Walk in the footsteps of Abraham Lincoln

Historic black and white photo of Abraham Lincoln.
2/8/2018

Abraham Lincoln is remembered as one of our nation’s greatest presidents. His thoughtful leadership guided us through the Civil War and kept our country together. He was a powerful voice for freedom and equality. 

Beyond a surprising conservation legacy, connections to our 16th president are felt across the country and at the Interior Department. 

Check out some of the public lands dedicated to sharing President Lincoln’s life and legacy.

Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park in Kentucky

A large stone memorial stands at the top of a snowy hill with snow covered trees surrounding the path leading up to it.
The Memorial Building at Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park. Photo by National Park Service.

Born in a single room log cabin on his father's Sinking Spring Farm on February 12, 1809, Abraham Lincoln's early years were similar to thousands of families on the Kentucky frontier. Making a living off the land was hard work, but Lincoln’s father Thomas provided for his family, passing on his honesty and talent for storytelling to his young son.

The centerpiece of Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park is the ornate Memorial Building. Built on the knoll above the sinking spring -- where many believe the Lincoln cabin originally stood -- the large granite and marble building was constructed between 1909 and 1911. The structure commemorates Lincoln’s life and accomplishments and houses a cabin symbolic of the original Lincoln home.

Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial in Indiana

An old log cabin stands in the middle of autumn trees with a blue sky and green grass.
The living-history farm at Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial. Photo by National Park Service.

Young Abraham Lincoln and his family moved from Kentucky to Indiana in 1816 and stayed until 1830 when they moved to Illinois. The Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial preserves the place where he learned to laugh with his father, cried over the death of his mother, formed a powerful bond with his new stepmother, read the books that opened his mind and triumphed over the adversities of life on the frontier.

The living-history farm does not retain any of the original structures from Abraham Lincoln's time but was built in an attempt to depict a typical farm of 1820s Indiana. It incorporates some of what is known of the Lincoln farm and activities, which were a common part of the family's daily life. Visiting is a wonderful way to learn more about this formative chapter of his life.

Lincoln Home National Historic Site in Illinois

A yellow building with green shutters is fenced in with a red brick sidewalk in front of it and a paved sidewalk running alongside it
Abraham and Mary Lincoln experienced some of their happiest moments and saddest memories in this house. Photo of Lincoln Home National Historic Site by Steve Martin (www.sharetheexperience.org).

In the spring of 1831, Lincoln left his parents to find his own way in life. He settled in the small village of New Salem, Illinois, but later moved to the state capital of Springfield in 1837 to focus on politics and law. There, he met and fell in love with Mary Todd. They married in 1842, and within the next year their first son, Robert, was born.

In 1844, Lincoln purchased a 12-room, Greek Revival house on the corner of Eighth and Jackson Streets. This was the only home he and his wife ever owned. Here the Lincolns had three more sons -- Eddie, Willie and Tad. While his family grew, so to did Lincoln’s ambitions. A rising star in the Whig Party, he eventually served a term in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1847 to 1849. Lincoln then returned to his law practice and later joined the new Republican Party where he became known as a powerful public speaker. Because of the recognition he earned during the famous Lincoln-Douglas senate debates in 1858, Lincoln’s reputation helped him win election as president in 1860.

Boarding the train to take him to Washington, D.C., Lincoln turned to the large Springfield crowd and wished them farewell in his own eloquent way:

“My friends, no one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe everything. Here I have lived a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington.”

When visiting the restored house at Lincoln Home National Historic Site today, it’s easy to imagine Lincoln playing with his boys by the fireplace or Mrs. Lincoln entertaining in the parlor. We recommend taking a ranger guided tour to get the best experience.

President’s Park in Washington, D.C.

A statue of a man riding a horse stands in the middle of a bright green park in front of the fenced-in White House. An american flag is waving against the clouded blue sky.
A view of the White House at Presidents Park. Photo by National Park Service.

Every President except George Washington has called the White House home. From 1861 to his death in 1865, Abraham Lincoln lived and worked in this famous and historic building. Long lines of people crowded the rooms and halls, hoping to see the President. His sons played on the grounds where Lincoln walked with friends and advisors. Lincoln and his family made happy memories and experienced far too many tragedies while living here. After his assassination, Lincoln’s body lay in state in the East Room until he was taken home to Springfield to be buried.

It’s been more than century and a half since Lincoln occupied the White House, but his legacy is still felt. Many Lincoln artifacts are on display, especially in the bedroom that was formerly Lincoln’s office. Inside the Lincoln bedroom, there is furniture Lincoln and his cabinet used as well as a copy of the Gettysburg Address written by Lincoln himself. Visitors won’t be able to see the Lincoln Bedroom, but White House tours are possible, and the grounds of President’s Park like the Ellipse and Lafayette Park are open to the public.

"I happen temporarily to occupy this big White House. I am a living witness that any one of your children may look to come here as my father's child has."

Antietam National Battlefield in Maryland

A historic image of President Lincoln in his top hat surrounded by officers in uniform in front of tents.
A historic photo of President Lincoln meeting with Union officers after the Battle of Antietam, taken by Alexander Gardner in 1862. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The bloodiest day of fighting in the Civil War raged across farms and fields around Maryland’s Antietam Creek on September 17, 1862. Ending a Confederate invasion of the North, the Union victory was the spark Lincoln needed to change the course of the war. Five days later, President Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation and transformed the fight to preserve the nation into a battle for human freedom. The proclamation declared that on January 1, 1863, all slaves in rebellious states would be forever free.

Thinking this action was not only a moral decision, but also sound military strategy, Lincoln traveled to Maryland to see the battlefield and meet with his generals. He urged them to pursue the retreating Confederates and bring the war to a swift end. Today you can walk the same path Lincoln took at Antietam National Battlefield.

Yosemite National Park in California

Large mountains surrounded by green trees with a bright yellow and orange sunset shining through grey clouds.
Yosemite National Park. Photo by Ethan Killian (www.sharetheexperience.org).

People don’t often think about President Lincoln when it comes to conservation. However, he changed the course of America’s public lands forever when he signed a law in 1864 setting aside the Mariposa Grove and Yosemite Valley as protected lands. Overshadowed by the Civil War, this news received little attention, but it set a significant precedent -- places of scenic and natural importance should be protected for the enjoyment of all people.

Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania

A long white stone memorial with a grey bust of Lincoln's head sits in front of branches with a few orange leaves.
This memorial commemorates Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address at the National Cemetery at Gettysburg National Military Park. Photo by National Park Service.

The Battle of Gettysburg was fought on the first three days of July, 1863. The number of soldiers killed, wounded or captured exceeded 50,000. The Union victory is sometimes referred to as the "High Water Mark of the Rebellion," ending the hopes of Confederate independence. As the victory was celebrated across the North, devastation and horror lingered on in the small Pennsylvania town. Almost every building in Gettysburg was converted into a hospital to treat over 20,000 wounded men. Bodies of the dead lay in fields, ditches and shallow temporary graves.

Local leaders swiftly secured national support to build a cemetery for the Union dead. The dedication ceremony on November 19, 1863, featured orator Edward Everett. However, it was President Lincoln who provided the most notable words in his two-minute long address, eulogizing the fallen and reminding those in attendance of their sacrifice for the Union cause. Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is one of most famous and consequential speeches in American history and an inspiration to people around the world. Today, visitors to Gettysburg National Military Park can tour the battlefield and cemetery and see a memorial commemorating Lincoln’s famous speech.

“...that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site in Washington, D.C.

A theater box with red wallpaper and fancy red chairs is draped with american flags and a portrait image sits in front.
The rebuilt President’s Box at Ford’s Theatre. Photo courtesy of the Ford’s Theatre Society.

Affected by significant personal tragedies and the overwhelming pressure of leading the nation through the Civil War, President Lincoln is often referred to as a melancholy man. While it is true that he sometimes sank into periods of deep sadness, Lincoln was also known for his love of laughter and a good story. One of his favorite diversions was a trip to the theater. 

On April 14, 1865, President Lincoln and the First Lady settled into the President’s Box at Ford’s Theatre to watch a performance of “Our American Cousin.” During the play, famous actor and Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth snuck up behind Lincoln and shot him in the back of the head. Never regaining consciousness, the President was carried to a boarding house across the street where he died the next morning. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton said, “Now he belongs to the ages.”

Today, Lincoln admirers can visit the rebuilt theatre at Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site, as well as the Peterson House where Lincoln drew his last breath. The National Park Service offers programs describing that fateful night and Lincoln’s legacy. You can even see the pistol Booth used in the theatre’s museum.

Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

A hot pink sky surrounds a large white memorial. The skyline behind it appears purple, and the pond in front almost perfectly reflects the white building's image.
The Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall. Photo courtesy of Drew Geraci.

Lincoln’s life is honored by many monuments, memorials and statues -- including Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota. One of the most famous buildings in the world, the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., serves as an inspiration to everyone -- from current leaders to foreign visitors. Built in the style of a Greek temple, the memorial’s centerpiece is sculptor Daniel Chester French’s statue of a Lincoln seated in a chair. Carved into the walls of the memorial are two of Lincoln’s speeches: the Gettysburg address and his Second Inaugural Address. Themes of freedom and unity are evident in two murals inside the chamber, and the names of states etched along the outside.

Inspired by Lincoln’s powerful legacy, the memorial itself has become a place of gathering and demonstration. Marian Anderson’s famous 1939 concert and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 “I Have A Dream,” speech both took place on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and were important moments in the struggle for civil rights. 

“In this temple, as in the hearts of the people for whom he save the Union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever.”

What’s your favorite place to learn about Abraham Lincoln?