One Tank Destination: Lincoln's New Salem

By Audrey Wise

July 16, 2013 Updated Jul 17, 2013 at 9:46 AM CDT

PETERSBURG, Ill. --   If you are looking for a bit of adventure this summer, you don't have to travel very far.  In fact, a trip to Lincoln's New Salem will require less than one tank of gas.

Lincoln's New Salem is the most visited historic site in the state of Illinois.

Just outside of Petersburg, and 20 miles northwest of Springfield, the one and a half hour drive from Peoria makes it one of this summer's closest one tank destinations.

"The reason New Salem came to be is our most famous resident, which was Abraham Lincoln," said Tim Guinan, site manger at Lincoln's New Salem. "He was here from 1831-1837. It was a very, very pivotal time in his life. He had many failures here, but he had many successes. "

The site is home to 23 reconstructed log homes on top of the exact foundations that date back to the 1830's.

"When people walk into the historic village, what we want them to feel is that they're walking back in time," said Guinan.

The visitors center and homes are filled with artifacts, some are replicas and others are real time pieces that have been donated. 

Guinan said, "Our crown jewel of our artifacts is Abraham Lincoln's surveying equipment that he had here back in the 1830s."

Abraham Lincoln is a name known around the world still today.  Visitors come from all 50 states and all over the world.  Each year more than 400,000 people visit the site. 

"We'll have visitors from Britain, they'll be some people from Germany," said Guinan, naming just few of the countries represented the day we went.

The village comes to life, with its many interpreters in period attire.

Interpreter Terry Jones said, "Being able to expose people to a completely different lifestyle, a world that they are completely unfamiliar with. Seeing those points of discovery for folks to realize that yes,  there was a time when there were no cell phones or instant communication, or electronics in general."

A historic site might seem kind of boring for kids on summer vacation, but here it is fun and interactive and along the way kids pick up little bits of information.

"We're talking about multi-sensory experiences," said Jones.  "A chance for you not to just use your thumbs. You're not only seeing things, but you're touching, you're handling, smelling and you're getting immersed."

Deb Haake made the 5 hour drive from Evansville, Indiana with her mother, aunt and 9-year-old son Chase who has recently become very interested in our 16th President. 

"I think it's very interesting that the people engage with him like they do," said Haake.  "They made Chase understand, at the first house, how at his age they would have been working on the farm cutting wood and doing all that stuff. They wouldn't have been loafing. I think it's just good that the little kids get to understand that it was a way different world then."

Matthew Barber and his wife and their two kids came from Bolingbrook.  They are spending a few days in Springfield, seeing all the Lincoln sites. 

"My wife and I have always enjoyed studying history, especially Lincoln," said Barber. "So just getting a head start, letting her know about the history of our country and one of the greatest presidents."

The grounds also have a souvenir shop, bistro, camp grounds and 13 miles of hiking and biking trails.

At a suggested donation of $10 per family, it's affordable too.

Whether you have a day or a weekend, it is an experience for all ages.

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