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Statue to honor Lincoln the surveyor
Modern practitioners planning to have it erected at New Salem

PETERSBURG - The executive director of the Illinois Professional Land Surveyors Association thinks Abraham Lincoln's stint as a surveyor is overlooked, and his group hopes to draw attention to that period in Lincoln's life.

Bob Church told the New Salem Lincoln League's annual meeting last weekend about his group's plan to erect a statue of Lincoln the surveyor near the visitor center at Lincoln's New Salem State Historic Site. If all goes well, the unveiling could take place in October, which would coincide with the association's 75th anniversary, he said.

"We believe the project will not only honor a little-known aspect of Lincoln's life, it also will make the public aware of the profession of land surveying," said Church.

The statue will be based on a pen-and-ink drawing by the late Lloyd Ostendorf - redrawn by his brother Ned for "professional accuracy" - and is being created by Decatur sculptor John McClarey. The life-size cast statue will depict a 25-year-old Lincoln, clad in boots, knee breeches, loose shirt and jacket, with a hat in one hand and a surveying instrument in the other.

"New Salem is particularly appropriate, since that's where Lincoln lived when he studied surveying and worked as a deputy county surveyor," said Church.

"The story is, (Sangamon County surveyor John) Calhoun came out to New Salem, looked up Lincoln and said, 'I want you to be a land surveyor,'" Church said.

It was 1833 - a time when many settlers were moving into the area and prospectors were looking for town sites. Calhoun could not handle all of the surveying himself, Church said.

"Lincoln told Calhoun he knew nothing about land surveying," said Church. "Calhoun answered, 'I've been told you can learn anything.'"

According to Carl Sandburg's "Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years," Lincoln perused two books on the topic with the help of Mentor Graham and then essentially taught himself to survey.

"He surveyed roads, school sections and pieces of farm land, from four-acre plots to 160-acre farms" in such towns as Petersburg, Bath, New Boston, Albany, Huron and others, Sandburg wrote.

"It can be argued that surveying launched the political career of our 16th president," Church said. "Lincoln ran for the state legislature in 1832 but was defeated. He was successfully elected two years later after becoming widely known as a competent and trustworthy surveyor."

Adin Baber, a surveyor from southeastern Illinois, began in 1948 to explore his family's ties to Nancy Hanks - Lincoln's mother - as well as the Hanks connection to surveying and the manufacture of surveying equipment. He also was intrigued with Lincoln's career as a land surveyor, and he documented his findings in a book, "A. Lincoln with Compass and Chain."

In order for the Lincoln surveyor statue to become a reality, the surveyors association must raise nearly $100,000. The group is selling 12-inch bronze replicas of the statue, along with reprinted editions of Baber's book and a limited number of copies of Ostendorf's print.

Organizations, companies and Lincoln enthusiasts who donate $3,000 to the endeavor will have their names inscribed on the base of the statue and will receive a signed and numbered print, as well as the book and desktop statue.

Church in recent weeks has spoken to a number of groups, including other surveyors, in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Missouri. About 40 percent of the needed funds have been collected.

Lincoln League president Carol Shafer presented Church with a $3,000 check.

Lincoln's surveying equipment is on display in the New Salem Visitors Center, and Church said the statue will provide an additional learning opportunity.

"I want (visitors) to see that, for a short time, Lincoln was a land surveyor. I think it's important for people to understand that," Church said.

Those wanting more information or to make a contribution may contact the Illinois Professional Land Surveyors Association, 203 S. Walnut St., P.O. Box 588, Rochester, IL 62563.

Ann Gorman can be reached through the metro desk at 788-1519.

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