- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 9, 2005

PETERSBURG, Ill. (AP) — Nearly two centuries ago, a rough young man settled in a frontier village that soon would dwindle into a ghost town.

Both would be forgotten today, except the settler’s name was Abraham Lincoln and the village, New Salem, has become synonymous with his rise to ambitious politician.

Now, the descendants of Lincoln’s friends and neighbors in New Salem — rebuilt as a state historic site — are organizing a reunion next summer to mark the 175th anniversary of his arrival.

Organizers hope perhaps 1,000 people will attend, sharing information about their family trees and swapping stories handed down through the generations.

Some Rutledges will be there, still convinced that Lincoln had a secret romance with their ancestor, Ann. Descendants of Jack Armstrong, the local tough guy who lost a wrestling match with Lincoln, plan to show up.

“We wouldn’t know much about any of this if Lincoln hadn’t stopped by on his way to the White House. It was just lucky,” said Judy Hurdle, a descendant of Jacob Bale, who ran New Salem’s grist mill.

Just don’t look for any Lincolns. The 16th president has no living descendants.

Lincoln first visited New Salem, a village of fewer than 300 people in central Illinois, as he was helping to take a flatboat of cargo down the Sangamon River and then on to New Orleans. He returned a few months later, in July 1831, and stayed for almost six years.

During that time, he ran a store, became a surveyor, served as postmaster, led troops in the Black Hawk War (but saw no combat), lost an election, studied law and won an election.

Legend has it that he fell in love with an already engaged Ann Rutledge and suffered a deep depression when she died.

“Our family really holds tight to the fact — we call it fact — that there was a love interest there between the two,” said Gaye Maxson, a member of the Rutledge family who lives in nearby Mason City.

The village stagnated while nearby towns grew. Lincoln moved to Springfield in 1836, and by 1839 the village was deserted, its log cabins left to rot.

Because of interest in Lincoln, the spot was purchased for a state park in 1919. The cabins were reconstructed during the Great Depression, and the village has been turned into a historic site with livestock, gardens and re-enactors portraying the settlers.

The reunion is scheduled for July 8.

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