Visiting New Salem Lincoln State Historic Site
New Salem Village
We often make the drive up to the Springfield, Illinois area to see the sites and visit with family. One of our favorite summer getaways for a day or overnight is the New Salem Lincoln Historic site. It has it all – fascinating history, quiet serene and clean campgrounds, and a hiking trail full of interesting discoveries.
The village of New Salem was home to president Lincoln for several years when he was a young man just getting started. He ran a store here for awhile and spent a great deal of his time reading, learning various skills and ultimately serving in the military. Eventually, it was from here that he began studying law and ran successfully for the Illinois House of Representatives.
This site is more than just your average museum with artifacts; it is a complete reproduction of the entire village exactly as it looked in the 1830's.
New Salem village is NOT in New Salem IL :) It is actually in Petersberg Illinois which is near Springfield. There is also a New Salem village located in Pike county. It can be a little confusing to visitors to our lovely state - so be sure you are looking up the right New Salem when looking for Lincoln historic sites!
A view inside a cabin
The Village Exhibit at New Salem
The village in New Salem is fantastic. As you walk through the village you feel like you are walking backwards into time. All of the original cabins have been rebuilt on the old sites and they are furnished just as they were in the 1830's when Abe Lincoln himself lived and worked there.
Period reenactors can be found throughout the village in the various buildings. They are volunteers who are very knowledgeable and have a great love of history. They share stories of the different tools, products and implements found throughout the buildings as well as the people who resided in the cabins and what their daily lives were like.
As you make your way around the village you will see gardens and crops tended as they were historically. There are beautiful flowers that draw the most amazing butterflies to the village. The whole place is beautiful like a postcard and absolutely captivating, particularly if you go on a weekday when there are smaller crowds. You can take your time and really enjoy looking at all the cabins and reading about them.
Most of the cabins served a dual purpose – they were both residences and places of business. In a single room cabin, it was quite possible to have one family with many children who lived and worked there. Imagine sharing a single room cabin with up to 16 people!
Every house and business is amazing in its authenticity. The exhibit is free, although the visitors center does accept donations to maintain the cabins and grounds. When you go through the visitor's center be sure to check out the exhibits and also the free movie aired in the auditorium. The movie explains the history of the village of New Salem, how it came to be and how Abraham Lincoln found a home there.
It is definitely worth a trip out just to see the village, but that's not all that's great about a day in New Salem. The whole park is picturesque and beautiful.
Inside a Workshop in the Village
Camping at New Salem
The campground here is excellent. The shower houses are among the cleanest I have ever seen. The camp spots are very, very dark and quiet at night. In the evenings it's not uncommon to see deer come into the grounds to graze. Overnight, you'll often here the yipping of Coyote's from the woods. We visited during a meteor shower once and it was stunning.
There are spaces for RV's and for those who enjoy tent camping. Each site has a fire ring, many have full grills and the sites are always immaculate. If you bring the kids; there is a nearby playground visible from the camp.
We love this campground because it is very seldom busy and I've never seen it full. It is so quiet, peaceful and clean compared to many other campgrounds we've visited in Illinois.
Unfortunately, the campground does not take reservations it is on a first come first served basis so you aren't guaranteed your favorite spot, however I have never seen the campground full anytime we've gone and all the spots are nice.
Viewing all of the Lincoln sites in and around Springfield can take a couple of full days. Camp out here and take the few minute drive back into the heart of Springfield to tour Lincoln's home and visit the museum. Lincoln's tomb is also a short drive from downtown. You might also enjoy the Haunted Springfield tours in the evening for a bit of history mixed with some spooky (but not scary) tales.
Map/Satellite Image of the Park
Hiking New Salem
The hiking trail in New Salem is short, but beautiful. As you make your way through the deeply wooded trail, you'll cross over bridges that run over flowing creeks. Deep along the path there are ruins of previous buildings that make for a fun discovery. There is a huge chimney and remnants of a fireplace from what must have been a very upscale home in its time. It is largely overgrown and not tended, but you can sit in the former fireplace and the chimney towers and stands out against the forest backdrop.
As you go further, the trail winds around to a small graveyard that is also mostly overgrown. There are a few headstones there that can be made out however, and it's an interesting and somewhat eerie find so deep in the woods. The small graveyard is surrounded with a fence like what you'll see as you tour the village.
The trail, although not long, is prone to being rather overgrown. This of course, makes the ruins you come across even more spectacular and “eerie” because of the growth, but it can make the hike a bit tricky for those not accustomed to climbing or walking through a lot of mud during the rainy season.
I highly recommend taking the trail mid-day when there are less mosquitoes if you are hiking it in the summer time. Also, be aware that it is quite hilly, although there are stair steps placed throughout to make the climbing easier. It is a beautiful, quiet walk deep into the forest and that in itself is nice enough, but the ruins and cemetery just give it that extra something. It's definitely one of my favorite shorter hiking trails in IL.
If you go during quiet times it is possible to see interesting wildlife like foxes and even the occasional albino squirrel is alleged to be there, however I haven't had the pleasure of seeing him yet.
- Lincoln's New Salem State Historic Site
Step back in 150 years and see Lincoln's New Salem the way it looked when Abraham Lincoln was a young adult.
- Lincoln Home National Historic Site - Lincoln Home National Historic Site
Learn all about the Lincoln Home Historic site in downtown Springfield, IL
- Springfield Walks - Tour and Guide Service - Springfield, IL.
Springfield Walks is Springfield's premiere tour and guide service company bringing you all the history and mystery that Lincoln's Springfield has to offer.
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© 2013 Christin Sander