Presidents’ Day is observed on the third Monday of February. According to USA.gov, this holiday was intended to “honor George Washington, the first President of the United States. This date is commonly called Presidents’ Day and many groups honor the legacy of past presidents on this date.”
So, in honor of Presidents’ Day, we thought we’d spend a little time with a President who called the gently rolling hills of Southern Indiana home… Abraham Lincoln. Though he was born in Kentucky and entered politics in Illinois, Lincoln lived in Indiana for nearly fourteen years. It was here that he learned to read and write, that he grew to manhood, and developed many of the values and beliefs that would drive his political career.
Abraham Lincoln was born in 1809 in Hodgenville, Kentucky. In 1816, Thomas and Nancy (Hanks) Lincoln and their two children, Abraham and Sarah, moved from Kentucky and settled near Little Pigeon Creek, in Perry County, Indiana (which became Spencer County in 1818). While the family made sure to settle in non-slaveholding territory, the move was largely driven by Thomas, who was looking for a location where obtaining land titles would be easier and more secure. Thomas claimed 160 acres for his family homestead and the Lincolns built a cabin, planted a garden, and undertook a rugged frontier existence.
Thomas Lincoln was a farmer and a cabinet maker, described as a good humored and honest man who could spin a story and was well-liked and respected by his neighbors (nps.gov/libo). His son Abraham clearly took after him in many ways.
Abraham’s mother encouraged his love of learning. Though Nancy died of milk sickness in 1818, Abraham’s step-mother, Sarah Bush Johnston, continued Nancy’s work. Sarah recognized Abraham’s intelligence and curiosity, furthering his love of reading and gifting him with books, a rare commodity on the frontier.
In addition to acquiring an education, Abraham developed the tenacity and strength required to carve out a living in the wilds of Indiana. He worked hard to build the farm and learned to carry on in the face of tragedy, losing not only his mother but his sister, Sarah, in 1828.
“His sense of honesty, his belief in the importance of education and learning, his respect for hard work, his compassion for his fellow man, and his moral convictions about right and wrong were all born of this place and this time.” Though the Lincolns left Indiana for Illinois in 1830, the lessons Abraham Lincoln learned in southern Indiana would stay with him forever. (https://www.nationalparks.org/explore-parks/lincoln-boyhood-national-memorial)
Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial is the most direct tie we have with Lincoln’s Indiana years. Indiana’s first national park sits on the site of the original Lincoln farm. Visitors can experience life as Lincoln would have known it at the Living Historical Farm. The Memorial Visitor Center is full of history surrounding Abraham Lincoln and frontier life in the early 1800s. Lincoln’s mother Nancy is buried in the small pioneer cemetery, just a short walk from the Visitor Center. Miles of trail bisect the park, allowing visitors to walk where Lincoln once tread.
If you’re planning a visit to the national park, make sure to stop by Lincoln State Park as well. It was established in 1932 as a memorial to Nancy Hanks, and Abrahams’s sister Sarah is buried in the Little Pigeon Baptist Church cemetery now located within the park. Visitors can hike over ten miles of trails or rent a boat and paddle around Lake Lincoln. The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Plaza allows space to reflect on Lincoln’s time in Indiana and if you pay a visit during the summer months, you may be able to catch a performance of Young Abe Lincoln, a musical featuring the story of Lincoln’s boyhood in Indiana.
Those of us in Southern Indiana are lucky to live in Lincoln’s shadow. Residents of Christmas Lake Village live only a few minutes away from the natural beauty and fascinating history at Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial and Lincoln State Park. Take some time in honor of Presidents’ Day and pay a visit to the childhood home of our sixteenth president. Walk where he walked, learn a new fact, and pay tribute to a legendary man. We promise, you won’t be disappointed!