At Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park, outside of Hodgenville, Kentucky, you get the conventional view of our sixteenth president. It’s the story of the American dream, the ability to rise from simple beginnings to one’s highest potential. Eloquence and common sense marked Lincoln’s speeches. Most stirring was the 266-word Gettysburg address, 11/19/1863, at dedication of Gettysburg National Cemetery.
But you also get an unconventional look at Lincoln in an enlightened visitor center film. Abe Lincoln’s father, Thomas, a successful carpenter, was able to buy Sinking Spring farm for $200 cash in 1808. Abe Lincoln was born in a middle class family, perhaps upper middle, in a frontier town. Abe’s grandfather was the true pioneer, having come through Cumberland Gap, maybe with Daniel Boone, himself.
Abe was born in a log cabin on February 12, 1809, a year after the family settled on the Kentucky farm but he only spent two years here. The family was forced off the farm because of a land deed dispute. They moved to what is now preserved as his “boyhood home” at Knob Creek ten miles away. Unfortunately, that site is closed to the public for construction right now.
The highlight of the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace is the Lincoln Memorial. Before the Lincoln Memorial in Washington opened in 1922, a Lincoln Memorial here was dedicated in 1911. The memorial has fifty-six steps symbolizing the fifty-six years of Lincoln’s life. The steps lead to a building with columns inspired by the Parthenon. The Lincoln Farm Association, composed of prominent men including Samuel Clemens, bought the site in 1905 and built the Lincoln Memorial. President Theodore Roosevelt laid the cornerstone on the hundredth anniversary of Lincoln’s birth. In 1916, the site became a National Park, overseen by the War Department until 1933.
A one-room cabin sits in the building. For a long time, it was thought it was the actual Lincoln cabin. After a great deal of research and testing, the National Park Service concluded that the logs were of a much later time. Still the log cabin remains on the site as a “symbolic cabin.” At least, it resides on the top of a hill at the same spot as the original. The Sinking Spring is below, now fenced off so that visitors don’t drink the same water that Lincoln had.
In 1816, the family was part of another land dispute and had to leave Knob Creek. That was the last straw and the family headed for Indiana.