Forgotten Lincoln years

Spencer County, Ind., homestead
was home to Lincoln for 14 years

His sister, mother are buried in southern Indiana towns

By Konnie McCollum
Staff Writer

(February 2008) – Most schoolchildren and history buffs know that Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, was born in Kentucky and spent his adult life in Illinois practicing law.

Lincoln boyhood cabin

Photo provided

Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial
preserves the site of the
homestead where Lincoln lived
during his childhood.

People are genuinely surprised, however, to find out that Lincoln spent 14 years of his life on a pioneer farmstead in what is now Spencer County, Ind.
In 1816, when Lincoln was 7 years old, his father, Thomas Lincoln, packed up the family and headed to Spencer County. It was there on his family’s farm that Lincoln acquired his love of reading and would read by the fire at night when his chores were done. It is also the place where his beloved mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, and sister, Sarah Lincoln Grigsby, are buried. Lincoln left Spencer County in 1830 and headed west to Illinois.
“Spencer County is definitely the place to come if people want to trace Abraham Lincoln’s past,” said Melissa Miller, executive director of the Spencer County Visitors Bureau. “You can walk where Lincoln walked and almost feel his spirit.”
The years he spent in Spencer County are often referred to by locals in the area as the ‘forgotten Lincoln years,” she said. “When people are famous, most of the time the place where they are born and where they gained their prominence are more widely remembered; the middle years are often discounted.”
Several attractions in Spencer County have been established as memorials to the Lincoln family. The Lincoln State Park, the Lincoln Pioneer Village and the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial are just a few of the attractions that visitors to the area can explore. During the Lincoln Bicentennial Celebration, which will kick off for many states in February 2008 and continue throughout 2009, numerous events have been planned. The bicentennial commemorates the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth.
Spencer County is also home to Santa Claus, Ind., where the theme park Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari attracts more than 1 million visitors each year.
Lincoln Park, in Lincoln City, Ind., is a scenic, 1,747-acre park established in 1932 as a memorial to Nancy Hanks Lincoln. Camping, fishing, boating, hiking and picnicking are just a few of the activities available.
Visitors can spend the day on Lincoln Lake or walk through Sarah Lincoln Woods Nature Preserve while at the state park. Lincoln State Park is also home to Lincoln Amphitheatre, which plays host to a series of outdoor musical dramas during the summer months.

Lincoln memorial Visitor Center

Photo provided

Abraham Lincoln left Indiana in
1830 and headed west for Illinois.

The Lincoln Boyhood Drama Association has been commissioned to create a play for the 2009 bicentennial to perform at the amphitheater said Miller.
Sarah Lincoln Grigsby is buried in Old Pigeon Cemetery in the park. She died in childbirth in 1828. The cemetery is next to the Little Pigeon Primitive Baptist Church. Lincoln and his father helped build the first log cabin church on this site.
Adjacent to Lincoln State Park is the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial. This 200-acre national park was established in 1962 to preserve the site of the farm where Abe spent those 14 years of his life. More than 150,000 visitors from all over the world come each year to the national park, which was signed into the National Parks Service by President John F. Kennedy.
A visitor’s center, museum and living history farm offer insight into the Lincolns’ life as pioneers in Indiana.
“This is a wonderful educational and recreational opportunity for the entire family,” said park guide Samantha Escobar. “This is where the famous story of Lincoln walking two miles to return a borrowed book actually took place.”
During warm months, rangers dress in period clothing at the Lincoln Living Historical Farm in the park and perform a wide variety of farming tasks that were typical during the 1820s. “Visitors can see how pioneers actually lived and worked,” said Escobar. The farm is a working pioneer homestead with a cabin, outbuildings, split rail fences, animals, gardens and field crops.

Sarah Lincoln Grigsby grave marker

Photo provided

Sarah Lincoln Grigsby
is buried in Old
Pigeon Cemetery.

The Memorial Visitor Center in the park features two memorial halls, a museum with a variety of exhibits and a 15-minute orientation film. Books, postcards and other educational materials can be purchased in the bookstore. “Community groups can hold meetings around the cherry wood table in the Nancy Hanks Lincoln room,” said Escobar.
Visitors are also encouraged to take a walk up the wooded Lincoln Boyhood Trail in the park to the gravesite of Lincoln’s mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln. In 1818, Nancy died of milk sickness. Milk sickness was an illness gotten from drinking the milk of cows that ate the poisonous white snakeroot.
At the Lincoln Pioneer Village and Museum, in Rockport City, Ind., hundreds of fascinating artifacts from the area’s historic past can be seen. One of those artifacts includes a hutch made by Thomas Lincoln. A village consisting of log cabins that are replicas of the Lincoln era in Spencer County can be seen by appointment.
The Lincoln Bicentennial Celebration will kick off in Spencer County on Mother’s Day, May 11, 2008. Events will include music, drama, outdoor ceremonies and prominent speakers, said Miller.
Other events throughout the year will include a Civil War Era ball and a Lincoln era Thanksgiving. Lincoln was the president that established Thanksgiving as a national holiday. A flatboat trip in September 2008 down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to Louisiana is scheduled to commemorate a famous flatboat trip Lincoln made.

• For more information about the Lincoln Bicentennial Celebration and Spencer County, Ind., visit: www.legendaryplaces.org.

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