Finding Abraham Lincoln in Tolono, Illinois

An Unplanned Stop

Historical marker for the location of Abraham Lincoln’s speech in Tolono, Illinois

A plaque near the railroad tracks in the town of Tolono, Illinois, marks the location where Abraham Lincoln gave his last address to the people of Illinois.

Recently, we were in Illinois for a wedding (more about that later). Because of all of the fun events related to the wedding, we did not have any time for sightseeing while we were there. But as we started for home, we saw a sign that said, “Historical Marker” with an arrow pointing to the left. I had actually seen the sign a couple of days earlier, but I could not tell anything about the marker. On a whim, Laura and I both said, “Let’s go check it out!” So I turned the car into the small parking lot to see what we could find.

As we got closer to the marker, I saw a larger sign. “It says something about Lincoln,” I said. You might not know about the thousands of pages I have read about Abraham Lincoln, but seeing his name on the sign suddenly made it even more interesting.

Once we got out of the car, we began reading both the plaque on the rock and the nearby interpretive sign. We learned that this was where Abraham Lincoln gave his last address in the State of Illinois. How cool!

Interpretive sign for the location of Abraham Lincoln’s speech in Tolono, Illinois

An interpretive sign placed by Looking for Lincoln

A Bit of History

On February 11, 1861, Abraham Lincoln boarded a train of the Great Western Railway in Springfield, Illinois, to begin his journey to Washington, DC, to serve as President of the United States. In Springfield, standing on the platform at the back of the rear train car, Lincoln gave a speech that later became famous as his “Farewell Address”.

However, later in the day, the train stopped at the station at Tolono. There, Abraham Lincoln once again spoke from the rear platform of the train. He spoke for around 20 minutes, but only a few of his words were written down:

I am leaving you on an errand of national importance, attended, as you are aware, with considerable difficulties. Let us believe, as some poet has expressed it:—

Behind the cloud the sun is still shining.

I bid you an affectionate farewell.

- Abraham Lincoln (reported by New York Tribune and New York Herald, February 12, 1861.)

From Tolono, Abraham Lincoln’s train did make one more stop in Illinois, at Danville. But because the train was late in arriving there, he only spoke briefly to friends and supporters instead of giving a speech. So the stop in Tolono was indeed his last speech in Illinois.

Modern Times

A plaque was erected nearby in 1932 to mark the spot and commemorate the occasion of Lincoln’s speech. However, the marker was moved to its present spot some years ago to make it more accessible to the public. The original location of the marker was about 600 feet away, across some current railroad tracks at the site of the railroad station, which has since been removed. There is no road to the original location, but anyone can drive up to the location of the marker now.

Historical marker for the location of Abraham Lincoln’s speech in Tolono, Illinois

The current site of the marker is next to a gas station, which might seem a little odd. But as we were getting out of the car, a train was passing on the tracks behind the gas station. That seemed rather fitting once we knew the history. Yes, it was just a passing freight train. In a little way, it helped to remind me of when a more prominent train carrying a prominent passenger stopped here all those years ago.

Looking for Lincoln sign detail

I liked the nice little touch of this “Looking for Lincoln” logo at the bottom of the interpretive sign. As you can see above, the sign also includes a drawing of the Marion House Hotel-Depot, as well as some information about another of Lincoln’s visits to Tolono earlier in 1861.

Historical marker for the location of Abraham Lincoln’s speech in Tolono, Illinois

To some people, this might not be that big of a deal. But it was just the kind of thing we enjoy. We like learning about the history of the places that we visit. Every place has a story to tell. Sometimes, you just have to look a little to find it.

At the location of Abraham Lincoln’s speech in Tolono, Illinois

A photo from Laura’s phone

Farther down the road as we made our way home, we stopped at a rest area in southern Illinois. Among the tourist brochures there, I found a Looking for Lincoln magazine that listed several other places of interest throughout the state. If we ever get back to Illinois, we will be sure to check some of them out. Because history can be fun!

Pursue peace with everyone, and holiness, for without it no one will see the Lord. - Hebrews 12:14

About the Photos

When we first drove up, I asked Laura, “Do you think I should get my camera?” Every time I ask that these days, the answer always seems to be, “Yes!” I should just stop asking and get my camera every time.

There really is not much special about these photos. I did increase the brightness, color, and contrast lightly. But nothing too extreme as I have done with some of the recent photos I have shared.

Photo: Each photo is a single Raw exposure, processed in GIMP and Raw Therapee. Read more about photography tips, photo software, camera gear, and more at Steve’s Photography Tips.
Camera: Sony Alpha A7 II
Lens: Rokinon 35mm f/1.8
Date: September 18, 2022
Location: Tolono, Illinois

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Burnsland is Steve Burns, with generous help from his lovely wife Laura. Steve is a husband, father, photographer, webmaster, writer, podcaster, artist, Christian. Steve enjoys sharing his photography, art, and stories through, from the Burnsland World Headquarters in Tennessee.