Traditionally, it has been believed that Abraham Lincoln owned no property at New Salem. Instead, it has been assumed that he lived and worked in the store buildings that he rented, or that he stayed with friends. In 1995, Dr. Thomas Schwartz re-discovered a Sangamon County Sheriff’s sale document dating to 1835, which indicates that the young Lincoln actually owned property in the village, in partnership with an unnamed individual. Further, the document mentions a “house” located on the lot. This indicates that Lincoln owned improved property long before his purchase of the home in downtown Springfield.

Unfortunately, the lots mentioned in the document (“Lots 16 and 17 north of Main Street”) are not included in the original 1829 plat of New Salem. Instead, these lots appear to have been added after the fact, to encompass improved property in order to give that property a legal description prior to its auction.

Also during the mid-1990s, the Center was conducting a series of archaeological studies at New Salem, which included a reexamination of the original town plat. Using archaeological data, the geometry of the original plat, and the natural topography on which the town was located, we concluded that Lots 16 and 17 must have been located in the northeastern portion of the village, and not coincidentally, in the vicinity of the “Offutt Store” where Lincoln clerked in 1831.

More recent archival research has revealed that Lincoln and another clerk at the store – Charles Maltby - may have bought Offutt’s property in 1832. The two had planned to operate a warehouse at New Salem, to serve as a distribution and shipping point for steamboats on the Sangamon River. In a late 19th century biography, Maltby specifically referred to a large warehouse that he and Lincoln purchased – presumably from Offutt. The shallow river soon dashed any hopes of steamboat travel in the area, and the Black Hawk War pulled Lincoln away from the project during the summer of 1832.

In the spring of 2005, the Sangamo Archaeological Center began work at several locations in and around the property owned by Offutt and Lincoln. The investigations resulted in several new findings. The excavations found a portion of the original cellar that was once located beneath the Offutt Store. Most of that feature had been destroyed by the 1933 construction of the current replica, but the intact portion of the cellar produced a small sample of architectural and storekeeping-related artifacts. Flooring nails, lath nails, and plaster indicate that the original building was much more finished that the current replica, and would have included milled plank flooring and plastered walls. Storekeeping debris included small amounts of broken ceramic, as well as a worn slate pencil probably used by clerks in the store (including Lincoln) for mathematical calculations on writing slate.

Behind the Offutt Store was found the well-preserved archaeological remains of an early nineteenth century brick kiln or “clamp”, used to manufacture soft mud brick. Several of the buildings at New Salem were equipped with brick fireplaces, and some of those bricks may have been made behind the Offutt Store, perhaps while Lincoln was working there. Beneath the kiln was found a layer of broken storekeeping goods such as crockery jugs and glass tumblers. This indicates that the construction of the kiln postdates the development of storekeeping debris around the yard, and pushes its use closer to the era of Lincoln’s ownership. Based on the evidence from the 2005 dig, Lincoln may have had something to do with the firing of a load of bricks sometime in the early-mid 1830s.

A 90-minute long documentary about the excavations at Lincoln’s property at New Salem, 
Beneath the Three Graces, has just been completed.
Click HERE. ThreeGraces.html shapeimage_2_link_0
Excavations at Lots 16 & 17 The 1932 replica of the Offutt Store A test unit placed next to the 1932 replica store, which encountered a small portion of the store’s original 1830 cellar. Fragments of glass bottles and tumbler found beneath the brick kiln, shown with intact examples. Example of an extremely over baked brick from the base of kiln. 19th century drawing of a brick clamp similar to what would have been located on Lincoln’s Lot 16/17 property. Storekeeping debris found beneath the Offutt replica. These are perhaps the closest we will come to artifacts related to Lincoln’s life at New Salem during the 1830s. The remains of the brick clamp, when first encountered in 2005.