DANVILLE — Thursday was a big day for the community and tourism.

Danville was the first stop for Looking for Lincoln officials to visit the six official Gateway Communities to the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area.

Local and state officials were on hand at a Thursday morning press conference at downtown’s Kresge Park for the gateway community announcement and unveiling of a replica sign of one that appears on Interstate 74 at the Indiana-Illinois state line recognizing and welcoming people to the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area.

Looking for Lincoln Heritage Coalition Executive Director Sarah Watson said they next will recognize Quincy and Bloomington and then the other Gateway communities of Alton, Springfield and Charleston.

In addition to the six gateway communities, there also are 12 new highway signs located near the borders of the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area.

Being a gateway community is significant, Watson said.

“The significance of that is, that makes Danville one of the anchor communities to which people will come to start that Lincoln experience, and that makes you incredibly special…,” Watson said.

She said from there people can spend time in the community and then go on further into the heritage area.

“It’s an exciting time in Danville and Vermilion County,” Watson said.

To commemorate the designation and signage program, Watson presented Mayor Scott Eisenhauer with an Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area baseball cap.

Watson said Looking for Lincoln was established in 1998 as a state tourism project to help promote heritage tourism and economic development.

“So this is really all about you,” she said about the community members with people visiting the area and spending money here including at hotels and restaurants.

She said they started talking two years ago with state officials about additional signage and locations. The Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area was enacted by Congress and signed by U.S. President George W. Bush in 2008.

According to the National Park Service, the heritage area is “the only heritage area named for an American president (and) is home to a very unique collection of American history, surrounding one of America’s most revered presidents. It is most closely focused on the 30 years Lincoln lived and worked in central Illinois, raising his family and pursuing his passion for the law and politics. During this time, he was unwittingly preparing himself to become the president who would hold the nation together during a time of unprecedented challenges.”

The National Park Service website lists the Dr. William Fithian Home and Vermilion County Museum as heritage area sites.

Watson said there are so many interesting stories about Lincoln in Danville including when he made a speech barefoot on a balcony at Lincoln’s friend Dr. William Fithian’s home while campaigning for the U.S. Senate against Stephen A. Douglas in 1858. Lincoln didn’t have time to find his shoes.

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