A Publication of WTVP

On May 8th, President George W. Bush put a White House exclamation point on the hard work of many people in our state when he signed legislation creating the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area in Illinois. The effort to establish this Area has been underway for nearly a decade, and communities across the region have been engaged to support its creation. I was approached several years ago about this proposal and, along with Senator Dick Durbin, introduced the legislation which eventually became law.

With the sesquicentennial of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates in 2008 and the national Lincoln Bicentennial taking place in 2009, interest in the 16th President is only expected to increase. Building on the success of the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, combined with the many Lincoln sites throughout Illinois, this National Heritage Area will allow for coordinated resources to help communities tell their own Lincoln stories and increase tourism throughout the state.

There is no doubt that Abraham Lincoln has had a tremendous impact on the State of Illinois. The story of Lincoln is one which has transcended generations. What is absolutely astounding about the Lincoln legacy is that it only continues to grow. Volume upon volume discussing Lincoln’s life and his impact on our nation continue to be written every year. The thirst for learning more about him continues unabated across the globe—from Japan to Qatar, people show tremendous interest in Lincoln.

The National Heritage Area designation brings the ability to provide a cohesive structure across a 42-county region in the mid-section of our state. The Looking for Lincoln Heritage Coalition, established in 1998 and headquartered in Springfield, is the entity which will manage the Heritage Area.

Peoria and its surrounding counties play a vital role in the Lincoln story. From his “Peoria Speech” at the courthouse to the Lincoln-Douglas debate in Galesburg to the historic Metamora Courthouse where Lincoln practiced, our immediate area has much to say about Lincoln. I have no doubt that Peoria and other communities will benefit from the creation of this National Heritage Area.

The law signed by President Bush allows for up to $15 million in federal funds over a 15-year period to assist with preservation and education of the Lincoln story at sites and communities throughout the area. Knox, Peoria, Tazewell and Woodford are just a few of the counties designated in the Act. The law calls for the Looking for Lincoln Coalition to develop a management plan which will specify the “actions, policies, strategies, performance goals and recommendations.” This plan will be submitted, reviewed and (hopefully) approved by the Department of the Interior.

It has been said that Abraham Lincoln is the second most-written-about person in the history of the world, second only to Jesus Christ. That is an astonishing statement. Those of us who have the good fortune to live in central Illinois are in the very heart of the Lincoln story. When he uttered his farewell address as he left Springfield upon being elected President, he said, “To this place and the kindness of these people, I owe everything.” Today, it is we who owe Abraham Lincoln so much. IBI