Lincoln Home National Historic Site Springfield, Ill. Visited: July 13, 2004 NPS Site Visited: 66 of 353 NPS Website
WHAT IS IT? The house Abraham Lincoln and his family lived in for 17 years, from 1844 to 1861; the only house Abe ever owned. The Site also includes four blocks of buildings restored to their 1860 appearance.
BEAUTY (5/10) The tree-lined shady streets are pleasant but not spectacular. Lincoln’s home is large but modest. Other than the brass nameplate on the door, little sets it apart from the other reconstructed homes on the street.
HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (8/10) Lincoln and Springfield are intertwined. Abraham Lincoln practiced law here, married here, raised his family here, prepared for the Presidency here. Springfield wept when Lincoln left to take Office, but has grown now as a thriving town because of his residency. In Springfield, it’s all about Lincoln.
FYI, Abraham Lincoln still holds the record for number of cases tried before the Illinois Supreme Court.
CROWDS (2/10) A lot of people visit Lincoln’s Home in Springfield. House tours are frequent. We went on the 9:50 a.m. tour. There was also a 9:45 and a 10:00. Lincoln’s house was packed. The narrow hallways ballooned with our 20-person tour group. We were unable to squeeze into half of the rooms during the Ranger talk. Even though the Ranger encouraged questions, our enquiries had to be screamed over the crowd’s din and answered while we swiftly moved to the next room. We had to clear the way for the next group. Our visit was severely hindered by the Site’s inability to control its large crowds.
EASE OF USE/ACCESS (3/5) Springfield, Illinois lies in the center of the state at the intersection of Interstates 72 and 55. Signs point you to the “Lincoln Sites”. We were confused because the entire city is a Lincoln site. Nothing pointed us specifically to the Lincoln Home NHS. The streets’ overwhelming tendency to be one-way did not help.
The Lincoln Home had narrow hallways and steep staircases. We were uncomfortable during our entire tour. We were rushed through the rooms and had little time to take in and appreciate our surroundings.
CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (2/5) Our tour guide told us that Abraham Lincoln is the most written-about person in American history at nearly 10,000 books. The Site bookstore did not have many of them. The store’s cramped space made browsing difficult among the many visitors.
COSTS (3/5) The Lincoln Home NHS is free; however, the NPS parking lot is $2 per hour. We parked on the street about three feet from the parking lot entrance for $0.50 an hour.
RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (3/5) There were four Rangers working themselves ragged giving back-to-back-to-back high-speed tours through the Lincoln Home. We saw them during our entire stay but never without a tour group. The questions that we did not sneak in during our tour were left unanswered.
TOURS/CLASSES (2/10) We entered the Visitor Center and were immediately asked if we wanted to join the next tour of Lincoln’s home. Of course! Our tour was scheduled for 9:50 a.m., just a few minutes away. We were told to go wait by the sign in the middle of the road. We wandered over and saw not one, but two clusters of people – one kind of near a sign, but another sitting in the shade with a Ranger already speaking to them. Were we late? Did the tour start early. Through whispers with a kind woman near the edge of the group, we learned that this was the 9:45 group. She thought the 9:50 might be over in the opposite direction.
One tour at 9:45 and another at 9:50? That should have been our first indication that it would be a busy day.
Our Ranger came rushing over, almost breathless from his previous tour which must have ran late. He didn’t even pause to take a breathe before he asked the group the time and what time our tour was supposed to begin. Looking at his watch and seeing it was 9:50, he wasted no time telling us about Lincoln and his life and career in Springfield. We waited outside to give the 9:45 tour some room, but not much. We crowded into the small foyer and tried our hardest to stay on the carpeted runners that led through the preserved house.
The Park Service has done an admirable job restoring the house and retrieving items belonging to the Lincoln family. We wish we had more time to appreciate its work. Because of size and time constraints, each group was led through the house by Rangers who knew their lines by heart. Not to say our Ranger wasn’t knowledgeable. He was. But he was also very aware of the time of his next tour.
The video in the Visitor Center is a rehash of the Ranger-led tour through Lincoln’s home. We actually saw things closer in the video than we did in the house. However, the costumed guide in the video is currently in first place (by a large margin) for the Worst Acting in a NPS Film for this month.
FUN (4/10) The heat, the crowds and the confusion weighed down this score. Once we left the small four-block area of the National Historic Site and wandered through the rest of Springfield, our spirits lifted. The Old State Capitol was lovingly restored by the city of Springfield. We talked at length with a historian there who gave us the time and the answers that the Park Ranger was unable. Down the road, we peeked into the windows of the almost-ready Lincoln Presidential Museum where, pamphlets announce, “no expense has been spared.” We felt privileged to get a sneak preview of what will undoubtedly be one of Springfield’s, perhaps Illinois’, primary attractions.
WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (7/10) Michael’s grandfather loved Abraham Lincoln. Our trip to Springfield was a pilgrimage not only to see Lincoln’s home, but to honor his grandfather’s memory and his hero. When his grandparents traveled to the Site over 25 years ago, he knew through their retelling that they felt closer to Lincoln. We did too. Our feelings came primarily from the nearby Old State Capitol and especially Lincoln’s Tomb and sadly, not the National Park Site. Springfield exists as both the Capitol of Illinois and a shrine to our sixteenth president. Our recommendation is for Springfield more so than the Lincoln Home NHS. Next year a massive modern Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum will open two blocks from the Old State Capitol. We might have to find our way back to central Illinois.
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