Meet Springfield’s best-known resident and revered icon
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, 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
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.
Many will be drawn naturally to the more rustic setting of the log cabin, where “The Journey” – the title of this odyssey through Lincoln’s life – begins. Children who are not as fascinated with Lincoln lore as their elders are may enjoy a visit to Mrs. Lincoln’s Attic, a supervised playroom where they may participate in a variety of hands-on activities, including dress-up, playing with giant Lincoln Logs and exploring a large dollhouse version of the Lincoln Home.
“The Journey” begins with a visit to the circa-1820s replica of Lincoln’s boyhood cabin. Lincoln’s life story is depicted with the use of full-size replicas of a slave auction; life in New Salem; the future president’s interest in Ann Rutledge and his courtship of Mary Todd; Lincoln’s law office, with sons Willie and Tad playing on the furniture; the 1860 presidential campaign debate at Galesburg and Lincoln’s farewell to Springfield. One highlight: a simulated television director’s studio where news stories and commercials for Lincoln’s 1860 presidential campaign are continuously played on video monitors as though the election were being held in modern times.
Part two of “The Journey” begins in a replica of the White House’s Blue Room, where Mary Todd Lincoln appears to extend her arms in welcome. Most of this part of the tour is focused on the Civil War. In the Whispering Gallery, visitors hear the whispering voices of Lincoln’s detractors and see editorial cartoons depicting Abe in ways that make modern editorial images seem tame. In a reproduction of what is now known as the Lincoln Bedroom, a gravely ill Willie is shown with his parents at his side as a White House ball goes on just outside the open door. Also included are replicas of the White House’s basement kitchen and the Cabinet Room, where Lincoln discussed his forthcoming Emancipation Proclamation with a divided cabinet. In one room visitors see the president standing at his desk before signing the proclamation as a barrage of words and projected images depict the world that surrounded him when he put pen to paper. The journey ends with a reproduction of Lincoln’s coffin as he was lying in state on the second floor of Springfield’s first State Capitol.
In the 250-seat Union Theater, a 17-minute layered-projection show, Lincoln’s Eyes, depicts the president as each side of the divided nation saw him. The seats tremble when cannons are “fired” into the audience and other special effects add dimension to the story. Although the show presents the entire picture, the message is intended to inspire viewers by revealing the obstacles Lincoln overcame in his effort to serve his country. The theater is also rented to organizations to use for various activities.
A climate-controlled Treasures Gallery displays priceless artifacts from Lincoln’s life. These displays change throughout the year, so what you see in April may be replaced with something else by September.
The SBC Ghosts of the Library theater presentation features a live actor and holographic ghosts, answering the age-old question, “Why do we study this old stuff?”
“Ask Mr. Lincoln” is a touch-and-learn display that allows visitors to make selections from a variety of questions about the man and his family. Answers are spoken as related images appear on screen.
The Illinois Gallery hosts a changing variety of presentations about Illinois history and art.
The temporary exhibit “Unfinished Work” runs until mid-May, featuring highlights from the museum’s Taper collection, like a set of scales from the Corneau & Diller Drug Store on the Springfield square, where the Lincolns shopped. Starting June 10, the exhibit “Rare and Rarely Seen” will showcase interesting items from the collection which get less attention, such as a pair of wooden shoes worn by an inmate at the Dachau concentration camp.
The presidential museum also features an exhibit of sets, costumes and props from the Oscar-winning movie Lincoln, starring Daniel Day-Lewis as the 16th president. The exhibit, “Lincoln: History to Hollywood,” is housed in the Union Station annex, across Sixth Street from the main museum building.
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, 212 N. Sixth St., 217-558-8844, www.presidentlincoln.org or www.alplm.org. Museum hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily (ticket sales end at 4 p.m.). Museum admission is $15 for visitors ages 16-61; $12 for seniors 62 and older; $10 for active duty military personnel; $12 for students with a school or college ID; $6 for children 5-15; free for children under age 5. Admission is discounted for prearranged group and school tours.
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library
The Lincoln Presidential Library (formerly the Illinois State Historical Library) is just across Jefferson Street from the museum and is home to nearly 13 million items pertaining to Illinois history. Genealogists, scholars and students make use of the library’s county histories, photographs, manuscripts and newspapers. The Lincoln Collection is also housed in the library, as are the papers of Abraham Lincoln. The library is also home to a rotating display of paintings, sculptures and other creations from local arts organizations.
There is no charge to use the library. Library offices are closed on weekends and holidays.
Library hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Public and research hours: 9 a.m.- 5 p.m.; closed Saturday and Sunday. Admission to the library and gift shop is free.
Union Square Park
Union Square Park, also located across the street from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, is home to a number of Springfield’s most popular free activities, events and musical performances, including the 33rd Illinois Vol. Regiment Band and the 10th Illinois Vol. Cavalry Regiment Band (both Civil War reenactment groups), Mary Lincoln’s Strawberry Party (a summertime family event), July 4 celebrations, New Century Orchestra, Springfield International Folk Dancers and many more.
The 86,000-square-foot park is home to two Abe Lincoln statues. And, it’s beautifully landscaped with William Baffin Climbing Roses, Mary Todd Daylilies, Black-eyed Susan, Wintergreen Littleleaf Boxwoods, Autumn Blaze Maples, Ozark Spring Flowering Dogwoods and Accolade Elms, providing the perfect backdrop for relaxation.
A list of events and performances at Union Square Park can be found at www.presidentlincoln.org. Events of 15 or more people are required to secure a park permit. To obtain a permit, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 217-558-9014. Union Station is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily and the park is open from 8 a.m.-10 p.m. daily.
Lincoln Home National Historic Site
Each year, hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world learn intimate details of the life of our 16th president as they follow in his footsteps while touring the Lincoln Home National Historic Site. Highlights of the Lincolns’ 12-room Greek Revival Home include a formal parlor, sitting and dining rooms, Abraham’s and Mary’s individual bedrooms, children’s rooms, kitchen and outbuilding.
In addition to the Lincoln family home, the four-block area features the restored 19th-century neighborhood, complete with homes of several neighbors, sidewalks, gaslights and wooden walkways.
It’s best to begin your tour of the Lincoln Home site at the visitor center, 426 S. Seventh St. That’s where you get the admission tickets to the residence, which is just a short walk away at Eighth and Jackson streets.
The center includes a theater, gift shop and a Lincoln-themed bookstore. A video tour of the Lincoln home plays throughout the day in the theater. Other videos include the theatrical documentaries Abraham Lincoln: A Journey to Greatness, Homage to Lincoln and At Home with Mr. Lincoln. Visitors can view them either before or after their visit. Guests can also enhance their visits by viewing the “What a Pleasant Home Lincoln Has” exhibit at the Dean House and an exhibit titled “If These Walls Could Talk: Saving an Old House” at the Arnold House. Both houses are across the street from the Lincoln residence and are self-guided; no tickets required.
A complete view of the site takes approximately two hours. Admission is free; however, visitors must obtain tickets from the Visitor Center Information Desk at 426 South Seventh Street. The home is at 413 South Eighth Street. Hours are 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. daily except Jan. 1, Thanksgiving and Dec. 25. 217-492-4241, www.nps.gov/liho/index.htm.
Old State Capitol
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.
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, two libraries and the Supreme Court room. 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 interpreter-conducted tour or view the rooms on their own.
Each year, the Old State Capitol hosts a number of special events, including the Abraham Lincoln Symposium (February), Holocaust Remembrance Day (April), Annual Civil War Encampment (June) and the Old Capitol Art Fair (May). For more information on the Old State Capitol and its upcoming activities and events go to www.illinoishistory.gov.
The Old State Capitol, located at 1 Old State Capitol Plaza, between Fifth and Sixth streets, is open Tuesday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Extended summer hours. The last tour begins 45 minutes before closing. The Old State Capitol is closed on New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King, Jr. birthday, President’s Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Free admission. Donations accepted. 217-785-7960.
The Historic Old State Capitol is also home to the Illinois Visitor Center. Stop by for information on the historic sites of Springfield, as well as destinations throughout Illinois.
Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices
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. The site is currently closed for renovation.
Though the walls can’t talk, Herndon, who began working with Lincoln in 1844, certainly did. In 1889, he penned a Lincoln biography – Herndon’s Lincoln: The True Story of A Great Life – which shared an intimate look at the life of the 16th president based on his own observation and stories collected from people close to Lincoln and his family. His goal was to portray Lincoln as a man rather than a saint. In the book, Herndon revealed that he and Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, shared low opinions of each other. He believed that the Lincoln children were indulged and had free run of both the house and their father’s law office where, to Herndon’s dismay, Lincoln ignored them further messing up his already messy office.
The Lincoln-Herndon Law Office consists of the surviving portion of a three-story brick commercial block constructed in 1840-41. The building has a visitor center with an exhibit gallery and a room interpreted as an 1840s post office facility. The site’s second floor consists of rooms representing those used by the federal court, while the third floor displays a “common room” and three lawyers’ offices – two of which were used by Lincoln and his partners. The re-created offices are notable for the plainness and disorder that were remembered by Lincoln associates.
The site is currently closed for reconstruction.
Lincoln-Herndon Law Office, Sixth and Adams, 217-785-7960. www.illinoishistory.gov.
The Lincoln Tomb
A 117-foot granite tomb in Oak Ridge Cemetery – Illinois’ largest cemetery and the second most visited in the nation – houses the remains of Lincoln, his wife and three of his four sons.
Lincoln’s body rests in a concrete vault 10 feet below the marble floor of the burial chamber. The gravesite is marked with a granite cenotaph flanked by the presidential flag and flags of the states in which the Lincoln family resided. Crypts in the chamber’s south wall contain the bodies of Lincoln’s wife and children.
The tomb, which closed briefly in 2014 to repair water damage, also features an interior room finished in polished marble trimmed with bronze; an entrance opening into a rotunda with corridors leading into the burial chamber; reproductions of various Lincoln statues; a heroic bronze statue of Lincoln, and plaques with excerpts from Lincoln’s Springfield farewell speech, the Gettysburg Address and his second inaugural address.
The cemetery also contains a public receiving vault, which was constructed in 1860 and served as the scene of President Lincoln’s funeral, which was reenacted 150 years later in 2015.
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.
Each year the Lincoln Tomb cohosts a number of special events, such as the American Legion Lincoln’s birthday pilgrimage, the Veterans of Foreign Wars annual pilgrimage, the Sons of Union Veterans Lincoln’s Death Anniversary Services, Mary Lincoln Coterie, Boy Scout Sunday and weekly summer Civil War reenactments from the 114th Illinois Infantry.
Lincoln Tomb, 1500 Monument Ave., Oak Ridge Cemetery, 217-782-2717, www.lincolntomb.org. The tomb is open daily from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. The cemetery is open 7 a.m.-8 p.m. daily from April 1 to Aug. 1, and 7 a.m.-5:30 p.m. daily from Sept. 1 to March 31. Groups of 15 or more should call 1-800-545-7300 for reservations.
Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site
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.
Though we often think of Lincoln as the hardworking, rail-splitting pioneer, historians maintain that he lived in the village from 1831 to 1837 to get away from the manual labor of his younger days.
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 authentic detail. Interpreters in period dress at the 635-acre site effectively explain and demonstrate life in the 1800s, leaving some visitors to briefly long for simpler days.
Lincoln’s New Salem also has a visitor center, where guests can view the film Turning Point, which offers an introduction to New Salem and Abraham Lincoln. A gift shop and an indoor museum and outdoor theater, which houses outdoor plays and musicals during the summer, are also available on site. The site hosts a variety of special events throughout the year, such as the Lincoln’s New Salem Flatboat Presentation and Pioneer Life Summer Day Camp. A complete list of activities and events can be found at www.lincolnsnewsalem.com.
Maintained by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, 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.
New Salem is about 20 miles northwest of Springfield on Route 97, called Jefferson Street in town. 15588 History Lane in Petersburg. 217-632-4000, www.lincolnsnewsalem.com. Hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Free admission. Suggested donations $2 children ages 12 and under, $4 adults or $10 for a family.
The Lincolns’ church
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 citizens and tourists trekking around the Old State Capitol.
First Presbyterian Church, 321 S. Seventh. For information about tours call 217-528-4311 ext. 204, email email@example.com, or visit www.lincolnschurch.org.
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!
The Lincoln ledger is in the lobby of Chase Bank, 1 East Old State Capitol Plaza, at the southeast corner of Sixth and Washington streets. 217-527-3860. Open 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Free admission.
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 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.
Lincoln Depot, 930 East Monroe St., 217-544-8695, www.lincolndepot.org. Open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday. Call for availability on Saturdays and holidays. Free admission.