»Abraham Lincoln in Shelby County

On the Circuit

Shelby County became a part of the Eight Judicial Circuit Court system in 1841. City natives can be proud that one of the circuit travelers was Abraham Lincoln, who went from town to town for twenty-five years, including four years to Shelbyville. He never complained about the squalid taverns or impassable roads. Rather, it seemed that he thrived in harsh conditions, and his stamina would later support him during the Civil War. Every spring and fall he would start the circuit in a westerly direction. He would leave Paris, some fifty-five miles from Shelbyville. The trip would take him two or three days. During the nights he would stay at way-side inns or homes of settlers.

The State of Illinois is renowned as the Land of Lincoln. In Shelby County, finding Lincoln is no problem. Springfield may boast of popular Lincoln sites, but visitors can begin their quest in Shelby County for a little color.

While a circuit-riding attorney, Lincoln occasionally visited Shelby County. His political beginnings as a Republican also took root here. Visit the Shelby County Courthouse to see the Robert Root painting of the Lincoln-Thornton debate. While less famous than the later Lincoln-Douglas debates, the Lincoln-Thornton meeting is significant because it marked one of Lincoln’s first public speaking engagements as a Republican. It was also the first time he argues the anti-slavery cause as divisive to the country.

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum
(800) 610-2094

Located in Springfield, Illinois, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is just a short drive away from Lake Shelbyville. Only fifty-six miles separate the state capital and Lake Shelbyville. The Library houses one of the largest collections of Lincoln material in the world and serves not only students and scholars researching Lincoln and Illinois history, but also genealogists researching family history.

The Museum is a world-class institution in which visitors can journey through Lincoln’s life as a storeowner in New Salem, as a candidate for president, as a president wrestling with emancipation, and finally his untimely assassination in Ford’s Theater.

Looking for Lincoln

Shelbyville has five wayside exhibits by the Looking for Lincoln Heritage Coalition Wayside Exhibit Program to share our story of Abraham LIncoln. The wayside exhibition program helps bring each of our unique Lincoln stories to life with storyboards located throughout Central Illinois. They not only let us take a look at Abraham Lincoln's life, but also the communities he traveled to and the people he met.

See below for more information on our wayside exhibits.

Click here to visit the Looking for Lincoln Story Trail site.

Click here for the Passport Program brochure



After more than four years of fundraising and planning, Shelby County Lincoln Heritage (SCLH) hosted the dedication of life-sized bronze statues of Abraham Lincoln and Shelbyville attorney Anthony Thornton on August 8, 2009, the 153rd anniversary of their historic debate in Shelbyville.

The statues are located outside of the Shelby County Courthouse located in Historic Downtown Shelbyville.

Later, dedication plaques were added to highlight contributers towards the statues.



Wayside Exhibits

Through a "Looking for Lincoln" Wayside Exhibit Program 70/30 grant, The Shelby County Office of Tourism (SCOT) with the help of John Lupton, asked and wrote a proposal for three Wayside Exhibits. The 1st round, we received the grant for the "Lincoln-Thornton Debate" which was matched by the SCLH and is in front of the Shelby County Courthouse. In the 2nd round SCOT received a grant for the other two that were proposed. "Traveling the Circuit" was matched by SCOT and is in front of the office. "Lincoln's Court Cases" was matched by the City of Shelbyville is in the Mini-Park, downtown.

The SCLH then wrote a grant to the Abraham Lincoln Bicentenntial Program for the Lincoln-Thornton statues with a letter of support from SCOT and was awarded a grant to be used strictly for Wayside Exhibits. These exhibits are "Anthony Thornton" which will be placed near his former home at 321 N. Morgan. (For now, this can be seen outside SCOT) "Samuel Moulton" which will be placed near his former home at 607 S. Broadway. "Lincoln & Divorce" which is located in the Strasburg park. And, "Lincoln's Cavalry Guard" which is located on Main Street (Business Route 51) in Moweaqua.

Each of the exhibits depict historical happenings in Shelby County. Each of these stories were written by Shelbyville native John Lupton.