Location: Springfield, Illinois
Webpage: National Park
General Description: In 1837, Abraham Lincoln rode his horse into Springfield, Illinois with all of his belongings in two saddlebags. Springfield had recently been named the new capital of Illinois and Lincoln came to become a lawyer. He initially worked as the junior partner of Logan-Lincoln, however, they broke up in 1844. Having become a noted judicial circuit lawyer he attracted the young lawyer Herndon as his junior partner. While living in Springfield he met Mary Todd who was from a wealthy slave-owning family in Lexington, Kentucky. Even though their backgrounds were very different, they eventually got married in 1842. To accommodate a growing family they purchased a home at the corner of Eight and Jackson Streets near the new state capitol and Lincoln-Herndon Law office. This was the only home that Lincoln owned, where their four sons were born and one, Eddie, died there from tuberculosis at the age of 3. Over the years they enlarged the house expanding the parlor and extending the second floor to a full two story house in 1855-56. Lincoln began his political career by serving for eight years in the Illinois House of Representatives in 1834 and 1842. He was also elected for one term to the US House of Representatives in 1846 where he felt frustrated with his inability to make any real changes as a member of the House. He went back to Springfield to continue his law practice until the Compromise of 1850 that allowed each territory to decide whether to allow slavery or not when they became a state. This, in effect, overturned the Missouri Compromise which limited new slave states to be south of the 36.5 degree latitude. This new compromise was primarily the work of Stephen Douglas, a young senator from Illinois. The passage of this Compromise motivated Lincoln to challenge Douglas for his Senate seat in 1858 giving rise to the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates. However, Lincoln lost this race but his efforts had drawn national attention. He as able to use this race as a springboard to be chosen as the nominee of the new Republican Party and win the election of 1860 to become the 16th President of the United States. Believing they would be returning to Springfield they rented the house out, selling most of their household furnishings and storing a few. Obviously his assassination early in his second term meant that would never happen. The home became a national shrine visited by many even during his Presidency. Even though it was rented, visitors were often invited in. On May 4, 1865, Lincoln’s somber yet grand funeral procession passed in front of the Lincoln home on its way to Oak Ridge Cemetery. Lincoln’s son, Robert, inherited the house and continued to rent it until 1887 when he donated the house to the state who preserved it as a memorial for 85 years. In 1972 it was donated to the US to become a National Historic Site with the stipulation that they never charge admission to tour Lincoln’s home. Eventually the federal government bought the surrounding properties and today maintains a two block area preserving and restoring the adjoining residencies to their condition in 1860.
1) The Visitor Center in the center of Springfield is the first stop for all visitors. Within there are a few nice exhibits about Lincoln’s life in Springfield and a diorama of the town in 1860. There is also a nice video about Lincoln that is worth seeing. Finally, this is where you pick up the free tickets for a tour of the house.
2) From the Visitor Center it is a short walk down a shaded gravel street to Lincoln’s home on the corner of Eighth and Jackson Streets. Since it has been essentially a shrine since Lincoln left the house for DC, it is in amazing condition, both inside and out.
3) The tour of the home is conducted by National Park Service Rangers and begins in the double parlor where Lincoln would entertain guests and political allies. Unfortunately, Lincoln either sold or put in storage most of the household furnishings while it was being rented. Consequently, very few of the furnishings are original, but all are period pieces. There were able to reconstruct the wallpapers in each room by finding remnants still on the walls.
4) After a quick stop in the dining room, the tour stops in the family room, where you can see Lincoln’s tabletop stereoscope that is original.
5) The tour then continues upstairs in Abraham’s bedroom and Mary’s separate bedroom, as well as, the son’s bedroom and servant quarters. Abraham and Mary had separate bedrooms as it was considered a status symbol of the times to be able to afford two separate rooms.
6) In addition to Lincoln’s home the National Historic Site includes a block in both directions from the home. The houses along this two blocks are being preserved and restored to their condition in 1860. Some houses are missing leaving empty lots and today most of the homes are NPS offices and storage. Two homes are open to the public with exhibits about life in Springfield and the history of occupancy.