Lincoln’s New Salem

As we make our way to Iowa and Wisconsin, we’re sticking to our plan to stay at campgrounds for the weekends so we know we have a sure-fire camping site for Friday and Saturday nights when campgrounds are often full.

The pattern is to arrive Wednesday or Thursday to get a good spot and then watch all the weekenders pull in, do their thing, and pull out. Then the coast is clear for us to dump tanks, refill with water, and head on our way.  

It could be that as we travel into more rural areas we won’t need to plan ahead for busy weekends, and we know that out West we’ll be able to move with freedom.  But right now this playing it safe is working, plus it gives us a chance to discover places we wouldn’t have stopped at otherwise.  Like Lincoln’s New Salem. What is that?

Historical Site

In Virginia when you see a sign on the road saying, “Historical Marker Ahead,” it’s always about the Civil War.  In Illinois, I now know it’s always about Abe Lincoln. 

However, I’m still not sure what New Salem is, even though we will have been here for four days.  The visitor’s center and interpretive history exhibits are closed, but we did walk through the tiny recreated town.  Here’s what I can figure (without googling, because that’s cheating in my blog world).

Lincoln came here when he was young and did a bunch of surveying, plus ran a general store with another guy.  He must’ve lived here, but Tracy and I walked for an hour or so looking for evidence of his house or maybe his law office: no dice. 

The resurrected villiage is very cool, though.  It’s kind of like Williamsburg (Virginia) in that archeologists have unearthed evidence of much of the town and directed rebuilding it as it was: all log structures but one frame house. 

You walk through reading signs and peering into outhouses and mills, imagining life in Lincoln’s early days. When there’s no pandemic, actors in period costume perform period-like work in the buildings, with props and working animals all around.  

Turns out our good friend Doug worked here in the amphitheater in the 1990s playing John Wilkes Booth, and he says he killed Lincoln 97 times in two years. Huh. Travel across the country to uncover the obscure summer jobs of high-school friends. That could be a thing.

Back to New Salem though. I’ve walked through the empty town twice now and come to three conclusions:

  1. A lot of people were named Issac back then.
  2. Stores were a big deal.
  3. People got mad at each other and sold their share of a store, then bought another store, then sold that, often.

Oh yeah, and people moved to New Salem, then moved away, and then it fizzled out.

Lincoln was here, though, for a while, most certainly: there are three statues of him, one surveying and two holding or reading books while he should be doing other things (riding a horse, chopping down a tree with an ax).  

I especially love this one of him reading while riding, because I know I did that as a kid. I didn’t look so awesome though. 

Even the reading ones show Lincoln as a buff young man, which I find fascinating seeing as how I’ve lived in mostly the South where he’s known for being an old guy who wrote an amazing speech while on the train. 

Heck, in one gift store outside of town (stay tuned if you’re curious why I was in there), I almost bought a tiny Gettysburg address in a tiny bottle with red, white, and blue confetti in it because: tiny famous speech. Then I remembered, oh yeah, I could have gotten this in Gettysburg when I lived right there.  The allure of tiny bottles with tiny speeches in them is strong.


The campground adjacent to the historic site is small and full of old people who are locals; they probably drove 10-20 miles to camp.  They make good neighbors, although they like pointing out that we’re from Maryland (license plate) and asking what we think of their gnats. What we think is that they’re going to get worse as we move north and we might buy a pop-up tent with netting!

We’ve found our excitement here by watching the outside bar of the newly opened restaurant directly across the road. Even those drinking folks seem polite, and they all went home by 10. The place seemed so subdued that I walked over to pick up an order of cheese curds (disappointingly fried) and wings. That’s a first! 

Central Illinois

The land here is green and flat, and the trees numerous and very old.  There’s a lake and a river nearby that we haven’t visited, but an osprey and a bald eagle visited us.  Maybe we’ll drive by on our way out. 

One morning we did go into Springfield to get diesel, and we found a farmer’s market where we bought fresh produce. We were too late to get local meat or eggs, but I snagged two green tomatoes and fried them in the cast iron in the trailer that afternoon.  I’ve gotta say: PERFECT.  I ate both tomatoes and skipped everything else I’d set aside for lunch.  

That’s summer for me. Lunch = 2 tomatoes.  Tracy says soon we’ll be in territory where lunch = 2 corn cobs (probably more). I’ve never had fresh corn from Iowa, but according to him it makes Virginia sweet corn taste like livestock feed. 

Onward!  Bye bye, buff Lincoln; coming up soon: the man who killed him 97 times. 

3 thoughts to “Lincoln’s New Salem”

  1. ken says that new salem is where Lincon met and fell in kove with Ann Rutledge who died of a terrible disease, causing Lincon to fall into a deep depression. Sad fact.