Note: You may have noticed that the Big Dogs are not blogging as much as last year. It took a while, but with the help of Ann Waterbury, animal behaviorist, (sounddogconnection.com) I came to understand that Cory, whose favorite place is with me, really prefers not to go out into crowds or new places. She would rather that I stay at the trailer with her, but since that is not on MY agenda, I leave her behind when I don’t think that she will enjoy our excursions. Don’t worry, the dogs will still be posting when they find someplace new where Cory feels comfortable, but for now, she is content to stay behind.
In 1831, Abraham Lincoln and some friends were hired by Denton Offhut to steer a flatboat to New Orleans. In the small town of New Salem, founded two years earlier by James Rutledge and John Camron, the flatboat reached a milldam and lodged there. A lot of conflicting stories tell of the men’s dilemma and how the crisis was resolved, but whatever Lincoln’s true role was in the dislodging of the flatboat, the townspeople noticed him and he, their town, and its people.
Lincoln decided to stay in New Salem. Over time, he worked as a shop clerk, postmaster, surveyor and even Captained a unit in the Blackhawk Wars. He tried his hand at politics, loosing his first race, winning his second and spending time in Springfield in the House of Representatives. Most importantly, the time in New Salem afforded Lincoln time to read, think and study law. When he left New Salem in 1837 to move permanently to Springfield, his opinions had coalesced, his knowledge of law and politics increased and his life under a new direction.
Although New Salem declined and disappeared about 1841 due to a natural rerouting of the Sangamon River, historians and state residents recognized the importance of the town once Lincoln became President and then, died. Eventually, the State of Illinois took over the site which was recreated in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Extensive archaeological work identified buildings which the men of the CCC rebuilt in original architectural styles.
We visited New Salem on a weekday so had the town almost to ourselves. While dogs cannot go into the Visitors Center where a short film is shown about Lincoln’s life, the Big Dogs could have walked with us on the streets of the town. We saw a few leashed dogs with their humans. Most of the building interiors could be viewed from the doorways, although a few were locked. A couple of interpreters helped us learn more about the town and its inhabitants.
New Salem was quiet. You could hear birds sing and the wind blowing through the trees. The distant sound of traffic did not interrupt our enjoyment of the site. In fact, although the paths are now paved and the buildings a recreation, we felt as though we were walking beside Lincoln as we viewed his store and other places he would surely have visited.
The town of New Salem is not a part of the lore about Lincoln that most people know. But, as children, we learn that Lincoln was a “self-made man” and New Salem helped us look deeper and see the place and learn about the people that were a part of that process.