One morning when I walked back to the cemetery, a man was sitting on a log beside the trail. “Pull up a seat,” he said as I walked up. He was a trucker from Nebraska and noted he always walked a little during the day. He was interested in history and said he had visited nearly every site he could find near the roads he traveled. On vacation, he said, he sometimes took his wife to visit the more exceptional places he found. He was curious as to what kind of road would have existed in Wilson’s time and also asked where his homestead would have been. Any road near the cemetery would have been a dirt trail and the homestead would have been south of present I-74.
The staff at the rest area informed me numerous people are walking back to the cemetery. During the time I was there, I met dozens of people who visited the site. Many of them were surprised to learn Abraham Lincoln had close ties to Vermilion County, a place where he attended court for nearly 20 years. A man from Tennessee told me Abe was not as popular there as he was in the North.
People were also interested in details of the life of Edward M. Wilson — the Irish immigrant who came to America in 1802, fought the British in the Battle of North Point, came to Vermilion County in 1832, and had children represented in court by Abraham Lincoln.
The lady from Pennsylvania was right. The pristine spot does kind of capture “the spirit of America.”
Donald Richter’s column appears every other week in the Commercial-News. He is a member of the Vermilion County Museum Board.