TAYLORVILLE — The University Women of Christian County met for the November meeting at Whit’s End Restaurant on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023. The guest speaker for the evening was Melody Arnold, chair for the Friends of Lincoln Homestead State Park and Memorial.
Melody spoke about the site of Lincoln’s first home in Illinois, which is only 30 miles away in Macon County. Lincoln was born in Kentucky. He spent his childhood there and in Indiana, his family’s second homestead, From Indiana his family moved to Macon County in 1830 to be near relatives. They built a cabin, cleared land, planted corn, and raised animals on 15 acres of land on a bluff overlooking the Sangamon River.
After a summer of malaria and one of the snowiest winters in history, the family left the homestead to move back to Indiana. During that snowy winter Abe Lincoln began reading law books at a friend’s home. When the family moved, Lincoln moved to New Salem to begin his political career. The original cabin was lost, but in 1904 the Daughter of American Revolution of Decatur had a cabin built where the original was supposed to have been located.
The DAR placed a rock there and the area became a memorial to Lincoln. In 1957, the area was designated a state park with a campground and picnic area.
In 1975 a replica cabin was built by the Department of Natural Resources but was destroyed by fire in 1990. By 2015 the property was not properly recognized and had few visitors. The area was occasionally used by bike clubs as a picnic area. In May 2015, the Sangamon River was designated as the Lincoln Heritage Water Trail. In the same year, the Friends of Lincoln Heritage Homestead and Memorial was established. The Friends adopted the park and developed a mission statement for its renovation.
Grants were received from the National Park Service and renovation began. The first part of the mission statement was the recognition of the Lincoln Homestead State Park. The friends set up displays and booths at commercial events, used Facebook, established a website, and used emails and newspapers to increase awareness.
The second mission statement was to clean the overgrown area. Volunteers, including Millikin University students, cleared 4 acres of land. After obtaining money from Illinois Clean Energy, landscape work was hired. Native prairie plants and pollinators were planted. Lincoln Memorial Parkway organization donated $18.30 for each native tree that was planted. Maintenance continued with new picnic tables, the playground, trail mulching, and cleaning of the Whitley Cemetery. The third item in the mission statement was to design new signs to describe the area.
On the third Saturday of each month from April to October, programs are presented for the public on nature, native plants, and historical information. Biological surveys are also done in the area. The final part of the mission statement was to restore the river area and make it accessible for canoeing and kayaking. New trails are being established for hiking. A horseshoe pit was built and areas for bag toss and disc golf are also provided. The park is a great place for recreational activities including birding, painting, and photography. Future plans are for upgrading the playground, providing handicap accessibility, and possibly a visitors center. UWCC is a community-based organization that awards scholarships to college women of Christian County. For information about upcoming meetings and guest speakers, please contact a UWCC member.