Abraham Lincoln grew up poor on what was then the rough and harsh frontier of the country he would one day lead. A childhood fraught with instability, poverty and loss shaped Lincoln’s psyche and contributed much to the mythology of a man who has come to represent all that is good about the country he preserved and it is this formative history that is remembered at the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial.
From 1816 to 1830, young Lincoln lived with his family in a settlement that was then known as Little Pigeon Creek, Indiana. Here, he lost his beloved mother to milk sickness in 1818 and in 1826 his only sister died in childbirth. A hungry-for-knowledge Lincoln read books, many gifted by his stepmother, by the fire in the family log cabin. He learned the rail splitting skills that the master politician later used to symbolize his frontier bona fides. He also fought with his father, who by all accounts had little understanding for his son’s ambition and intellect.
Today, a sprawling national park contains much of what was the Little Pigeon Creek settlement. The centerpiece is a limestone memorial and Memorial Visitor’s Center, which contains information on Lincoln’s time in Indiana and the key moments of his life. None of the actual log cabins where the Lincoln family lived survive, but the foundation of one has been preserved in bronze at the Cabin Site Memorial, built in 1917. There’s also the Lincoln Living Historical Farm, a working recreation of what farming would have been like during Lincoln’s time.
Most poignantly, the park contains the Little Pigeon Creek Cemetery, which contains the grave of Nancy Hanks Lincoln. Each year, thousands of visitors pass through The Allee, a walkway designed by famed landscape architect Fredrick Law Olmstead, Jr, to pay their respect to the pioneer woman that never lived to see her son’s greatness.