Lincoln’s New Salem: Abe’s Pre-Springfield Years

From the time Abraham Lincoln left his family at the age of 22 until he went into law and politics, he ran two general stores, was a surveyor, a postmaster and a captain in the Black Hawk War. During this time, he lived in New Salem, about 20 miles north of Springfield, Illinois. Today you can visit the reconstructed New Salem and explore over 20 recreated log buildings in the area that Lincoln called home at the Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site.

Lincoln Statue, Lincoln's New SalemWhen he left the family nest, Lincoln took on a job as a float boatman, delivering a load of goods to New Orleans for Denton Offut. Offut subsequently opened a store in New Salem and hired Lincoln to work as a clerk

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New Salem was a commercial village that served the entire area, with a grist mill, sawmill, blacksmith shop, cooper’s shop and tavern among the businesses. Many of these building are reconstructed at their respective sites, with one on the original foundation. The reconstruction was based on plats created when the town was founded.

Buildings at Lincoln's New Salem State Historic SiteCoopers Building, Lincoln's New Salem State Historic SiteUnfortunately, we chose a not-so-good day to visit. A bad storm had come through minutes before we arrived, which knocked out the power. We were unable to view the orientation film, and there was lots of debris from fallen tree limbs scattered about the grounds. It was also late fall, off-season, so there were no volunteer craftsmen at work, as there is in-season.

Road at Lincoln's New SalemWe had visited a few years prior, as well, and watched then as an artisan made thrum dolls, faceless dolls made with leftover loom waste.

Artisan at Lincoln's New SalemThrum dollsLooms at Lincoln's new Salem Although the craftsmen were absent on our most recent visit, we were still able to see the work areas of several of them, including the blacksmith and cooper. Also, placards by each of the buildings describe to whom the home or business belonged and gives some background.

Inside the shops at Lincoln's New Salem

Placard at New SalemLincoln’s two stores are filled with items that would have been sold in them at that time.

Lincoln's store exteriorInterior of Lincoln's first store Berry-Lincoln second storeLincoln lived in New Salem for six years, until he moved to Springfield, much more convenient for him in his new legislative position and law practice. The town of New Salem lasted only twelve years total, as it was nearby Petersburg that became the thriving community, not New Salem, as the village founders had hoped.

Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site, located about two miles south of Petersburg, is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Visit the web site for further details or to take a virtual tour.


Disclosure: My visit to Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site was hosted by the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Looking for Lincoln Heritage Coalition, but any opinions expressed in this post are my own.


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8 thoughts on “Lincoln’s New Salem: Abe’s Pre-Springfield Years

  • April 26, 2015 at 9:09 am

    My wife in particular loves these kinds of experiences. I’ll have to have her put it on our next road trip list.

  • April 26, 2015 at 4:36 pm

    Looks very cool and historical. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • April 27, 2015 at 11:59 am

    I love how almost every state has a place called Salem 😀

    • April 28, 2015 at 4:25 pm

      Illinois has both a Salem and a New Salem. 🙂

    • April 28, 2015 at 4:26 pm

      At least it wasn’t crowded. There are advantages to visiting places on bad weather days.


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