What to Expect When You Visit the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial
From 1816 to 1830, Abraham Lincoln lived in Spencer County, Indiana. Today, the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial marks the place that the Lincoln family made their home when Abraham was only seven years old and where he spent the entirety of his childhood. The site sits near what is now called Lincoln City, Indiana, and it is neighbored by Lincoln State Park.
The Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial includes a museum, the former house site, and the grave of Lincoln’s mother Nancy amongst other points of interest. Entrance to the park costs three dollars for a single person or five dollars per vehicle. Passes are also available. Those with disabilities or active in the military may qualify for a pass at no charge with documentation.
The Memorial Visitor Center
The Memorial Visitor Center stands close to the entrance of the park. The front of the building has five images of important moments in Lincoln’s life sculptured into the wall, which are striking as you stand in front of the building.
I recommend visiting the visitor center first in order to get information for your trip. Brochures and maps are available inside, and employees are on hand to answer any questions you may have.
Also available inside of the center is a fifteen minute film on Lincoln’s childhood life in Spencer County that is narrated by Leonard Nimoy. The film is shown on the half hour every day the park is open.
Before and after seeing the film, visitors can explore the museum exhibits on display in the building. The exhibits include fascinating facts about Lincoln’s life, particularly his childhood in Spencer County.
Once you have explored the visitor center, you can set out to explore the outdoor areas of the park. You should be prepared to do quite a bit of walking. The area is in the woods, so there will be plenty of shade if you are visiting during sunny weather. I recommend visiting during the fall while the leaves on the trees are changing. The colors only add to the beauty of the surrounding area.
If you picked up a map in the visitor’s center, then finding your way around the park should be easy, but you shouldn’t be too worried if you just decide to wander along the trails. There is little fear of actually getting lost as long as you don’t stray from the clearly marked trails running through the park.
Coming out of the memorial center, you can follow the Allee, a tree-lined walkway, that leads straight to the grave of Nancy Lincoln, Abraham’s mother. The flagpole here is one of the tallest flagpoles in the entire National Park System and the tallest flagpole in the state of Indiana.
After walking across the Allee, you will come to Pioneer Cemetery. There are several graves here, but Nancy Lincoln’s will stand out amongst the rest. You can’t miss it. Nancy, as well as all of the others buried on the site, died of the milk sickness in 1818 when Abraham was only nine years old, which lead Abraham’s father to go back to Kentucky, remarry, and bring the new wife back here to Indiana.
A fence surrounds the graves, but Nancy’s headstone stands close enough for visitors to read the inscription. On my visit, I found that some had thrown pennies around the headstone. I’m not entirely sure why people have decided to throw pennies there, but I’m guessing it has something to do with Abraham Lincoln being on them. I’m also not entirely sure what becomes of the pennies, but it’s an interesting touch to the gravesite.
Cabin Site Memorial
After seeing the grave, you may want to head along the Lincoln Boyhood Trail over to the site of the third cabin the Lincoln family lived in here in Indiana. The location was discovered in 1917 but only excavated in 1936. The excavation found the remains of sill logs, the logs that rest directly on top of the foundation, and the stone of the hearth. In order to preserve the site, the remains were coated in a bronze casting and a stone wall was put up to keep visitors back. It’s true that there is not much remaining, but it’s still incredible to stand there and know you are where Abraham Lincoln lived during the childhood that shaped him into who he became.
Lincoln Living History Farm
Right next to the site of the former cabin is the Lincoln Living History Farm, which is meant to give visitors a first-hand feel of the Lincoln’s experiences here in Spencer County during the 19th century. All of the buildings that would have existed on a pioneer homestead are here, including a log cabin. There’s even livestock that children are sure to love seeing. Park Rangers will often be around wearing period clothing and performing the same chores the Lincoln family would have performed. If you are visiting from mid-April through September, then the buildings will also be open for you to explore.
The Trail of Twelve Stones
If you feel like walking even more, I recommend following the Trail of Twelve Stones, which is roughly a half-mile long. This trail begins at the living history farm and loops back around to Nancy Lincoln’s gravesite. Along the side of the trail, you will find twelve stones that tell the story of Abraham Lincoln’s life. Some of them may be facts that you already knew, but you could also learn something new. The trail is a great way to see the beauty of the surrounding forest while also learning more information about the man whose former home you are visiting.
Boyhood Nature Trail
If you wish to hike even more or just follow another trail from the farm, you may be interested in following the Boyhood Nature Trail, which loops around for a mile north of the farm. It will take you through even more of the woods and is great for those who enjoy hiking and the beauty of the surrounding nature.
Other Areas of Interest in Spencer County
If you wish to make your visit to the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial a longer trip, there are plenty of other great places to visit within Spencer County as well.
Lincoln State Park is right next to the memorial and is great for anyone who enjoys the nature aspect of the memorial.
Buffalo Run is also very close by in Lincoln City (on land once owned by Abraham Lincoln’s cousin) and offers a great opportunity to see a buffalo farm and even eat some buffalo meat in the restaurant.
Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari is nearby in Santa Claus. It’s one of the oldest theme parks still operating and can offer an entire day of fun for the entire family. Keeping with the holiday theme, a Santa Claus museum also operates in the town. The entirety of Santa Claus can be fun to visit if you're fond of Christmas and the town’s namesake.
In the nearby town of St. Meinrad, visitors have the opportunity to visit the St. Meinrad Archabbey. You can schedule a tour led by one of the monks or tour the grounds on your own. There are even opportunities join the monks for prayer or mass every day. It can be a unique experience that isn't available everywhere.
Anyone wanting to learn more about Abraham Lincoln, can head a bit farther south to Rockport, the Spencer County seat, to visit Lincoln Pioneer Village, a replica of what a village would have looked like during Abraham Lincoln’s time.