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Lincoln State Park & Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial
Lincoln State Park was created as a memorial to Nancy Hanks Lincoln. She was the mother of our 16th president and "Great Emancipator" Abraham Lincoln. Three states lay claim to this great man:
- Kentucky, where he was born
- Indiana, where he grew up
- Illinois, where he became a successful lawyer & political figure
Lincoln arrived in Indiana at the age of 7 and left for Illinois when we was 21. He later said of Indiana "There I became a man." His experiences in Indiana during the years 1816-1830 shaped his later political views. The state park contains the grave of his sister, Sarah Lincoln Grigsby. North of State Road 162 and adjacent to the park is the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial, which is where the Lincoln farm was located, and where Nancy Hanks Lincoln is buried.
The Lincoln Years
The Lincoln family moved to Indiana from Kentucky in 1816, and settled in an area known as Little Pigeon Creek. Like many early settlers in southern Indiana, they wished to live in a free state where they would not have to compete against slave labor.
Creating a farm out of the wilderness was no easy task. Smaller trees were cut down and larger ones were girdled to create plots where crops could be grown. Animals were not fenced in, but were fenced out of gardens and cropland. They were hobbled so that they could graze, but not wander too far away. This would lead to tragedy. Nancy Hanks Lincoln died in 1818, as did some other settlers in the area. They died from milk sickness. Although not known at the time, the disease was caused by drinking milk from cows which had eaten white snakeroot, a poisonous plant that grew in the area.
Abraham's older sister, Sarah, looked after the family when his father left to find a wife and step-mother for his children. In 1826 she married Aaron Grigsby. A year and a half later, Sarah died during childbirth, before she reached the age of 21. She was buried in the cemetery of the Little Pigeon Baptist Church with her infant child who also died. Her husband Aaron passed away three years later and is also buried there.
In 1830 the Lincolns sold their farm, which had grown to 100 acres, and moved to Illinois. The prairie land there was much easier to farm than the thick woods of the Little Pigeon area. Also, milk sickness did not exist there, since white snakeroot only grows in woodland areas.
After the Lincolns
After the Civil War, sporadic attempts were made to maintain the Nancy Hanks Lincoln grave site. Not much was done until 1900, when Robert Todd Lincoln donated $1,000 for the upkeep of his grandmother's grave. Spencer County appropriated $800 to purchase 16 acres surrounding the site. This acreage would eventually become the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial. In 1962 the state of Indiana transferred this land and additional acreage to the National Park Service which now operates the site.
Lincoln State Park was established in 1932. It was the last park established by Colonel Richard Lieber, the founder of Indiana's state park system. The Civilian Conservation Corps built facilities in the park during the Great Depression, and created Lake Lincoln.
Lincoln State Park & Lincoln Boyhood Memorial Today
Today Lincoln State Park has all the amenities one would expect in an Indiana State Park. There are hiking trails, campgrounds, a couple lakes, and the Sarah Lincoln's Woods Nature Preserve. One thing you don't want to miss is the Colonel Jones Homes. It is on 100 acres that are separate from the park, about two miles to the west. Jones was a prominent local merchant. He was killed during the Civil War in fighting near Atlanta.
The Lincoln Boyhood Memorial has a visitors center and numerous exhibits. There is also a living history farm, which simulates Indiana farm life in the 1820s. There is also the pioneer cemetery where Nancy Hanks Lincoln and over 20 other pioneers are buried.
Many of the state park trails go past historic sites. One such site is the Noah Gordon Home and Mill Site. The mill used horse power rather than mill power to grind grain. This is where Abe Lincoln was "Kicked by a horse and dead for a while." His horse kicked him and knocked him unconscious.