Historic Sites and Buildings
This national memorial preserves the site of the farm where Abraham Lincoln grew to manhood and the traditional gravesite of his mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln. Although none of the structures associated with the family are extant, an impressive memorial building commemorates its Indiana years and a typical frontier farm of the era is operated.
Early in the winter of 1816, Thomas Lincoln, embroiled in the last of several land-title disputes that had plagued his years in Kentucky, moved northwestward from his Knob Creek farm to Indiana to make a fresh start. Accompanying him were his wife, Nancy Hanks, his 9-year-old daughter Sarah, and his 7-year-old son Abraham. They probably crossed the Ohio River at Thompson's Ferry, near the mouth of the Anderson River, followed the Troy-Vincennes Road northward about 12 miles, and then turned westward a short distance to a tiny settlement along Little Pigeon Creek. Because harvesting had already been completed, the Lincolns endured a difficult first winter, living off wild game and corn and pork bartered from nearby settlers. Aided by their neighbors, however, the family soon completed a small log cabin and settled down to the slow and painstaking task of converting the surrounding forest to farmland.
In the fall of 1817, following his first harvest, Thomas traveled 60 miles northwestward to the land office at Vincennes, Ind., where he made a down payment on two 80-acre tracts in the Little Pigeon Creek region. A decade later, he gained full title to one of the tracts by relinquishing the other as a final payment. Meantime, he had acquired from a neighbor an adjacent 20 acres. A subsistence farmer, Lincoln cultivated at the most about 40 acres, deriving his cash income from carpentry.
The Indiana years brought about many changes in the family. In the fall of 1817, Nancy Lincoln's uncle and aunt, Thomas and Elizabeth Sparrow, and their nephew Dennis Hanks emigrated from Kentucky and settled on Thomas Lincoln's land. Less than a year later, the Sparrows and Nancy Lincoln died during a milk sickness epidemic. The grief-stricken Thomas took Dennis Hanks into his household, and for a time 11-year-old Sarah Lincoln assumed responsibility for the household chores, while Thomas and the two boys tended to the farming, hunting, and carpentry.
Late in 1819, Thomas trekked back to Kentucky, to Elizabethtown, and took a second wife, Sarah Bush Johnston, a widow with three children. Under her guidance, the two families merged easily, and she proved to be a kind and loving stepmother to Abraham and Sarah. Unfortunately, following her marriage, the latter died in childbirth in 1828.
During the 14 years Abraham Lincoln lived in Indiana, several factors combined to shape his destiny. Although he benefited physically from the demands of frontier life and nurtured an enduring respect for the hardy pioneers who tamed the wilderness, he grew to dislike the long hours of manual labor necessary for survival and determined early in life that he would not follow in his father's footsteps. Frustrated in his desire for learning because of the scarcity of schools, the lack of leisure time for studying, and the overcrowded conditions in the Lincoln cabin, he received only a minimum of formal education. Fortunately, he was blessed with an excellent memory, a sharp wit, and an inquisitive mind. Devouring all available books and seizing every opportunity to exchange ideas with neighbors or passersby, by dint of self-determination and tenacity, he educated himself to a degree that was exceptional for a person in his station of life.
During these years, Lincoln seldom had the opportunity to view the world beyond Little Pigeon Creek. Occasionally, family business provided a welcome chance to visit neighboring counties. His first prolonged stay away from home came in 1826 at the age of 16, when he obtained employment for a few months as a hired hand on the Ohio River farm of James Taylor. His happiest hours there were spent operating Taylor's ferry across the river, during which time he conversed with passengers from all walks of life and from all sections of the United States. A further source of stimulation were encounters with steamboat passengers at the nearby town of Troy.
In 1828-29 merchant James Gentry, who was sending his son Allen with a flatboat of goods down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans, hired Lincoln to go along and provided him with steamboat passage for the return trip. From that time on, he was discontented with frontier life and even considered seeking employment on a steamboat. One factor that may have influenced him not to do so was his growing fascination with the law. During his last few years in Indiana, whenever possible, he traveled to the county courthouse at Rockport or to those in nearby counties to hear lawyers pleading their cases. He may have borrowed lawbooks from area attorneys, but The Revised Laws of Indiana (1824) is the only one he is known to have read before moving to Illinois.
Sometime in late 1829, the Lincolns, spurred by glowing reports from a relative who had settled in Illinois, decided to move westward once again. Also, the husbands of Thomas Lincoln's two stepdaughters, one of whom was Dennis Hanks, had already determined to relocate, and Sarah Bush Lincoln was loath to break up the family. In March 1830, after a journey to Elizabethtown to dispose of Sarah's property there, Thomas sold his Indiana landholdings. The family, including 21-year-old Abraham, piled all its goods into three wagons, bade farewell to their longtime friends and neighbors, and proceeded via the Troy-Vincennes Road to Vincennes, where the Wabash River was crossed into Illinois.
With the passage of time, the Lincoln sites in Indiana disappeared. In 1879 a private citizen, using local tradition as a guide, marked the probable site of Nancy Hanks Lincoln's grave, and the owners donated the site to the commissioners of Spencer County. Subsequently, the State of Indiana, aided by various patriotic associations and commissions, especially the Indiana Lincoln Union, acquired the gravesite; purchased additional acreage, including part of Thomas Lincoln's landholdings; and marked the approximate location of the Lincoln cabin.
By 1932, two State-owned areas, comprising jointly more than 1,000 acres, had evolved. One, the Nancy Hanks Lincoln Memorial, containing the sites of the cabin, outbuildings, and grave, was already open to the public. The other, Lincoln State Park, which eventually incorporated the memorial, was being developed as a recreation and scenic area. In 1938 the State opened it to the public. Improvements between 1940 and 1944 included additional land acquisition, landscaping, and the construction of a limestone memorial building.
The memorial building consists of two low wings connected by a semicircular cloister and features a central courtyard. The west wing, Abraham Lincoln Hall, serves as a small chapel; the east wing, Nancy Hanks Lincoln Hall, designed and furnished to represent a frontier dwelling, is used as a meeting room and exhibit area. Five relief panels symbolizing events in Lincoln's life adorn the walls of the cloister facing the courtyard. North of the memorial structure, lies a grassy plaza and parking lot. From the latter, a mall extends through the woods to the gravesite, beyond which a trail leads to the cabin site.
In 1962 Congress authorized establishment of Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial. The following year, the State transferred more than 100 acres of the park, primarily the memorial area, to the National Park Service. Today, in addition to the memorial, a farm similar to those of the Lincoln era is operated. It consists of a log cabin and outbuildings, garden, orchard, cultivated fields, and livestock. The visitor center is at the memorial.
Last Updated: 22-Jan-2004