Looking for Lincoln in Nauvoo, Illinois

Nauvoo, Illinois was founded by Joseph Smith and his Mormon followers in 1839 after they were chased out of Missouri.  The group arrived at a marshy, overgrown spot of land and decided to make a go of it on the banks of the Mississippi River.  I arrive over 175 years later to find a charming, quaint village bustling with activity.  It’s a summer weekend and the place is packed with Latter Day Saints campers, seekers, wedding guests, and me.  The small unorganized state park is absolutely full and I can’t find an attendant or a camp host anywhere.  After driving the loop three times, dragging my faithful little teardrop behind me, I head to the visitor center.  The friendly tour guides direct me to Peter’s Place, an RV park just on the other side of the village.

After settling into my new digs at Peter’s Place, I go looking for Lincoln.  I cannot find Abe anywhere.  He is not downtown, he is not in Nauvoo State Park, and he is not at Peter’s Place.  Where in the heck is Abraham Lincoln and what is his connection to Joseph Smith?  I go back to the visitor center at the Joseph Smith Historic Site, stamp my national park passport with the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Trail cancellation stamp, pay for a tour, and join the group of Mormons on a Joseph Smith pilgrimage.  I am the only tourist on a quest to find Abe.  Everyone else is looking for Smith who is apparently buried here.

It turns out that Abraham Lincoln never, ever went to Nauvoo.  The only connection Lincoln has with Joseph Smith is that Abraham Lincoln was an Illinois legislator when Nauvoo’s city charter was approved.  Hmmm.  Well at least I discovered why I couldn’t find Ole Abe.  And I got a cancellation stamp!


Looking for Lincoln in Quincy, Illinois

Quincy, Illinois is a pleasant town located on the mighty Mississippi River and it was the site of the sixth Lincoln-Douglas debate.  In 1858, Illinois was a “free” state and Missouri, directly across the Mississippi from Quincy, was a “slave” state.  On October 13, 1858, thousands of spectators came to listen as Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas argued mostly about the slavery issue.

Located on the corner of the square where the debate was held, the History Museum showcases a presidential papers collection focusing on Abraham Lincoln. One fascinating exhibit is a set of political cartoons from the presidential election of 1860.  I enjoyed the artwork as much as the satire.  I also grabbed up a national park passport cancellation stamp as well as a “bonus” stamp.

In 1822, John Wood became the first settler in Quincy, Illinois when he purchased land that was part of a military settlement.  He originally named the town “Bluffs”; however, it was renamed Quincy in 1825 after President John Quincy Adams.  Wood was mayor of Quincy three times before becoming governor of the state of Illinois in 1860.  While he was governor, he was allowed to govern from his home in Quincy leaving the Governors Mansion in Springfield vacant.  Wood and Abraham Lincoln were political allies and friends.  They were both against slavery and worked together to help form the Republican party.  When Lincoln was chosen as the Republican candidate for president of the United States, Wood allowed him to use the Governors Mansion in Springfield as a campaign office.  Currently, the John Wood Mansion in Quincy is available for guided tours.


Looking for Lincoln in Beardstown, Illinois

The site of the Almanac Trial is still an active courtroom today.

In 1858, the tiny courtroom in Beardstown, Illinois witnessed the Almanac Trial, one of Abraham Lincoln’s few criminal cases when he was a lawyer.  When court is not in session, the Old Lincoln Courtroom and Museum is open for tours.

On May 7, 1858 Abraham Lincoln defended William Duff Armstrong who was accused of murdering James Metzler.  Armstrong and Metzler had been involved in a fight on August 29, 1857.  Several men spent that day drinking on the outskirts of a Methodist camp meeting and by the time night falls most of them are very drunk.  An argument is settled by a fistfight.  A very inebriated and injured Metzler is assisted atop his horse and sent on his way.  He falls off his horse before he arrives home and later dies from an injury to his head.  Armstrong and James Norris are accused of causing the head injury that killed Metzler.

Charles Allen was the state’s main witness.  Allen testifies that “by the light of the moon” he saw Armstrong strike Metzler on the front of the skull.  Abraham Lincoln questions Allen and Allen states that on August 29, 1857 the moon was full, bright, and high in the sky.  Lincoln produces a copy of the 1857 almanac showing that the moon was not quite full and that at 11:00 pm the moon was very low in the west weakening Allen’s testimony.  William Duff Armstrong was acquitted.  Lincoln won his case.

Looking for Lincoln in Pittsfield, Illinois

Riding the circuit was a common practice for judges and lawyers in the 19th century.  As communities began popping up in sparsely populated areas, judges and lawyers would travel from county to county to hold court sessions.  Abraham Lincoln, based in Springfield, Illinois, rode the 8th Judicial Circuit for three months twice a year.  Weather often made travel difficult.  Lincoln would stay with friends or sometimes a tavern.  Taverns during Lincoln’s time were a type of inexpensive hotel, often dirty and seedy; not like the taverns of today.

Pittsfield, Illinois, the county seat for Pike County, was a regular stop for Abraham Lincoln when he was a lawyer riding the circuit.  I’m sure Lincoln enjoyed his time in Pittsfield.  He had close friendships with several of Pittsfield’s citizens; three would later move to Washington D.C. to work with President Lincoln in the White House.  The charming community has a rich heritage of Lincoln connections and a unique way to share it.

Pittsfield’s Talking House Tour is fun, entertaining, and amusing.  The tour begins at the Pittsfield Visitor Center where you pick up a driving tour map.  Then the fun begins!  Continue driving your car from house to house, stopping at each one and tuning the car radio to the FM station indicated on the map.  Through the car’s speakers, an occupant of the house from Lincoln’s time tells stories of their relationship with the circuit-riding lawyer.  For example, at the Scanland House, Mrs. Scanland tells about an occasion when her turkey dinner got cold because Abe and her husband, Mayor Scanlan, were at the local drug store telling tales and chewing the fat.  It’s wonderful to look at a house where Lincoln was often a guest and listen to stories about him.  It’s not hard to imagine that the year is 1852 and Abraham Lincoln is in town for the twice-a-year court session.

If Lincoln is in town, most likely he can be found in the William Watson Hotel lobby gabbing, discussing politics, and chatting it up with the locals.  Although he usually stayed in friend’s homes, Abe would often pop in to the William Watson for a visit with Pittsfield’s citizens.  Since it is still a wonderfully delightful boutique hotel, I took the opportunity to stay in the “Lincoln Suite” overnight.  The experience was simply lovely.  If you are ever in Pittsfield, Illinois, (which I recommend you make a point to go) I encourage you to stay at the William Watson Hotel.  The attention to detail, terrific service from the staff, a coffee shop right next door, and affordable rates makes for a great place to rest your head for the night.  And don’t forget: Abraham Lincoln hung out here!

Lucky me!  I stayed in the beautiful Lincoln Suite at the charming and comfortable William Watson Hotel!

Looking for Lincoln in Bloomington, Illinois

Abraham Lincoln is almost as easy to find in Bloomington, Illinois as he is in his hometown of Springfield.  Bloomington was the home of Lincoln’s great friend and political ally, Judge David Davis.  Davis was a traveling circuit lawyer turned judge when Lincoln was traveling the same circuit as a lawyer.  They were both Whigs and were instrumental in starting the Republican Party when the Whig party fell apart.  In 1860 Judge Davis acted as Lincoln’s campaign manager when he was nominated as the Republican candidate for the U.S. presidency.  President Lincoln appointed Judge David Davis to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1862.

Judge Davis arrived in Bloomington in 1836 and quickly established himself as a respected lawyer and politician.  He bought and sold land and began to make his fortune.  He built a house for his wife on a piece of land on the edge of town, then added to it as his family grew.  This would be the house that Abraham Lincoln would visit on his many trips to Bloomington.  Eventually, in 1872, seven years after Lincoln was assassinated, Davis tore down that house and built a thirty-six room mansion on the site.  The David Davis Mansion State Historic Site is available for tours; and you can obtain an Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area national park passport cancellation stamp.

An old courthouse on the square in downtown Bloomington is the home of the McLean County Museum of History.  After stamping your passport, you can find Abraham Lincoln in a corner room on the second floor.  A well-made video describes the real Abe through personal accounts from people who encountered Lincoln in Bloomington.  It’s worth a watch to get an idea of the personality of Honest Abe.  The museum also describes several of Lincoln’s cases when he was a circuit lawyer in Bloomington including a trial when Lincoln was the prosecuting attorney in a murder case.  Despite Lincoln’s five hour closing argument, he lost the case.  Abraham Lincoln also practiced family law.  He represented Mary Beard when she sued her husband for divorce on the grounds of cruelty to herself and her child.  She got her divorce and custody of her son and her ex-husband was ordered to pay for all court costs.

Looking for Lincoln in Jacksonville, Illinois

I found Abraham Lincoln on the Illinois College campus in Jacksonville, Illinois.  It was simple to locate the national park passport cancellation stamp in Tanner Hall.  However, it took some research to dig up the connection between the first university in Illinois and the 16th president of the United States.  Abraham did not attend Illinois College.  In fact, he didn’t attend any school.  As a child he taught himself to read with less than a year of formal schooling.  So why did I find him at Illinois College?

About the same time that Illinois College was conducting its first classes in 1830, a young adult Abe arrived in New Salem, about 30 miles from the school.  Lincoln developed close friendships with six of the Illinois College students including David Rutledge.  David had a sister, Ann, who fell in love and became engaged to young Abe.  Abe was set up to attend IC when Ann suddenly and sadly died from typhoid fever.  Devastated, Lincoln slipped into a dark suicidal depression.  By the time he emerged, the opportunity to attend a formal school was gone.

Another important friendship from Illinois College included Richard Yates.  Yates was equivalent to Abe’s campaign manager when Lincoln ran for president of the United States and later Yates became governor of Illinois during the Civil War.  Yates was invaluable as a political ally and advisor to Abraham Lincoln.

Perhaps the closest friendship with an Illinois College alumni was his relationship with William Herndon.  Although Abraham did not know Herndon during Herndon’s years at IC, they became colleagues and partners in a law office in Springfield, Illinois.  They remained partners until Lincoln left for the White House in 1861.

Illinois College is on a lovely, landscaped campus.  The private liberal arts university is a perfect setting to contemplate what would the U.S. be like if Abe had married Ann and received the education he so desired.  Would he have become president of the United States and Ann the First Lady instead of Mary?  I like to think so.  Surely it was destiny.


Looking for Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois

Abraham Lincoln is easy to find in Springfield, Illinois.  Abe’s face is all over the capital city – on billboards, the sides of buildings, even the water tower.  But I want to find the real Abe.  The Abe who walked the streets, played with his children, and practiced law.  The Abe who discussed politics with his neighbors, laughed with his wife, and waited for the train to whisk him to Washington D.C. to become the president of the United States.  The Abe who returned to Springfield to be buried.

I found Abe the family man at the Lincoln Home National Historic Site.  The historic site is more than simply a house.  It encompasses the entire neighborhood where Abraham Lincoln lived with his wife Mary and their three sons.  (The Lincoln’s had four boys but Eddie died before Willie and Tad were born).  Abraham was well-liked and enjoyed storytelling and shooting the breeze with the neighbors.  Abe and Mary were permissive parents and their boys had a wild reputation in their Springfield neighborhood.

The Lincoln boys’ rambunctious activities (and Abe’s indulgent attitude) are represented in an exhibit at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum.  This is a great place to fully experience Lincoln through many amazing multi-media exhibits as well as artifacts from Lincoln’s life.  Two high-quality special effects theaters entertain and educate with sounds, visual wonders, live action, and even ghosts.  Walking into a reproduction of the 1860s White House I found Mary Todd Lincoln dressing for a formal event.  Giving her some privacy I continue through Lincoln’s presidential years.  An eerie, solemn quiet occurs when I encounter Abraham Lincoln’s funeral service.

Lincoln can also be found at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.  His papers, documents, etc are archived and stored here.  However, there is nothing to visit so it’s a quick stop for the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area passport cancellation stamp.

The Lincoln-Herndon Law Office, where Abe practiced law with his partner William Herndon, is closed for renovations; however, I grabbed up the stamp at the Old State Capitol building.

General Ulysses S. Grant greeted me at the Old State Capital State Historic Site when I arrived.  I was just in time to hear General Grant relate his experience as a Commanding General of the Union during the Civil War.  I sat in the very room, near the very seat where Abraham Lincoln sat as an Illinois state legislator while Grant shared stories about his relationship with President Lincoln.  What a treat to meet the General himself!  It was at the Old State Capital building where Lincoln delivered his famous “House Divided” speech.

Another quick stop at the Springfield Convention & Visitor Bureau for a cancellation stamp on the way to the Lincoln Depot.  On February 11, 1861, Abraham Lincoln gave an emotional farewell speech to the city of Springfield before boarding a train bound for Washington D.C. to be inaugurated 16th President of the United States of America.  At the Great Western Railroad Depot, now named the Lincoln Depot, President-elect Lincoln delivered, from the back of a train, an impassioned, off-the-cuff, address stating, “I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return”.  We all know he does return four years later, in 1865.  But the return trip is in a casket on a funeral train.

Abraham Lincoln is buried in a tomb in Oak Ridge Cemetery along with his wife Mary, who died in 1882, and three of their four sons.  Mary Todd Lincoln experienced so much tragedy in her life.  Her husband is assassinated at the age of 56, and three of her children do not survive to adulthood.  Three-year-old Eddie dies in their Springfield home, twelve-year-old Willie dies in the White House, and Tad dies at the age of eighteen after a trip to Europe with his mom.  The Lincoln Tomb is a gargantuan place with corridors that lead to the burial chamber of one of the most famous individuals in American history.

Abraham Lincoln lived in Springfield, Illinois for almost 25 years.  He left footprints all over the city.  After collecting eight passport cancellation stamps from seven sites, I feel like I know a little more about the real Lincoln.  The Springfield Lincoln was funny, a known prankster, and teller of tall tales.  He loved his family and desired to provide for them.  The Springfield Lincoln was young and vibrant and passionate.  Then he became the president of a torn and divided nation.