Land of Lincoln: Abe’s Presidential Library, Family Home & a HUGE List of Historic Sites to Visit in Illinois, Indiana & Kentucky

My favorite thing about my job in the travel industry (besides the actual travel) is all of the research I do. 

Stumbling upon a whole little world in a destination that I knew nothing about, discovering that it’s a going concern, and then mapping out my own trip there is my favorite way to procrastinate, er…work. 

So let me introduce you to my latest little trip down the rabbit hole…the Land of Lincoln. 

To be honest, I’d never given Illinois much though beyond a possible trip to Chicago. And sure, I knew plenty about Abraham Lincoln (we share the same name ; ) and while I knew there must be historic sites about him I never imagined there were so many, so well preserved and that a huge chunk of Illinois’ tourism industry revolves around them. 

When I was planning out my Route 66 road trip through Illinois, I knew I wanted to make a stop at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum in Springfield (I go out of my way to visit a Presidential Library) and started to look around to see what other Lincoln related sites were in the area. 

Well, it turns out…a lot. The Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area (organized by the Looking for Lincoln Heritage Coalition) spans 43 counties in Central Illinois and the connections to Lincoln are EVERYWHERE. 

I started researching “must see” spots before my trip and it was pretty overwhelming so I hit what I could in person and made it a point to take notes and collect sooooo much information  so that I could give you the info YOU need. 

So here’s what we got in this post…

We’re going to start in Springfield, IL with the full line up of Lincoln related sites and I’ll prioritize them for you so you know what not to miss and what’s nice if you have the time. I’ll also give you some practical suggestions about where to stay and where to eat. 

Then we’ve got a pretty heavy line up of major (i.e. worthwhile and recommendable to a wide audience) Lincoln related sites OUTSIDE of Springfield but still mostly in the Central Illinois area. Some are within 30 or so miles of Springfield (so easy peasy day trips), but they’re all within 100 miles. 

And then there’s…everything else. Lincoln lived most of his life in Illinois and the nature of his work meant he traveled around quite a bit so a LOT of places have connections to Lincoln. Some are minor, some are important in theory, but don’t have much to visit, some are solid side trips. These span the state from 10 miles outside Springfield to 180 miles away. 

So let’s get going!

Historic Abraham Lincoln Sites in Springfield, IL

If you’re planning a trip to Illinois to retrace some of Lincoln’s footsteps, learn about his life, and just soak in some history, then you’ll want to make Springfield your homebase. 

It’s ground zero for Lincoln history and if you only have a day or two to explore Lincoln sites in Illinois, it’s the place that’s most heavily concentrated with don’t miss attractions. 

Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum: Springfield, IL

Let’s get into the meat of this thing. First of all, I am a person that visits presidential libraries. Like, I go out of my way to see them. That’s how I got started down the whole Lincoln rabbit hole in Illinois. 

So this was my #1 priority and after everything I’ve seen, read about, heard about, and researched, if you only have time for ONE Lincoln thing in Illinois, this is what it needs to be. 

Needless to say, despite the high expectations I had for this place, it didn’t disappoint. 

For starters…what exactly is a presidential library? Well, the library part is a collection of books, documents, and historical objects from the time period of that President’s life and presidency. It’s a living, working library that scholars and researchers can access (and sometimes they arrange pieces in the collection for the general public to enjoy). 

But each presidential library also has a museum component, and that’s what you really want to see. The museum covers the life, presidency, and history of that President’s time period. 

Pretty much any presidential library ends up being super interesting, but Lincoln? He had one of the most epic presidencies to date…the Civil War, an assassination…there’s just so much material there. 

So you’d think his presidential library would have to be one of the most impressive ones. Well, you’d be right. 

Like I said, I’ve been to quite a few presidential libraries and while they’re all so well done, none of them even approach the scale of this one. 

For starters, you’ve got two full scale theater productions that use pretty impressive storytelling technology to set the stage. 

Then the actual “museum” parts of the museum are built more like sets. So many full scale recreations…there’s practically one at every turn. 

You can almost walk through the entire museum with very minimal reading and get the sense of who this man was and what he had to do. Now don’t get me wrong, there is soooooo much here and you could spend hours and hours reading and absorbing every little detail, but stepping back and looking at the big picture, it really doesn’t feel like a text heavy museum. Which I think makes it a very family friendly attraction.

I won’t even attempt to try and outline everything you can expect to see and learn at this museum, but I will cover an aspect that I wondered about before I visited. 

Of course most presidential libraries are a bit like memorials. They highlight the good and address controversies or criticism in varying degrees of openness so I was interested to see how that would be handled here. 

Lincoln was an incredibly controversial President at the time (umm hello Civil War), but seeing the outcome in hindsight colors events plus his assassination made him a legend overnight. So is this a rah rah rah Lincoln was America’s greatest President or is it a critically presented story?

Well, both. One of the theater presentations addresses that as the main theme and the museum exhibits do enough to present multiple viewpoints of many of Lincoln’s more controversial actions. 

Admission is $15/adult, $12/senior (62+), $12/student, $10/military, $6/child (5-15), 4 and under are free. 

I stayed about an hour and a half (saw both film presentations and moved through the galleries at a pretty good clip) and could easily have stayed another hour to experience more. 

Lincoln Home National Historic Site: Springfield, IL

I don’t know exactly what I was expecting this to be, but I was BLOWN AWAY by what it actually is.

I guess I thought they’d have Lincoln’s home preserved on a little lot in the middle of downtown Springfield, but it’s basically the entire neighborhood. 

The four-block neighborhood around the home has been near perfectly restored to be exactly as it was when the Lincoln family lived there. I’m talking about all of the homes and yards, sidewalks, fences, streets, trees, etc. 

I think the whole experience really highlights exactly who Lincoln was. Visit George Washington’s Mount Vernon or Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and you’ll see sprawling estates with large mansions, servant (ahem, slaves) housing, gardens, a farming enterprise, etc.…but Abraham Lincoln was just a regular guy living in a regular neighborhood. 

This is the home that Lincoln lived in with his wife, Mary Todd, for 17 years. This is the house they left when they moved into the White House.

So here’s what you need to know about visiting:

There is no admission fee to the home site, and you can walk around the neighborhood at your leisure, but if you want to actually go inside the home then you’ll need to get tickets for a tour. They’re free, but they’re limited so during the busy summer travel season it’s advised to show up early to make sure you get a spot. Each tour is limited to 15 people and tours run pretty much all day (9AM to 4:30PM), but if you show up later in the day the tickets could already all be given out. 

Something else to know: This is a National Historic Site, meaning it’s run by the National Park Service, meaning they have PASSPORT STAMPS. So don’t sleep on the gift shop. 

And also…since I was blazing through town on a Route 66 trip, I didn’t have time to tour the house, but it’s still 100% worth visiting even if you can’t go inside the house. 

Old State Capitol: The Old State Capitol was where Lincoln tried cases before the Illinois Supreme Court, delivered his famous “House Divided” speech in 1858, and where his body lay in state for the final time. 

Lincoln Tomb State Historic Site: Just north of downtown Springfield at the Oak Ridge Cemetery, you can view the Lincoln Tomb from 9AM-5PM everyday. Besides Lincoln, the tomb also contains the bodies of his wife and three younger sons. 

Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices State Historic Site: “Located on the south side of the square and facing the Old State Capitol building, this is the only Lincoln law office building that is still standing. Lincoln used this building for at least eleven years, from 1841 to around 1852.”

Find out more info about visiting the law offices (including when they have a costumed interpreter onsite) here and don’t miss the Tinsley Dry Goods Store gift shop next door. 

Edwards Place: “On display at Edwards Place in Springfield, you will find what some claim is the original couch on which Abe and Mary courted. This house is now the Springfield Art Association.” 

The Lincoln Depot (old Great Western Railroad Station): “This reconstructed brick depot, two blocks from the Lincoln home, was the site of Lincoln’s Farewell Address to the citizens of Springfield.”

Rail Splitter Statue: Okay, okay, not necessarily historic in the same vein that the other spots on this list are (it’s more of a Route 66 roadside attraction) and I don’t know if it’s officially confirmed that this is Abe, but it’s heavily implied. You gotta see it! Plus it’ll give you a peek at the Springfield State Fairgrounds which are everything you’d expect from a midwestern state fair. 

*If you’re short on time in Springfield, I would prioritize visiting the Presidential Library & Museum and the Lincoln Home National Historic Site. Even if you don’t have time (or the guided entry times don’t match your schedule) to tour the inside of the home, it’s still worth visiting the Lincoln Home Site to see it from the outside and see the surrounding area.  If you have more time, include the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices and the Old State Capitol and then start to work in what interests you most. 

Where to Stay & Eat in Springfield

If you find a great hotel in Springfield, let me know ; ) Why there’s not an upscale Lincoln themed boutique hotel in a renovated historic building downtown that caters to tourists and business travelers I’LL NEVER KNOW (hey Marriott, let’s get on this with the Autograph collection, okay?) but downtown (where the bulk of these attractions are all located), your best bet is the Abraham Lincoln Doubletree. I ended up staying at the Courtyard Marriott which is about a 15 minute drive away and I’ll tell ya…it doesn’t look very nice from the parking lot, but the lobby and rooms (at least the one I was in) were updated really nicely. 

Overall, the hotel scene is pretty bleak in Springfield so I’d just pick a place to stay that works for you (budget, brand loyalty, etc.) and just don’t expect it to be part of the experience. 

As far as places to eat…

Maldaner’s Restaurant: I didn’t get a chance to eat here, but if I was going to plan one dinner in Springfield, this would be it. It’s been open since the 1880s so it fits right in with our theme here. 

Obed & Isaac’s Microbrewery looks pretty charming. Anchor’s Away, Saputo’s, Springfield Carriage, and the Globe Tavern all look like good places downtown. 

For some Route 66 nostalgia, try the Cozy Dog Drive-In or Maid Rite’s. 

Other Historic Lincoln Sites around Illinois

Outside of Springfield, there is still a fairly sizable list of what I would call “major” Lincoln related sites and attractions. Here are some to put at the top of your list…

Lincoln Heritage Museum, Postville Courthouse & the World’s Largest Covered Wagon 

Lincoln: 33 Miles Northeast of Springfield

This town just north of Springfield is the only town to be named after Lincoln BEFORE he became President and Lincoln College (founded during the Civil War) was the only university to be named after him while he was still living. The university permanently closed earlier this year, but the Lincoln Heritage Museum on its campus remains open. It has a large collection both related to Lincoln and the Civil War. If you want the full blown experience, plan to spend about 2 hours here and call ahead to book the Extended Immersion Tour. More info here

The Postville Courthouse, where Lincoln tried many cases as a lawyer on the 8th Judicial Circuit, is still standing and open for tours Tuesday through Saturday 12PM-4PM. Even without touring the inside, it’s worth a stop to see the outside. 

And while you’re in town, you absolutely cannot miss the world’s largest covered wagon! Cheesy, yes. But a classic, American road trip stop. 

McLean County Museum of History & David Davis Mansion

Bloomington: 66 Miles Northeast of Springfield

The McLean County Museum of History explores Lincoln’s ties to the town (he spent more time in Bloomington than any other Illinois town besides Springfield) and there’s a popular Route 66 exhibit and visitors center on the lower level. 

But you really don’t want to miss the David Davis Mansion. This mid-Victorian mansion was home to David Davis who was a friend and mentor to Abraham Lincoln as well as his campaign manager. The house (called Clover Lawn) is now a state museum and you know how I feel about house museums…this one looks beautiful!

New Salem State Historic Site 

Petersburg: 23 Miles Northwest of Springfield

If you’re traveling with kids, or you just love a hands on/immersive experience then you’re definitely going to want to head to New Salem. It’s a reconstruction of the pioneer village where Lincoln lived from 1831 to 1837. If you’re looking for the “log cabin honest Abe” vibes, this is your spot. 

Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site

Lerna: 93 Miles East of Springfield

Speaking of log cabins…the cabin here was home to Lincoln’s parents after he had moved to Springfield, but it’s believed that he visited them here often. To be clear, it’s not the actual cabin, but a pretty accurate replication built on the original site in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. It sits on an 86 acre historic site that includes another historic homestead and it’s now a working “living history farm” that helps visitors learn what life was like here in the 1800s. The site is also home to the gravesites of Thomas and Sarah Lincoln (Abe’s father and stepmother). 

Metamora Courthouse

Metamora: 80 Miles North of Springfield

Sitting on lovely, historic Metamora town square, both Lincoln and Adlai E. Stevenson (Vice President to Grover Cleveland) both practiced law at the Metamora Courthouse. The courthouse is open to visitors. 

Bryant Cottage

Bement: 70 miles East of Springfield

Want to be “in the room where it happened?” The parlor of Bryant Cottage was the place where Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas met on July 29, 1858 to negotiate the terms of the famous Lincoln-Douglas Debates. You’ll also learn about Francis Bryant and his family. 

Museum of the Grand Prairie

Mahomet: 80 Miles Northeast of Springfield

Explore what life was like in Illinois during the 19th century when Lincoln lived in this museum that showcases the domestic life of the time through trades and occupations, architecture, decorative arts, etc. 

Mt. Pulaski Courthouse

Mt. Pulaski: 27 Miles Northeast of Springfield

One of only two 8th Judicial Circuit Courthouses that still remains on its original site, Lincoln tried several cases here and it’s been restored as it would have been in the 1850s. 

Vandalia Statehouse

Vandalia: 75 Miles Southeast of Springfield 

Originally the state capitol of Illinois from 1820-1839, this was the place that Lincoln worked for his first few years as a legislator before the capitol was eventually moved to Springfield. 

Even More Places to Get Your Lincoln Fix

If the top spots just aren’t enough and you’ve got even more time to devote to walking in Lincoln’s footsteps, well…you’re in luck. Pretty much every little town in Illinois boasts some sort of Lincoln connection. Here’s a roundup of places that are proud of their small connections to the 16th President’s life…

Alton, IL (85 miles southwest of Springfield): Lincoln-Douglas Square – Site of Lincoln & Douglas’ last “great debate”

Atlanta, IL (45 miles northwest Springfield): Atlanta History Museum explores Lincoln’s connections to the town. 

Beardstown, IL (45 miles west of Springfield): The Old Lincoln Courthouse (& Museum) is the site of Lincoln’s famous “Almanac Trial.”

Carthage, IL (110 miles northwest of Springfield): Visit the Kibbe Hancock Heritage Museum to learn about the first murder case that Lincolnt tried (and lost). 

Champaign, IL (85 miles east of Springfield): Visit Champaign County’s Lincoln exhibit at the Museum of the Grand Prairie (Mahomet) and the Abraham Lincoln, Large Presence in a Small Town exhibit at the Champaign County Courthouse. 

Clinton, IL (45 miles northeast of Springfield): Visit the C.H. Moore Homestead (home of Lincoln’s law partner), and the Warner Library. 

Danville, IL (120 miles east of Springfield): The Fithian Home is a Lincoln site on the National Register of Historic Places (he stayed here many times and gave a speech from the balcony) and the Vermilion County Museum has a replica of the courthouse where Lincoln argued some of his early cases. 

Decatur, IL (40 miles east of Springfield): The Lincoln family’s first home when they moved to Illinois. Downtown Decatur was where Lincoln gave his first political speech and the Macon County Historical Museum has the log courthouse where some of his earliest cases were heard. 

Freeport, IL (225 miles north of Springfield): Debate Square commemorates the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858. 

Galesburg, IL (120 miles northwest of Springfield): Old Main at Knox College is the only remaining original debate site between Lincoln and Douglas. 

Jacksonville, IL (35 miles west of Springfield): The Voices of Jacksonville audio tour will take you on seven sites through the town including the Governor Duncan Mansion and Woodlawn Farm (a stop on the Underground Railroad).

Jonesboro, IL (180 miles south of Springfield): Lincoln Memorial Park is the site of the third Lincoln-Douglas debate in 1858. Lincoln stayed in neighboring Anna at the home of David L. Philips. Part of the Lincoln Story Trail. 

Macomb, IL (85 miles northwest of Springfield): You can’t miss the Living Lincoln Topiary Monument (ACTUAL FLOWERS CREATE HIS BEARD) plus the McDonough County Courthouse, Randolph House Building, and the Courthouse Square. 

Ottawa, IL (135 miles north of Springfield): The first of the seven Lincoln-Douglas senatorial debates was held in Ottawa’s Washington Square. 

Paris, IL (115 miles east of Springfield): Both Lincoln and Douglas were regular guests at the Alexander House when they were in town. 

Pittsfield, IL (70 miles west of Springfield): Take the Talking Houses of Pittsfield tour to learn about President Lincoln’s secretaries (all were from Pike County). 

Pleasant Plains, IL (15 miles west of Springfield): The Broadwell Inn at the Clayville Historic Site has been restored as a 19th century stagecoach stop. 

Pontiac, IL (105 miles north of Springfield): The Lincoln Story Trail explores his connections to the area. 

Quincy, IL (110 miles west of Springfield): Visit the Lincoln-Douglas Interpretive Center downtown, tour the home of Underground Railroad conductor Dr. Richard Eells, tour the John Wood Mansion. 

Shelbyville, IL (60 miles southeast of Springfield): The courthouse has a painting of the Lincoln-Thornton Debate. 

Taylorville, IL (25 miles southeast of Springfield): Restored 1839 courthouse on the grounds of the Christian County Historical Museum Complex. Plus the Lincoln vs Courthouse Pigs statue. 

Historic Lincoln Sites in Indiana

While Lincoln may be most famously associated with Illinois, he spent 14 years of his early life (age 7-21) in Indiana and the state has really started to amp up its history and connections in recent years. 

Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial in Lincoln City, Indiana (80 miles east of Louisville, KY)

The Lincoln family moved from Kentucky to the Indiana frontier in 1816 where they lived on this homestead until 1830. While the site contains some original remains like the Pioneer Cemetery where Lincoln’s mother is buried and the site of the original Lincoln cabin that’s been excavated by archaeologists and is now preserved, the site is also home to a Living Historical Farm that’s open seasonally. The farm is home to a replica farmhouse plus a working farm with crops and livestock all cared for by park rangers in full period costume. 

Plan your visit to the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial here

Also, the Chicago Tribune did a great article on all of the Lincoln connections in Indiana if you want to explore even more. 

Historic Lincoln Sites in Kentucky

Abe was born and spent the first seven years of his life in a log cabin in Kentucky. 

Abraham Lincoln Birthplace in Hodgenville, Kentucky (60 miles south of Louisville, KY)

The National Park Service has preserved the site of Lincoln’s birthplace with a memorial that houses the “Symbolic Cabin” plus his nearby boyhood home, Knob Creek Tavern. 

Plan your visit to the Lincoln Birthplace here

Plus check out more sites on the Kentucky Lincoln Heritage Trail

Notable Lincoln Sites Outside the Midwest

Beyond the Midwest, if you’re “Looking for Lincoln” or tracing his footsteps, these are some more places that you won’t want to miss: 

The White House (Washington DC): Where Lincoln served as the 16th President of the United States. 

Gettysburg National Military Park (Gettysburg, PA): The site of the bloodiest battle on US soil and also Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address (one of the most famous speeches in American history). 

Ford’s Theater (Washington DC): The theater where Lincoln was assassinated by actor John Wilkes Booth. Operated by the National Park Service, choose a tour time that includes a talk by a park ranger and don’t miss the museum in the basement. 

Petersen’s Boarding House (Washington DC): The home across the street from Ford’s Theater where the President was taken after he was shot. He later died there. 

Abraham Lincoln Memorial (Washington DC): One of the most iconic memorials on the National Mall in DC. 

Want to read more posts about the area?

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: 1 Epic Day in Chicago

Route 66 Illinois Attractions: My Favorite Stops in the Midwest

Route 66 Chicago to St. Louis

Route 66 Chicago Stops