The Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial in Indiana
Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky and rose to national prominence in Illinois, but in between, he spent 14 years growing up in Indiana. Late in 1816, Thomas Lincoln moved his family–his wife Nancy Hanks Lincoln and children (seven year old Abraham and nine year old sister Sarah)–from Kentucky to southwest Indiana where the Lincolns carved a farmstead out of a heavily wooded 160 acre claim near Little Pigeon Creek in what is today Spencer County. The Lincolns lived here until they moved to Illinois in 1830. The Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial, a unit of the National Park Service, preserves the location of the 16th President’s Indiana home and commemorates this formative period of his life.
The first stop on a visit to the site is the memorial’s Visitor Center. Covering the outside of the building are five relief sculptures carved out of Indiana limestone that illustrate significant periods of Lincoln’s life. Inside the visitor center is a film about the memorial, a bookstore, and museum exhibits, including a cabinet made by Thomas Lincoln, who was a skilled carpenter and cabinet maker.
Behind the flagpole on the opposite end of the courtyard from the Visitor Center is a small cemetery known as the Pioneer Cemetery. The cemetery is the final resting place for several members of area pioneer families, including Nancy Hanks Lincoln. In the fall of 1818, the future president’s mother became ill with milk sickness, a disease caused by consumption of milk or meat from animals that have eaten a wild woodland plant called the White Snakeroot that contains a deadly toxin. Milk sickness was often fatal in that part of the country at the time. Nancy Hanks Lincoln died on October 5th, and was buried in the Pioneer Cemetery. The exact location of her grave there has been lost to history, but a grave marker for her has been placed in the cemetery. In 1819, Thomas married Sarah Bush Johnston, a widow from Kentucky who became Abraham’s stepmother.
About a quarter mile or so behind the Pioneer Cemetery is the Cabin Site Memorial, a bronze casting located on a site where a cabin’s sill logs and a fireplace were excavated. The site is believed to be the location of the third Lincoln cabin constructed on the farmstead. A short walk away from the Cabin Site Memorial is the Lincoln Spring; the future president walked this route countless times to bring drinking water back to the cabin. Nearby, is the Living Historical Farm, a recreated 1820s pioneer homestead containing a cabin and outbuildings, as well as gardens, farm animals, and farm implements from the era. The buildings date back to the 1800s but were located elsewhere in the state and moved to the memorial. Park personnel in 1820s clothing operate the farm in the manner which the Lincolns and other pioneers lived and worked every day. The farm operates with living historians from April through September, though the grounds are open year round.
The Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial is located on Indiana Highway 162, 1 1/2 miles west of its intersection with U.S. 231. It’s open every day except Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. Previously, there had been an admission fee to the park, but as of January 1, 2018, admission is free.