“There I Grew Up...”
Article by Thomas J.
Patricia A. Straka
Abraham Lincoln brings the state of Illinois to mind, or maybe
Kentucky, where he was born, but a quarter of Lincoln’s life was
spent in a third state.
When he was seven years of age his father, Thomas, moved
the family (Including mother, Nancy, and sister, Sarah) from
Kentucky to the frontiers of southern Indiana.
Abraham Lincoln spent
fourteen years of his life there from 1816 to 1830, when he
moved to Illinois.
Those were his formative years, where he developed his morals
and character. The
family claimed 160 acres near Little Pigeon Creek in what would
become Spencer County, Indiana. Indiana became a state just
about the same time as the family moved.
Lincoln referred to the unsettled woodlands as the “wild
Kentucky Panel:1809 -1816, The Childhood Years of
Lincoln. This panel illustrates people
important in his young life, including his father,
mother, sister, and other influences.
A cabin was quickly built and a farm was cut out of the
Gradually the cabin was improved and outbuildings constructed.
Thomas used has carpentry skills to earn a living and
establish himself in the community.
Abraham assisted in this effort and was very capable with
the plow and axe.
Later in life he recalled the axe and how he “was almost
constantly handling that most useful instrument.” The first two
years went well, but when Lincoln was nine his mother helped
nurse some neighbors that were sick with the milk sickness.
She also became victim of the illness and died. Abraham
endured many losses like this over his lifetime.
Milk sickness was a baffling and gruesome sickness that
disheartened many of the pioneers.
Later, it was discovered that cows which ate the local
innocent-looking white snakeroot plant would accumulate a toxin
in their milk and this poison was the cause of the sickness.
Nancy Hanks Lincoln is still buried very near the old cabin site
in a rough wooden coffin built by Thomas Lincoln and his son.
Panel: 1816 - 1830, The Boyhood Days of Lincoln. Lincoln
as a youth, but fully-grown and capable
man's work. Others are various influences as he grew
Thomas made a trip back to Kentucky and married Sarah Bush
Johnson, a widow with three children, aged twelve, eight, and
five. Sarah was a loving stepmother to Abraham and his sister.
She provided guidance and helped form a new family.
Abraham had little opportunity for a formal education;
his time in a classroom totaled about a single year. Important
farm work was his main focus, but he loved to read.
His Indiana school papers, plow, and pioneer-era axe are
in the Memorial Visitor Center.
In 1830 the family moved on to Illinois.
Illinois Panel: 1830 - 1861,
The Years of Political Ascendancy. Lincoln is shown
congratulations on his election to the
United States House of Representatives in 1846.
These are his friends and associates. Mary Todd is in
The area around the Memorial includes many of the places that
helped shape Lincoln’s early life.
He was part of discussions at Gentry’s store; near-by
Lincoln State Park operates a restored 1834 Federal-design home
owned by Lincoln’s merchant employer (Colonel William Jones);
and his sister Sarah is buried at the nearby Little Pigeon
Baptist Church Cemetery at the state park.
The state park also has the 1,500 seat Lincoln
Amphitheatre where “A. Lincoln: A Pioneer Tale” is performed and
the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Plaza (depicting key milestones
in Lincoln’s life).
Lincoln Landing on the Ohio River is the site where he launched
a flatboat to transport produce to New Orleans.
On that trip Lincoln
witnessed a slave auction on the docks, an experience that left
a lasting memory.
Lincoln Ferry Park is the site where he operated a ferryboat
business to shuttle people to the middle of the Ohio River,
where they could catch a boat. The
Lincoln Pioneer Village and Museum is in Rockport and houses
hundreds of fascinating artifacts from the area’s
historic past, including a piece of furniture made by
Thomas Lincoln. The
Pioneer Village has fourteen Lincoln-era replica cabins from the
Today that homestead and the surrounding area is a National Park
Service National Memorial.
It is located in very southern Indiana right off of U.S.
231, a highway that runs north-south through Indiana.
The first stop should be the Memorial Visitor Center.
It includes an information desk, a background historical
film, a bookstore, and museum exhibits.
On the outside are five sculptured panels, carved from
Indiana limestone, illustrating the steps in Lincoln’s life that
brought him from a cabin to the White House.
Above each is a quotation from one of Lincoln’s speeches.
The five panels represent Kentucky (1809-1816), Indiana
(1816-1830), Illinois (1830-1861), Washington, D.C. (1861-1865)
and the Central Panel (“And Now He Belongs to the Ages”).
Washington Panel: 1861
- 1865, The Years of Command. Lincoln is at the
of General Ulysses S.
Grant in Petersburg, Virginia near the close of the
A short distance away is the Pioneer Cemetery, which includes
the grave of Nancy Hanks Lincoln.
Near the cemetery is the Cabin Site Memorial.
It is a bronze casting of still logs and fireplace
hearthstones that symbolizes a cabin built by the Lincoln’s.
Down the trail from the
cabin site is a living historical farm that recreates an 1820s
homestead. A cabin
and outbuildings that date from the nineteenth century were
moved to the site. There are split-rail fences, livestock,
vegetables and herb gardens, and field crops. Park rangers in
period clothing demonstrate farm life with historic implements
and agricultural practices.
Near the farm is the Lincoln Spring, where the family got
its fresh water (a main reason Thomas Lincoln chose this site
for his homestead).
If you walk back to the visitor’s center from the Living Farm,
instead of retracing your steps, you can take a half-mile Trail
of Twelve Stones.
Twelve stones are laid out along the trail in chronological
order showing major events in Abraham Lincoln’s life. These are
actual stones from each event. Listing
the actual stones will illustrate the life story:
stone from Lincoln’s birthplace farm, stone monument that
once marked the location of the Lincoln Cabin in Indiana, stone
from the foundation of the store Lincoln worked in as a boy,
stone from the Vincennes Western Sun newspaper building
(newspaper Lincoln probably read),
stone from the foundation of the Lincoln-Berry store in
stone from the girlhood home of Mary Todd, stone that was
once part of the White House, stone from part of Lincoln’s
“Summer White House,” stone from the Gettysburg Battlefield,
stone that part of the old Capitol Building, stone from
the Peterson House in Washington , D.C. (house Lincoln died in),
and excess piece of granite from the Lincoln Tomb in Illinois.
Central Panel: "And Now He
Belongs to the Ages." Words of Lincoln's Secretary of
remind all of the heritage
Lincoln left. The figures in the panel represent some
people to whom Lincoln will forever belong:
laborers, farmers, families, and freedmen.
right of Lincoln are Cleo, Muse of History holding a
scroll to record his deeds and
beside her is
Columbia offering laurel in praise. In the background
are a cabin and the
White House, as symbol of
This is a great stop for someone taking a shortcut through
is very close to the main highway.
A quick stop can be accomplished in less than two hours
at just the National Memorial.
At least a full day
would be needed to visit all the related Lincoln locations, even
though all are located nearby. Much Lincoln history is
concentrated in one small area.
While the focus is Lincoln’s boyhood, his entire life is
scattered in the various parts of the Memorial.
This makes for a wonderful Lincoln experience, quite
different from the one you’ll find over in Illinois.
|An interesting Lincoln poster.
|Lincoln family burying Nancy
Hanks Lincoln, mother of Abraham Lincoln.
|The Living Historical Farm, with
cabin similar to the Lincoln cabin.
|Inside of the cabin on the
Living Historical Farm. This would be similar to the
inside of the actual Lincoln cabin.
|Another view of the inside of the cabin.. This also
would be similar to the inside of the actual Lincoln
|One of several outbuildings on
the Living Historical Farm.
For more about Lincoln.
Tom Straka is a forestry professor at Clemson University in
South Carolina. His wife, Pat, is a consulting forester. Both
have a keen interest in roadside history.
For more information:
Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial (National Park Service):
Spencer County Information
on many other
Abraham Lincoln’s Classroom: Lincoln and Indiana:
The Life of Abraham Lincoln
by Henry Ketcham:
Chapter III. Early Years
IV. In Indiana.
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