In 1831 Abraham Lincoln, then a young adult, chose New Salem, Illinois as his home. Although at that point he didn’t have any particular life ambitions, there were people in this newly established community that would offer a young Abe employment, lodging, and intellectual challenge. Today we toured Lincoln’s New Salem, now an Illinois State Historic Site, where we interacted with costumed interpreters, toured the historic homes, trades, and taverns, and learned about the history of this short lived community and it’s impact upon the man who would become the 16th President of the United States. Prior to his sojourn here Lincoln moved with his father and step-mother from Indiana to Macon County, Illinois before striking out on his own. It was here in New Salem that he clerked in a retail store, tried his hand at store ownership, first ran for public office, was elected to lead his militia company during the Black Hawk War, honed his debate skills, and educated himself in the law. In 1837, after having been elected to the state legislature in 1834 and passing the Illinois Bar Exam in 1836, Lincoln moved to Springfield to pursue a career in law and ultimately win election to the U.S. Presidency. Meanwhile other residents of New Salem moved to nearby Petersburg or on to other places and the little community on the Sangamon River was abandoned. It might have been lost forever but for the 1909 intervention of William Randolph Hearst. He purchased the property and donated it to the Old Salem Chautauqua Association.

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