– Civil War Series –
Well before he rose to prominence as an Illinois politician and 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln spent much of his boyhood on a modest farmstead at Little Pigeon Creek in southern Indiana. It was here that young Abe, from 1816 to 1830, came of age: he worked the fields, attended school (briefly), held his first paying job rowing customers out to steamboats on the Ohio River, probably had his first encounters with slavery, buried his mother and sister (who died of sudden illness), and developed his gift of oratory and storytelling. Lincoln’s knack for splitting logs—a necessity in this heavily wooded, frontier wilderness—also laid the seeds for his future moniker as the “rail splitter” president.
Today, Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial—a peaceful, largely forested park in present-day Lincoln City, Indiana—preserves this site of young Abraham’s upbringing. There are about two miles of hiking trails, a few of which can be strung together for a short circuit around the park. Following the Lincoln Boyhood Trail north from the Visitor Center leads to the site of the former Lincoln home and the Living Historical Farm, while a spur trail leads to an underwhelming site called Lincoln Spring. The hike then loops back to the start via the Trail of Twelve Stones, a highlight of the park that traces Lincoln’s life from birth to death.
Most visits to Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial begin at the Memorial Visitor Center, which forms a semi-circle, ringed by the president’s most famous quotes etched in stone. There is parking at this forested site, and the walk begins across the street at the Allée, a neatly manicured lawn leading up a modest hill to a large flagpole. Start the hike by walking up to the flagpole and looking back at the lawn, which is symmetrical with the Memorial Visitor Center below. The beautiful setting is lined by towering sycamores and neatly-placed cedar trees. (Note: If you are walking up the right flank of the Allée toward the flagpole, you will notice a wide trail veering off to the right. Ignore this (for now – as this is your return path) and continue straight to the flagpole and beyond.)
Once under the American flag, continue straight into the rear woods, staying left at the first fork as the trail approaches the Pioneer Cemetery. Abraham’s mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, is buried here – she died of “milk sickness” when Abe was just nine years old. Young Abraham helped his father Thomas Lincoln build Nancy’s coffin; Thomas would go on to remarry two years later to Sarah Bush Johnston, who would quickly embrace the task of helping to raise Abraham and earned a level of affection from Abe that his father—who had a strained relationship with the future president—could not match.
From the Pioneer Cemetery, another trail veers off to the left. Stay straight, following the path leading north beyond the graves. This wide, well-maintained track–the Lincoln Boyhood Trail–descends gradually through the peaceful forest. At 1/3 mile, the trail forks and reaches an upper parking area, this one for the Living Historical Farm. Continue straight, passing the shelter and restrooms on the right.
Less than a minute later, the hiking trail crosses an active railroad—the Southern Railway Cannelton Spurline—requiring hikers to be cautious when traversing. Just beyond, there is an interpretive wayside for “Thomas Lincoln’s Farm,” with some open acreage just beyond. Here the park staff have planted corn, squash, and other vegetables to try to simulate what Abe’s father did with the land while living here in the early 1800s.
After crossing the cropland, the trail reenters the woods and splits. Stay left, heading first toward the Cabin Site Memorial, a recreation of the foundation where Lincoln’s boyhood home once stood. Continue on the path that leads past the Living Historical Farm on the right. This is a slight diversion from the loop, leading past the farm to Lincoln Spring.
After observing time-period reenactors at the farm, continue straight as the trail to Lincoln Spring crosses the main park road and ends, somewhat anticlimactically, at a turn-around on the edge of the railroad tracks, with modern residential homes beyond. (Note: Somewhere around here is the spring, the main source of water for Thomas Lincoln’s farm, but it is not obvious where it is amid the dense tree cover.)
From Lincoln Spring, double back the way you came, crossing the road again, until you return to the trail junction at the Cabin Site Memorial. This time head left to the Trail of Twelve Stones, perhaps the most interesting part of the hike. Scattered along the trail are the namesake stones, obtained and placed by the Indiana Lincoln Union in the 1930s to highlight significant events in Abraham Lincoln’s life.
After remaining straight at a four-way junction, the Trail of Twelve Stones leads to the first of such stones on the left: a small chunk of rock from the site of Lincoln’s birthplace near Hodgenville, Kentucky. Next up, on the right, a tall stone monument commemorates Lincoln’s boyhood home here in southern Indiana. These markers continue for the length of the trail, tracing events in Lincoln’s life from his time as a young professional in New Salem, Illinois and presidency in Washington, DC to his famous Gettysburg Address in 1863 and sudden death two years later.
Along the way, the route passes a junction with the Boyhood Nature Trail (stay right), crosses the railroad again, and gradually climbs to the final marker: a hulking mass of stone—taken from Lincoln’s tomb in Springfield, Illinois—to commemorate Abraham’s mother Nancy Hanks Lincoln. By now, you are back near the Pioneer Cemetery; the Trail of Twelve Stones continues beyond the Nancy Lincoln stone to the Allée. Turn left here and follow the lawn back down to the visitor center and parking area.
The entire round-trip, including the spur to Lincoln Spring, clocks in at about 1.4 miles. With stops to admire the twelve stones and Living Historical Farm, allot at least 1-1.5 hours for this easy and historic hike.
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