The Land of Lincoln-Springfield, Illinois

Presidential Libraries are always on our “must-see” attractions list.  So when driving from St. Louis to northern Indiana 285we had our GPS set on Springfield, Illinois to get a little more acquainted with our 16th President, Mr. Abraham Lincoln.  Two centuries after his death, it is clear that Springfield’s best known resident is a revered icon and his life and legacy are celebrated throughout the town.

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum does not rank as an “official” Presidential Library; however, we are pretty sure old Abe deserves a “Library” of his own.  Let’s stop there briefly and explain something about “Presidential Libraries.”  The Presidential Library System is a nationwide network of 13 libraries administered by the Office of Presidential Libraries which is part of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).  These are repositories for preserving and making available the papers, records, collections and other historical materials of every President of the United States since Herbert Hoover (our 31st President).   Before the NARA was enacted, documents, gifts, and other materials amassed by Presidents were considered their own personal property.  This meant that over the decades materials were lost, destroyed, sold, or went who knows where.  Today, these items are the property of the U.S. Government and are housed until a Presidential Library is built and transferred to the federal government.  So since Lincoln’s presidency came before the NARA, it is not an official Presidential Library.

Lincoln faced tumultuous times during his presidency.  He led a country that was deeply divided in the Civil War and issue of slavery.  When he became president in 1860, seven slave states had left the Union to form the Confederate States of America.  Four more state followed suit.  Lincoln vowed to preserve the Union, uphold federal laws and end the succession.  But the bloody war would rage over four years and bring the death of some 600,000 lives lost on battlefields across the eastern U.S. 


Midway through his presidency Lincoln issued the controversial Emancipation Proclamation which called for all slaves to be free.  This transformed the war from one which was to preserve the Union to a battle for freedom.  The country and even Lincoln’s administration were fiercely divided over this act.  In the end, Lincoln was successful in preserving the Union. 


A week after the Confederacy surrendered an assassins bullet claimed Lincoln’s life.  His commitment to preserving the Union, ending slavery, and demonstrating that states were not sovereign over the federal government have led many historians to conclude he was America’s greatest president.
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is a city block-long complex that immerses you in Lincoln’s world and time in which he lived.  The Lincoln story is told through an array of interactive exhibits, displays, artifacts, and holographic theaters.  Visitors journey from his poor childhood growing up in a rustic cabin, his life as a public servant and president to his early demise in the Ford Theater.   

When you first enter the main gallery the wide open space is filled with a replica of the White House as it looked during Lincoln’s presidency with the first family greeting you.  This also serves as a popular spot for taking selfies with Lincoln.  This exhibit takes you through some key parts of Lincoln’s time in the White House most notably the Civil War, his gravely ill son, and declaration of the Emancipation Proclamation with his divided cabinet.  

But before Lincoln made it to the White House he educated himself by firelight in a rustic cabin that served as the family home.  The rustic cabin is a replica in which Lincoln grew up in and emphasizes the family’s level of poverty and his determination and hard-work as he became a militia captain, respected lawyer, Congressman, and U.S. President. 

Two of the most dynamic exhibits are the holographic theaters that create dynamic and magical presentations.  In “Ghosts of the Library” an onstage actor appears to control the ghosts that appear as misty images wafting through the library on the quest to answer the question, “Why save all this stuff?”  The presentation explains that objects and papers housed in libraries are important in connecting people and events and who we are as a country. We were wowed by the presentation!  

The museum and library are an amazing explanation of Lincoln’s life and legacy but you’re not done exploring the Land of Lincoln yet.  The Lincoln Tomb, housed in Springfield’s Oak Ridge Cemetery, is the final resting place for Abraham, his wife and three of their four sons.  The 117-foot tall granite obelisk is a stark feature on the landscape marking the final resting place of the president.  Inside the rotunda is a replica of Daniel Chester French’s statue of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.  The curved marble walls lead you in a hushed silence to the burial room. 


Another popular attraction in Springfield is the Lincoln Home National Historical Site – a four-block area featuring Lincoln’s 12-room Greek Revival home set among a restored 19th century neighborhood.  The free tours (of which you are required to obtain a ticket) are led by a park ranger and takes about two hours. 


Being that Springfield is the capitol of Illinois meant we could not leave without a swing by the capitol building.  The building took 20 years to complete, costs $4.5 million (which is a bargain by today’s standards) and held its first session in 1877.  The structure is designed in the shape of a Latin cross with a 361-foot high dome making it nearly 75 feet taller than the U.S. Capitol.  Free guided tours are offered or you are free to wander about on your own during the week.

We stayed at the Illinois State Fairgrounds which is a great location to all the town’s attractions and only $25/night for a full hook-up site.  The park has a range of sites from full hook-up to dry camping, paved to grass, and level to unlevel.  We chose a full hook-up site on pavement and were quite content there for the few nights we were in town.  While the campground is nothing special we really liked the in-town location and plenty of room to wander around the fairgrounds and walk Spirit. 

There is a lot of history in Springfield of which we just scratched the surface.  Maybe on our way back to St. Louis in the fall we will stop again to hit more sights.   Included are one of the most lavish Frank Lloyd Wright houses ever designed, the Korean War Museum, and the Cozy Dog Drive In – a Route 66 classic. 

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