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.
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.
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.
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.
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.