The Berry-Lincoln Store was probably the first building in the original village and was constructed in 1829. It is remembered as the town's only frame, not log, structure.
New Salem was recreated as a historic village in the 1930s, based on the original foundations. The first village was generally abandoned about 1840, as other towns developed. The village is located 15 miles northwest of Springfield, and approximately 3 miles south of Petersburg. (The present village of New Salem in Pike County, Illinois is an unrelated community.)
New Salem was founded in 1828 when James Rutledge and John Camron built a gristmill on the Sangamon River. They surveyed and sold village lots for commercial businesses and homes on the ridge stretching to the west above the mill. Over the first few years of its existence, the town grew rapidly, but after the county seat was located in nearby Petersburg, the village began to shrink and by 1840, it was abandoned. The fact that the Sangamon River was not well-suited for steamboat travel was also a reason for the town's decline.
In 1831, when Abraham Lincoln's father, Thomas, relocated the family from Indiana to a new homestead in Coles County, Illinois, 22-year-old Lincoln struck out on his own. Lincoln arrived in New Salem by way of flatboat and he remained in the village for about six years. As far as historians know, Abe Lincoln never owned a home in the village as most single men did not own homes at this time; however, he would often sleep in the tavern or his general store and eat his meals with a nearby family.
He ran for the Illinois General Assembly in 1832, handily winning his New Salem precinct but losing the countywide district election. He tried again in 1834 and won. Lincoln left New Salem and moved to Springfield, also in his election district, around 1837.
NOTE: Abraham Lincoln, the only U.S. president to hold a patent. He received patent No. 6,469 for his "Device for Buoying Vessels Over Shoals" on May 22, 1849 while a Congressman in Illinois.
When Lincoln lived in New Salem, the village was home to a cooper shop, blacksmith shop, wool carding mill, four general stores, a tavern, a grocery, two doctors offices, a shoemaker, a carpenter, a hat maker, a tanner, a schoolhouse/church, several residences, common pastures and kitchen gardens. During its short existence, the village was home to anywhere from 20-25 families at a time. It is important to remember that New Salem was not a small farm village, but instead a commercial village full of young businessmen and craftsmen trying to start a new life on the frontier.
Photographs Copyright © Neil Gale, Ph.D.