Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial (Blog Hike #576)

Trails: Lincoln Boyhood Nature Trail and Trail of Twelve Stones
Hike Location: Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial
Geographic Location: south of Dale, IN
Length: 2.2 miles
Difficulty: 2/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: June 2016
Overview: A fairly flat double loop around the property on which Abraham Lincoln grew up.
Memorial Information:

Directions to the trailhead: In southern Indiana, take I-64 to US 231 (exit 57A).  Exit and enter southbound on US 231.  Drive US 231 south 5.7 miles to SR 162.  Exit and turn right on SR 162.  Drive SR 162 west 1.2 miles to the signed memorial entrance on the right; the memorial entrance is opposite the entrance to Lincoln State Park on the left.  Turn right twice to reach the main parking lot in front of the Visitor Center.

The hike: He was born in Kentucky, he became famous in Illinois, and he made history in Washington, D.C., but Abraham Lincoln spent his formative years in the low hills of southern Indiana.  Frustrated with Kentucky’s complicated property laws, in 1816 Lincoln’s family moved from their Kentucky home to a 160-acre land parcel in Indiana.  In those days southern Indiana was a wild, sparsely settled region, so Thomas Lincoln, assisted by his 8-year-old son Abraham, spent the first winter building a cabin and clearing land for farming.
            Life in Indiana was good at first, but only two years into their Indiana residency Abraham’s mother Nancy Hanks Lincoln died from milk sickness.  Nancy is still buried on this site today, and you will pass her grave on this hike.  Abraham spent only 1 year in a classroom due to the lack of educational opportunities in southern Indiana.  Sources say that he honed his legendary debating skills by participating in informal political discussions at Gentry’s, the local general store.
In 1828, Abraham got his first job away from his parents’ farm: piloting a river flatboat.  He would row people to the middle of the Ohio River where they would board steamboats for distant destinations.  Lincoln also guided produce-loaded flatboats down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to market in New Orleans.  These trips gave Lincoln his first exposure to the slave trade, which in turn formed the strong abolitionist views that would characterize his political career.
            Lincoln’s family moved to Illinois in 1830, but the place where young Abraham spent 14 years of his life is today preserved as the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial.  The unusual horseshoe-shaped limestone memorial building was built by a group called the Indiana Lincoln Union in 1944 on land owned by the State of Indiana.  In 1962 the land was transferred to the National Park Service by the Indiana legislature and an act of Congress.  The memorial building contains some interesting exhibits, a film, a meeting house, and a chapel, and the site also contains a reconstructed farm on Lincoln’s original farm site.  The easy 2.2 mile hike described here explores these areas as well as a couple of short nature trails.
Start of trail through the Allee
            After a tour of the memorial building, walk across the parking lot and pick up either of the gravel trails that head toward a large flagpole.  The memorial map calls this area the Allee.  Walk past the flagpole to reach an old but well-kept cemetery.  The large white headstone marks Nancy Hanks Lincoln’s grave, but many smaller grave markers here also date to the 1800’s.
Nancy Hanks Lincoln's grave
            Exit the back of the cemetery on the wide dirt/gravel Lincoln Boyhood Trail, which heads downhill on a gradual to moderate grade.  At 0.35 miles, you reach a secondary parking lot that is used to provide handicapped access to the reconstructed Lincoln farm.  Restrooms are also available here should the need arise.
Cabin Site Memorial
            On the other side of the parking lot, you cross the southern boundary of Lincoln’s historic land plot just before crossing an active railroad track and passing along the edge of a meadow.  At 0.5 miles, you reach the spur trail for the reconstructed Thomas Lincoln Farm, which exits left.  Of the original buildings, only some of the hearthstones remain, and those stones are on display in the memorial building as opposed to here.  An area called the Cabin Site Memorial marks where the Lincolns’ original cabin stood.  A bronze fireplace and sill log casting have been placed on the site, which was excavated by archaeologists in 1933.  The reconstructed farm contains several log buildings, including a homestead and barn, and some live animals such as cows and chickens.  Costumed interpreters tell about the way the Lincolns lived here.  Take some time to tour the farm and imagine what it would have been like to live here.
Barn at reconstructed farm
            Back on the main trail, the trail curves right to re-enter the woods, pass the Spencer County monument to Abraham Lincoln, and reach a trail intersection at 0.6 miles.  Trails here go straight and left.  We will eventually continue straight to hike the Trail of Twelve Stones back to the Visitor Center, but turn left for now to begin the Boyhood Nature Trail.  The wide dirt/gravel trail crosses moderately trafficked, paved Lewis Street before reaching the intersection that forms the nature trail loop.  For no particular reason, I chose to angle right and hike the loop counter-clockwise.
            While the memorial’s other trails tie in some way to Lincoln history, the Boyhood Nature Trail is just a nice, easy forest hike.  This forest features lots of maple trees with a few sweet gums and dying red cedars.  The trail often stays close to the memorial boundary with a road just outside the east boundary and railroad tracks just outside the west boundary.  Some interpretive signs point out common plants in the forest.
Boyhood Nature Trail
            Some wide wooden bridges take you over wet areas as you make your way around the nature trail loop.  On the hot mid-June morning when I hiked this trail, a box turtle trying to cross the trail slid back into its shell as I approached.  At 1.6 miles, you close the nature trail loop.  Turn right to re-cross Lewis Street, then turn left to begin the Trail of Twelve Stones, the final leg back to the Visitor Center.
            The Trail of Twelve Stones gets its name from twelve rocks that have been placed beside the trail, each rock representing a different point in Abraham Lincoln’s life.  The first stone is from Lincoln’s birthplace in Hodgenville, Kentucky, the second from Jones Store 3 miles west of here, the third from Illinois, and so on.  Each stone has a plaque that relates the significance of the stone, so walking past these stones is like reliving Lincoln’s life.
Stone from Lincoln's address podium in Gettysburg
            The trail climbs gradually as it passes the stones and re-crosses the railroad tracks.  At 2.1 miles, you reach the last stone, which is from Lincoln’s tomb in Springfield, Illinois, just before you come back out at the Allee.  A left turn and short walk down the Allee will return you to the parking lot to complete the hike.  While you are in the area, check out adjacent Lincoln State Park.  Originally intended as a memorial to Nancy Hanks Lincoln, the state park offers 6 easy-to-moderate hiking trails totaling 12.5 miles and several historical sites relevant to Lincoln’s boyhood days in southern Indiana.

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