Follow in the footsteps of our nation’s 16th president by taking a journey from his childhood home to the city that saw the start of his legal career. Lincoln was born on Feb. 12, 1809, in a one-room log cabin in southeast Kentucky. In 1816, the Lincoln family moved to Perry (now Spencer) County, Ind. On that little farmstead, Lincoln grew from boy to man, learning many hard lessons along the way that would shape his personal convictions as an adult.
Pack a picnic and head out early to reach your destination for a late lunch. Just 360 miles and six hours from Chicago, the Abraham Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial showcases the 14 years Lincoln spent in Indiana, from ages 7 to 21.
Hike the historic Trail of Twelve Stones: each stone marks a significant event in Lincoln’s life. You’ll pass over the farmhouse site and past his mother’s gravestone (Nancy Lincoln died after drinking the milk of a cow infected by the toxic white snakeroot plant when Abe was 9). Take a moment to reflect with your children on what it must have been like to set off as a pioneer family into the wilderness with few provisions and build a farmstead from practically nothing, as the Lincoln family did when they arrived at this 160-acre claim near the Little Pigeon Creek during the frigid winter of December 1816.
Lincoln Pioneer Village in Rockport will give you a better idea of how the Lincoln family actually lived: 14 WPA-era cabins re-create pioneer life and include examples of a typical schoolhouse, church, law office and a replica of the Lincoln family cabin.
Lighten up your journey with some non-stop family fun at Holiday World, the world’s first-ever theme park, family-run since 1946 and just a short, scenic drive through the forest from Lincoln’s Boyhood Home Memorial. Relive a year of holidays in a single day by visiting each block of the park: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Fourth of July and Christmas. Don’t miss the three-story drop on Liberty Launch, a log ride down Frightful Falls, a whiz around the sky on Blitzen’s Airplanes and of course, a 154-drop at 67 mph and 2.4 seconds of air time on the best wooden roller coaster in the world, the Voyage.
Premiering in June, the brand new Lincoln Amphitheater, located within the Lincoln State Park, presents “Lincoln,” a theatrical experience that brings the story of Lincoln’s journey alive. Reserve the “Lincoln Experience,” which includes an Amish-style meal, pre-show activities for children and adults, and theater under the stars. Multimedia projections and period music give theater-goers more insight into the U.S. president whose legacy continues to impact our nation today.
While in Southern Indiana, spend the night at the Lake Rudolph Campground in a deluxe rental RV. Your kids will get a kick out of this unique “hotel on wheels,” complete with mini-kitchen, bathroom with shower, dining area, mini sofa, double buck bed and master bedroom. Adjacent to Holiday World, with free shuttle service to the theme park provided, the campground also features tent sites. A playground, pool, rental golf carts, game room and lake with rental kayaks and paddleboats, s’mores on a campfire and wide starry sky round out the fun.
Cross into Illinois on Route 64 and head toward Springfield, the small city where Lincoln grew from lawyer to politician and lived for 24 years, eventually moving on to assume the presidency in Washington, D.C.
Start your tour of Springfield at the Lincoln Home National Historic Site in the downtown district. Abe and Mary Lincoln resided here for more than 17 years and welcomed three of their four sons. Admission is free; be sure to take part in a free guided tour.
Take a walk over to the charming Greek revival office building where Lincoln worked as a lawyer, the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices. Take the free guided tour. The Tinsley Dry Goods Store, located in the rear, is the place to pick up your Land of Lincoln souvenir (giant penny, anyone?)
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum houses the largest collection of Lincoln memorabilia in the world. Don’t miss the “Ghosts of the Library” presentation in the Holavision Theater, which uses 3-D hologram-like characters to explain the exciting job of collecting and curating an enormous collection of artifacts and documents.
The most intrepid Lincoln enthusiasts should download the free ‘Here I Have Lived’ downtown walking tour map at www.visit-springfieldillinois.com/Visitor/documents/07_WalkingTourMap_FINAL.pdf. This self-guided tour is a comprehensive map of the most vital sites of Lincoln’s life. At each site, you’ll find a marker with an inscribed story, accompanied by a graphic medallion that is symbolic of that site in Lincoln’s life. Bring crayons and paper and make a rubbing of each medallion as a souvenir.
Older children and adults will enjoy a 90-minute Lincoln’s Ghost Walking Tour, led by an expert from Springfield Walking Tours. You’ll be spooked as you learn about some of the more spine-tingling lore related to Lincoln’s life and times.
About 20 miles north of downtown Springfield you’ll find Lincoln’s New Salem Historic Site, a re-creation of this small Illinois village where Lincoln spent a portion of his early adulthood. Step inside typical log homes of the era, a tavern, workshops, stores, mills and a schoolhouse. Costumed interpreters will share what life was like in a small Illinois town of the 1830s. On a strict travel budget? Campsites at Lincoln’s New Salem Historic Site start at just $20 per night. Want to splurge and spend the night in an Italianate mansion once owned by a Springfield industrialist? Stay the night at the Rippon Kinsella House, a Victorian bed and breakfast built in 1871 and located on a half acre on the north side of Springfield. Enjoy the full country breakfast, then borrow the resident bikes and ride over to explore the historic Oak Ridge Cemetery or breeze through green Lincoln Park.
Amy Souza is a Chicago teacher, freelance writer and mom.