Spencer County, Indiana, is Abraham Lincoln country, the locale of his boyhood home. In preparation for the Lincoln Bicentennial, I have had the opportunity to take many trips to Spencer County, but two were especially memorable.
My first visit to the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial was a tour guided by site superintendent Randy Wester. From the memorial building, with its large sculptured limestone panels depicting phases in Lincoln’s life, we walked across a landscape designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., then up a hill to the Nancy Hanks Lincoln gravesite. A sense of peacefulness and remembrance seemed to hold these places apart from time. Randy pointed out that the site was a National Memorial, not a park or a monument.
The second occasion I remember vividly was a tour led by Bill Bartelt, author of There I Grew Up: Remembering Abraham Lincoln’s Indiana Youth. Bill, a teacher who spent many summers as a park ranger, had studied not only the life of Lincoln but also the land he must have walked in southern Indiana.
Crossing over to Lincoln State Park, which adjoins the National Memorial, Bill led us to a wide path in the woods that was once a primitive road connecting one frontier settlement to another. As we stood among the trees, with hardly anything modern in sight, it was not difficult to imagine a teenaged boy of the 1820s, sauntering along this path on his way back from an errand.
Last night Ken Burns’ latest project, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea premiered on PBS. Lincoln Boyhood was the first national park established in Indiana when, in 1962, it was transferred from the jurisdiction of the state to the National Park Service. Not only are our national parks amazing resources that we all can share, but we can also access NPS.gov, a rich online resource for discovering history, exploring nature, and continuing to learn about our country.