A five mile stretch of Ind. 162 in Spencer County takes a traveler from the boyhood home of perhaps the greatest president in U.S. history to the “summer home” of one of the most beloved characters in the history of humankind. Both are closely tied to the national holidays we celebrate this month and next.
Most folks are aware that Abraham Lincoln lived in Spencer County. But he did more than pass through. His 14 years in Southern Indiana were his formative years and would be a quarter of his life. There, he developed his intellect, his love of learning and law, and his melancholia after the heartbreaking deaths of his mother and sister. And there, he grew to his adult 6-foot-4 frame and into the man he was. He was 21 when he joined his father, stepmother and her family in the move to better farmland in Illinois in 1830.
Today, the land that was the Lincoln family farm is the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial. The memorial offers visitors the opportunity to walk trails where Lincoln walked and see what life was like on the harsh Hoosier frontier at a living historical farm which is operated in the summer months. A visitor’s center offers a film and a small museum, two memorial halls and five large relief sculpture panels depicting phases of his life. At the site is a headstone
for his mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, who died in 1818.
The Lincoln State Park, across the highway from the Boyhood Memorial, is also dedicated to his memory and offers plenty of outdoor recreational opportunities. Lincoln’s sister, Sarah Lincoln Grigsby, who died in 1828 giving birth to a stillborn son, is buried at the Little Pigeon Cemetery inside the state park.
As president during the Civil War in 1863, Lincoln made the last Thursday of November an annual national holiday. Thanksgiving, as it was in 1863, falls this year on Nov. 26.
A jog to the east of the Lincoln sites, Spencer County also celebrates a great historic figure … Santa Claus! The town there, first known as Santa Fe, fortuitously took its present name in 1856 after the U.S. Post Office rejected its attempt to establish a post office because Indiana already had a Santa Fe. Over the years, Santa Claus — the town and post office — became world famous for its association with the jolly Christmas elf.
In 1946, the nation’s first “theme park” — Santa Claus Land — opened there. In 1984, the park changed its name to Holiday World, and today, with the addition of its Splashin’ Safari, is a combination theme park and water park that annually adds to its offerings and ranks among the best in the country. It is especially respected for its wooden roller coasters and cleanliness.