Touring the homes and stomping grounds of history’s greats is one of our favorite things to do, and while we often prefer to explore relics of lives in distant countries, we’re also keen on learning about the lives of U.S. bigwigs. Abraham Lincoln, for example, is one of the presidents who enthralls us – not just because of his pivotal role in the Emancipation Proclamation, but because his era was one pivotal to U.S. development. To wit, we’re taking you on a tour of the Lincoln home in Springfield, Illinois and the region he called home.
Brief history and background
To many, Abraham Lincoln needs no introduction. We all know he was president during the American Civil War and instrumental in freeing the slaves. The details, however, escape most of us.
Born in Kentucky in 1809, Lincoln didn’t make his way to Illinois until 1830; the move was prompted largely by repeated problems with milk sickness outbreaks. While his family split up shortly after their move, Lincoln struck out on his own, moving to New Salem, Illinois in 1831. To make money, he aided in the shipment of goods from New Orleans up north.
After several romances, Lincoln married Mary Todd in Springfield, Illinois in 1842. The two purchased a home in Springfield – the very one showcased above – that was near to Lincoln’s law practice. They had many children in that home and became anchors of the community, even as Lincoln launched a successful political campaign.
After Lincoln’s assassination, in 1871, Lincoln’s son, Robert, donated the house to the state of Illinois on the condition that it be well-maintained and opened to the public without charge.
Layout of the Lincoln home/what to see
The Lincoln home is quite sizeable – even by today’s standards – spread over two floors and 12 rooms, built in Greek revival style. On the ground floor you can find many of the common areas, including the formal parlor, the sitting room, and the dining room. Upstairs are the bedrooms – Abraham and Mary each had their own – along with rooms for the children.
A proper tour will guide you through the home so that you get all relevant details and history. What’s more, rooms are often accompanied by drawings or photographs depicting their layout during the Lincoln residency – an effective way of juxtaposing the house today with the house as it was in the 1830s and 1840s.
A few things to note:
- The furniture in each room seems like it’s the wrong size, but these pieces are actually to scale. People were generally smaller 150 years ago, so chairs, tables, and the like were lower to the ground.
- While not all of the room accents are from Lincoln’s day, they do give you a good sense of the kind of knickknacks you might find throughout an 1800s house.
- Be sure to admire the wallpaper – art in its own right – and the books/papers placed around the common areas. These provide some insight into designs and topics of interest to Lincoln and those of his age.
- Before you arrive, take a virtual tour of the Lincoln home here. This might help you prepare for your visit and highlight aspects of particular interest.
As noted above, the Lincoln home – and the surrounding park – are free to enter and tour. However, you do need to get a ticket upon entry. Also, guided tours are required for all visitors.
Lincoln home neighborhood
In addition to touring the Lincoln home, you can explore the nearby neighborhood and imagine what it was like for the young lawyer to chat with neighbors as he strolled to work. The four-block area around the Lincoln home is the site of 12 historic structures dating back to Lincoln’s time, including the Shutt House (owned by a lawyer and contemporary of Lincoln, though a supporter of his political opponent, Stephen Douglas); the Lyon House; the DuBois House; and the Morse House, among many others. You can find a full list of these sites here.
Also of note is the Heirloom Garden, producing fruits and vegetables common in Lincoln’s day. Drop by to learn all about 1860s gardening and food production while getting a sense of the Lincoln diet.
Events and other activities at the Lincoln home
If you visit the Lincoln home in the summer, you may just happen upon a “living history” re-enactment, including reproductions of Lincoln’s own speeches, laundry and toy-making demos, and other performances. These generally run from June to August; check the Lincoln home website for more information.
Additionally, videos are often shown in the home’s visitors’ center – including a 27-minute film about Lincoln’s life and two 10-minute films about Lincoln’s legacy and his home. As with the home tour, these are free.
For more information about the Lincoln home in Springfield, and to plan your trip, visit the Lincoln Home National Historic Site website.