical years. Is was here that Lincoln not only held jobs that included storekeeper and postmaster, but studied for the law in which he would one day excel, joined the militia to serve in the Black Hawk War, ran for the Illinois House of Representatives, and lost to cholera Ann Rutledge, regarded by historians many as the true love of his life, an experience some say triggered the depression that dogged Lincoln for the remainder of his life.
Entering the Village
Today, a multimedia visitor’s center provides access to the reconstructed log cabin village which comfortably occupies a ridge that leads downslope to the grain mill where Lincoln once worked on the Sangamon River, today a slough with the river not far beyond. The village consists of 12 log cabins, the Rutledge Tavern, ten workshops, stores, mills, and a school where church services were also held. All are furnished as they would have been in the 1830’s, many of the furnishings donated New Salem relics and the others authentic to the period, if not the location.
Displays indicate that New Salem arose as part of a vision of a riverport above Springfield in neighboring Sangamon County. Boats of any real size could not approach Springfield on the Sangamon River, but it was believed they could get as far as New Salem from which supplies could be easily transported. Ultimately, it proved unworkable but the village struggled along for years before eventually being was abandoned.
The village owes its existence today to media baron William Randolph Hearst.
The Visitors Center is the starting point, where an 18-minute film is screened. There are also a statue of Lincoln, Lincoln relics, and exhibits giving the whole story of Lincoln’s New Salem. The assortment of structures along the main path through the rustic town includes the Berry-Lincoln Store which first opened in 1831. By mid-1833, Berry and Lincoln transferred to a larger store across the street, which also stands. The store eventually folded.
There’s plenty of parking in front of the visitor’s center and next to the lot is a gift shop where my girlfriend and I found a nice variety of souvenirs during our own visit.
There are plenty of regularly scheduled special events and presentations including an 1830’s Milita Muster, an Antique Farm Show, and two October Candlelight Tours, among others. Just Google for the New Salem website.
If you want a taste of frontier village life in Lincoln’s time, this is the place to go.