If you’re from Illinois, you’re probably fascinated by all things Abraham Lincoln.
My eighth-grade class visited New Salem and Lincoln’s tomb. Later trips took me to three more Springfield sites: the Old State Capitol, the Lincoln home and the presidential museum. I have visited his Kentucky birthplace, the Indiana farm where he grew up and the birthplace of his mother, Nancy Hanks.
Last week, Laurie and I did another Lincoln trip. We drove the 100 miles from Terre Haute, Ind., to Vandalia, Ill. along the old National Road, or U.S. 40. It runs parallel to busy Interstate 70.
The National Road was the first big federal highway project, beginning in Cumberland, Md., and proceeding through Pennsylvania, Virginia (now West Virginia), Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. Vandalia, then the state capital, was where funding stopped. It is called the “Road the Built America,” because thousands of settlers used it to get to new states and territories.
It was fun to visit the towns along U.S. 40 – first Marshall, then Martinsville, Casey, Greenup, Jewett, Montrose, Teutopolis, Effingham, Altamont, St. Elmo, Brownstown and, finally, Vandalia. We stopped at a couple of yard sales and two antiques shops along the way.
Anyone interested in Lincoln’s rise to fame has to visit Vandalia, the capital of Illinois from 1820 until 1839. The Vandalia statehouse, an impressive Greek Revival structure, was built in 1836, making it the oldest surviving statehouse in Illinois.
Lincoln, while still in his 20s, began his political career there, as a member of the House of Representatives. In it, he gave his first anti-slavery speech. Although the furnishings in the House chamber are reproductions, the original plank floors remain. It was a thrill to walk on the same floors that Lincoln walked on.
The Fayette County Museum, in a former church building next door, was fun, too. It’s jammed with thousands of donated items, each identified, and each displaying the donor’s name. There’s a signed Lincoln document, a cane made from wood from the first statehouse in Kaskaskia, plus old tools, china, furniture, uniforms, typewriters … well, you name it, they’ve got it.
The next morning, we headed north and east, to the Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site, near Lerna. The land was once farmed by Thomas and Sarah Lincoln, Abraham’s father and stepmother. Lincoln never lived there, but he often visited.
The original cabin was sold, then lost, but a faithful reproduction was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935-36. Log outbuildings house farm animals. The beautiful interpretive center presents a picture of Illinois farm life in the 1840s. Exhibits include a deed signed by Thomas Lincoln, a walnut blanket chest that he built, and other interesting artifacts.
Our last stop, a couple of miles away, was the cemetery where the elder Lincolns are buried. President-elect Lincoln came there in early 1861 to visit his father’s grave shortly before leaving for Washington.
New gravestones were installed in 1925. The inscriptions note that they were provided by the Kiwanis Club of Danville, Ill. Small world …
Danville native Kevin Cullen is a former Commercial-News reporter. Reach him at email@example.com