Lincoln’s Birthplace and Boyhood Home, Kentucky

The “Gollaher” cabin at Lincoln’s boyhood farm

We knew Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky but never gave it much thought until we wandered that way last fall.

Rule #7 above urges us to choose a direction not a destination and remain open to new opportunities as we travel through life.  We wanted to see Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave National Park.  Lincoln’s Boyhood Home at Knob Creek near Hodgenville was just a little off the way, and Lincoln’s birthplace is not much further.  Well, we were still headed in the direction of the cave.

Inside a frontier cabin typical of the early 1800s

Lincoln’s grandfather [some family members used the name Linkhorn and his grave has both names] was a pioneer who brought his family through the Cumberland Gap in 1771 and was subsequently killed by First Americans [Indians] in 1786.

Lincoln’s father Thomas was a skilled carpenter and cabinet maker and listed among the top twenty percent of the county’s taxpayers.  By those standards, Lincoln was not “poor” but Kentucky “middle class” even though family lived in a one-room log cabin common there at the time.

The first memorial building to honor Abraham Lincoln was dedicated in 1911 on the site of Sinking Spring, the family farm where he was born in 1809.  Architect John Russell Pope [who later designed the Jefferson Memorial] incorporated the same neo-classical style later used in Washington, D.C.  Fifty-six steps, one for each year of Lincoln’s life, lead up a hill from the spring to a temple-like building that houses a log cabin.

Plat of the Lincoln boyhood farm

The log cabin’s authenticity was questioned when the Park Service took over the site in 1933, and it subsequently proved to be “only symbolic.”  In an interesting twist, it includes logs purported to be from the birthplace of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, also born in Kentucky.

An 1895 entrepreneur purchased the land, some nearby land and a cabin in order to develop a tourist site.  That did not work out, so the cabin was sent on tour with the Davis cabin.  After more travel than many people do, the cabin logs were bought and reassembled by the association creating the memorial.  Finally examined by the University of Tennessee in 2004, it turns out not only were the “Lincoln” and “Davis” logs intermingled, the oldest only dated to 1848, twenty-nine years after Lincoln’s birth.

The first Lincoln memorial

It is hard to find the true story of what occurred so long ago in a then ordinary family. Lincoln, the successful railroad lawyer, probably did not boast of his humble background to his wealthy clients.  But the story of the poor “rail-splitter” was true and was publicized  in political campaigns.

Literature and signs suggested Thomas Lincoln moved to Knob Creek when he was sued over the land title to Sinking Spring.  But a volunteer at the birthplace said he believed the Lincolns moved because the land at Knob Creek was superior for farming and noted the suit was not adjudicated until three years after they moved.  It was over an undisclosed lien on the property at the time Thomas Lincoln bought it.  The judge gave Thomas Lincoln the opportunity to keep the land and pay the lien, but he chose not to do so.  They lived at Knob Creek until moving to Illinois in 1816.

Log cabin made of logs taken on tour as Lincoln’s birthplace — or were they Jefferson Davis’?

The cabin now at Knob Creek was built on the Lincoln property from logs on the Gollaher property.  Austin Gollaher, a boyhood friend of Abraham, rescued Lincoln from almost drowning.  Research is planned later this year to determine if the cabin dates from the period.

Of the two, Knob Creek was the more interesting to me.  Lincoln’s earliest memories were of Knob Creek.  There he got the little formal education he ever had.  There he likely witnessed slavery.  While there the family attended a church opposed to slave ownership.  Except for a building used as a tavern, gas station and tourist center, the property has not changed in over two hundred years.

It was interesting just to stand there and imagine the small Lincoln boy helping his parents, planting pumpkin seeds in the field and wading in the creek.

Click on photos to enlarge.

P.S.  For readers outside the U.S., Abraham Lincoln was one of our two most important Presidents.  Without Washington, the republic would not exist.  Without Lincoln, the modern unified United States would not exist.

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About ralietravels

Ray and Alie (Ralie) are a retired couple who love to travel. Even during our working years, we squeezed a trip in whenever we could, often when we had to stretch the budget to do so. We have been fortunate to vacation in all 50 states, all the provinces of Canada and one territory and a little more than 50 countries. We like to drive, but we particularly love to travel back roads to find unusual sights, people, and experiences.
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12 Responses to Lincoln’s Birthplace and Boyhood Home, Kentucky

  1. pvcann says:

    Wow, would love to see that up close. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent, fascinating post! On a trivial note, is this the same Knob Creek that produces my favorite bourbon?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Keith & Loraine says:

    Some more interesting facts that doesn’t come from history books. Love the pictures and that fireplace is gorgeous. Thanks again. Hugs Loraine

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is fascinating! Lincoln is my favorite president (since I was a kid, and now as an adult, I have further reason for adulation). I’ve never been to Kentucky, and most likely won’t ever get to Knob Creek, so thank you for making me feel that “I was there.”

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve visited the sites, Ray and found them interesting. My ancestors moved to Kentucky in the 1780s so I have wandered in and out of the state a bit. Also, Lincoln served as a family lawyer in a case against the railroad and won. Later, in another dispute, he was on the opposite side and the family won. 🙂 –Curt

    Liked by 1 person

  6. cindy knoke says:

    Amazing history and so love the old cabin interiors! I am embarrassed that I didn’t know Lincoln was from Kentucky. Thank you for educating me!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. ralietravels says:

    February 2018: The research is in. A log from the Gollaher property cabin now at Knob Creek was dated at 1861 so not from Lincoln’s time there. But again, just seeing the property and imagining his childhood there was a fun experience.

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