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Presidential Pilgrimage: Exploring Abraham Lincoln’s Legacy in the Midwest

Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, left a tremendous legacy that continues to endure nationwide.

But Honest Abe is more than a face on a mountain or a portrait on the $5 bill and the penny; he’s an icon whose legacy and Midwestern roots are celebrated with statues, in place names, and iconic American artifacts from South Dakota to Illinois to Michigan.

While Honest Abe may have famously been born in a log cabin in Kentucky and lived in the White House in Washington D.C., history buffs and travel enthusiasts alike can embark on a Midwest journey to discover the fascinating life and accomplishments of Abe Lincoln.

Mount Rushmore-South Dakota
Mount Rushmore | photo via triggerfishadventures

Mount Rushmore | South Dakota

Apart from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., the gigantic granite carving of Lincoln’s face next to those of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Theodore Roosevelt on Mount Rushmore may be the most famous homage to Honest Abe.

DID YOU KNOW: Washington’s head is 60 feet tall and Lincoln’s head is slightly taller. Also, a text panel of each of the presidents sits behind the monument in a repository.

Carved in South Dakota’s Black Hills between 1927 and 1941, the project was designed by Gutzon Borglum. The carving involved using dynamite and a drilling process known as honeycombing — where workers could drill small holes and remove small pieces of rock by hand. Lincoln’s face was dedicated on September 17, 1937.

Mount Rushmore averages more than 2 million visitors each year and is popular with road trippers who explore the Black Hills National Forest, Wind Cave National Park, and quaint South Dakota small towns near Mount Rushmore.

Lincoln Home National Historic Site-Illinois
Lincoln Home National Historic Site | photo via geochia

Springfield | Illinois

Before he was president, Lincoln called Springfield Illinois home for nearly 25 years — a period that had a profound effect on his life. The spirit of Lincoln is alive and well in the numerous historic sites in the city, including the Lincoln Tomb, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, and the Lincoln Home Historic Site.

RELATED: Lincoln enthusiasts can explore the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area in Central Illinois to get started on their own Lincoln journey 

Lincoln Tomb

The Tomb is the final resting place for Pres. Lincoln, his wife Mary Todd, and three of his sons. It is located in Oak Ridge Cemetary in Springfield and is listed as a National Historic Landmark.

This grand monument features a 117-foot-tall obelisk surrounded by a semicircular colonnade. Visitors can pay their respects to Lincoln and learn about his life and legacy.

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

Presidential history enthusiasts and visitors of all ages can experience history like never before at this library and museum housed at the Illinois state capital. As one of the most visited presidential libraries, it combines history with modern showmanship to present an intriguing look at Lincoln’s life.

The library collects books, artifacts, and papers related to Lincoln’s life as well as the Civil War. The museum contains exhibits, photos, life-size recreations of historic Lincoln-related sites such as the Presidential Box at Ford’s Theatre, and artifacts such as handwritten copies of the Emancipation Proclamation and Gettysburg Address, and more.

Lincoln Home Historic Site

Lincoln called this site home from 1844 to 1861 and visitors can enjoy home tours, living history demonstrations, and a variety of indoor and outdoor exhibits — Virtual tours are also offered.

Guided tours of the house offered glimpses of Lincoln’s life as a family man, where visitors can see bedrooms, a dining room, a parlor, and more during tours that last 20-25 minutes. Inside the visitor center, guests can watch interpretive films to learn even more about Lincoln and his amazing life.

Abraham Lincoln Boyhood Home and National Museum | Indiana

Near the Kentucky border — and less than 120 miles from the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park — curious travelers can visit Lincoln City to gain insight into Lincoln’s early years.

Lincoln was born in Kentucky, but grew into young adulthood on a Southern Indiana farm between 1816 and 1830. Guests can put on their walking shoes to explore park trails once traversed by Abe himself and explore living history at a replica farmhouse on the property.

DID YOU KNOW: Lincoln visited every Midwest state in his lifetime at least once — except for Minnesota.

Elsewhere, visitors can see the sandstone foundation that outlines the site of the original cabin. The Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial also includes a one-story limestone building with 5 sculptures that portray different phases of Lincoln’s life, a small theater, and Lincoln-related exhibits and artifacts.

Lincoln Chair at the Henry Ford Museum-Michigan
Lincoln Chair at the Henry Ford Museum | photo via abomadventures

The Lincoln Chair at the Henry Ford Museum | Michigan

The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn Michigan is home to many famous pieces of American history, including the Rosa Parks bus, the Kennedy limousine, and a 1909 Model T.

That collection also includes the rocking chair Abe Lincoln was sitting in when he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth inside Ford’s Theatre in 1865. It is permanently displayed as part of the museum’s With Liberty and Justice for All exhibit.

Lincoln was watching the play Our American Cousin when he was shot and was sitting in a favorite rocking chair owned by Harry Ford (unrelated to Henry Ford). Many of these so-called “Lincoln Rockers” were manufactured into the 1870s.

The chair was purchased at auction in 1929 and offered to Henry Ford who bought it and installed it in the Logan County Courthouse in Greenfield Village. It was moved to the Henry Ford Museum in 1979.

DeSoto House Hotel-Galena, Illinois
DeSoto House Hotel | photo via ekajtucker

DeSoto House Hotel | Illinois

Built in 1855 in Galena Illinois, the DeSoto House Hotel is billed as the “Largest Hotel in the West” and has a storied history that includes famous guests such as Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

As a center of political activity during the 1880s, DeSoto also has ties to Abraham Lincoln. In 1856, Lincoln spoke on DeSoto’s Main Street Balcony to support the presidential bid of John C. Fremont — an event that continues to be remembered. A few years later, thousands gathered there in support of Lincoln’s presidential bid.

World's Largest Penny-Wisconsin
World’s Largest Penny | photo via manifestyourtruth

World’s Largest Penny | Wisconsin

For those who love gigantic attractions, a gargantuan concrete tribute to Pres. Lincoln can be found at 820 Third Ave. in Woodruff Wisconsin. Here visitors will find the World’s Largest Penny, which measures 10 feet in diameter, is 18 inches thick, and weighs 17,000 pounds.

RELATED: Visit more of the world’s biggest attractions, including the Tallest Grandfather Clock in Kewaunee Wisconsin.

The creation of the World’s Largest Penny began with a fundraising effort to build a local hospital. Dr. Katie Newomb urged local children to save their pennies and ultimately 1.7 million pennies poured in from around the country once the story spread nationally.

For more than 70 years, Woodruff has celebrated the legacy of those fundraising efforts with the Million Penny Parade, which features live music, food and drink vendors, a classic car show, and a petting zoo.

Abe Lincoln Steel Sculpture-Michigan
Abe Lincoln Steel Sculpture | photo via l3cowhy

Abe Lincoln Steel Sculpture | Michigan

Northern Michigan’s Man of Steel, Tom Moran, has created magnificent works of metal art for display for Onaway Michigan’s annual Fourth of July parade. in 2009, Moran created a 14-foot high, 9,000-pound bronze-colored sculpture of Abe Lincoln’s head for the parade and it can visited at Onaway’s Awakon Park, along with several other Moran creations.

More Abraham Lincoln Midwest Memorials/Sites

The Lincoln Memorial and Mount Rushmore are arguably the two most popular memorials to America’s 16th President, but the Midwest has paid homage to him many times over and memorials can be found in several states — including sites on the famous Route 66.

DID YOU KNOW: There are 16 US counties and 1 parish in Louisiana named for Lincoln and several cities, including Lincoln Nebraska

Lincoln Illinois has the distinction of being the only city actually named for Abe Lincoln during his lifetime. It was named in 1853 after Lincoln had surveyed the town.

Lincoln Statue-Gettysburg
Lincoln Statue – Gettysburg | photo via dads_tours

Midwest Lincoln memorials include:

  • Abraham Lincoln: The Head of State — Located in Chicago’s Grant Park, this 9-foot bronze statue is also called Sitting Lincoln or Seated Lincoln.
  • Abraham Lincoln: The Man — Located in Chicago’s Lincoln Park, this 12-foot bronze statue is also known as Standing Lincoln.
  • The Great Emancipator — Located in the northeast corner of the Wabash County Indiana Courthouse lawn
  • Abraham Lincoln Statue and Park — Erected in 1902 in Clermont Iowa at the junction of Mill and Stone streets.
  • Gettysburg Lincoln — a bronze Lincoln statue on the grounds of the Nebraska State Capitol.
  • An 11-foot bronze statue of Lincoln in Lytle Park in Cincinnati Ohio.
  • Lincoln the Lawyer — Located in 1000 block of S. Race Street in Urbana, Illinois, it’s also known as Young Lincoln or The Young Circuit Lawyer.
  • A bronze Lincoln statue in President’s Park in Dixon, Illinois.
  • Bronze panels depicting Lincoln’s life at the main entrance of the Lincoln Bank Tower in Fort Wayne Indiana.
  • A 12.5-foot-tall statue known as Abraham Lincoln, The Hoosier Youth, in Fort Wayne Indiana.
  • A 9-foot, 8-inch limestone Abraham Lincoln Memorial in front of Lincoln Middle School in Ypsilanti Michigan.
  • Young Lincoln, which is outside the Indiana State House in Indianapolis.
  • The Chicago Lincoln — a statue of a beardless Lincoln in Chicago’s Lincoln Square.
  • The Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site — Located near Charleston Illinois, this is a replica of a log cabin built by Lincoln’s father Thomas that Lincoln later maintained for his stepmother. 
  • The Lincoln Memorial Bridge over the Wabash River between Vincennes Indiana and Lawrence County Illinois; the Lincoln Trail Memorial marks the western end of the bridge.
  • Fort Abraham Lincoln — a state park in North Dakota that was famously the last departure point of George Armstrong Custer before the battle at Little Bighorn in 1876. Exhibits include the reconstructed Custer House.
Abraham Lincoln The Head of State-Illinois
Abraham Lincoln: The Head of State – Chicago’s Grant Park | photo via sagar_das56

Learn About Lincoln Throughout the Midwest

There’s no doubt that Abraham Lincoln led a fascinating life and Midwesterners of all ages can get glimpses of his pre-presidential life from the Plains to the shores of Lake Michigan. These historic sites and memorials aren’t just scenic tourist attractions that appeal to visitors of all ages — they’re testaments to the life of a great American who left an important and enduring mark on US history.