Abraham Lincoln is, without a doubt, one of America’s most iconic and beloved Presidents.
You’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t have admiration for our 16th Commander in Chief. He held the country together when it was almost ripped in two by the Civil War, delivered one of the greatest speeches in our nation’s history, and issued the Emancipation Proclamation, ending the vile craft of slavery. His fame and iconic place in American history continued to grow even after his death on that ill-fated night in Ford’s Theater, more than one-hundred fifty years ago.
Today, we see his face every time we pull out a five-dollar bill to buy lunch or flip a penny in a coin toss. Streets, counties, and even cities are named in his honor. For many Americans, no pilgrimage to our nation’s capital is complete without a stop at the Lincoln Memorial. The magnificent marble temple serves as the definitive tribute to the man who helped the United States in its greatest time of need. Millions have stood in awe and reverence on the steps that lead up to the great carving, contemplating how one man who started off in poverty could rise to such a powerful position and accomplish so much.
Many of those visitors would no doubt be surprised to know that this is not the original Lincoln Memorial. The monument in DC was dedicated in 1922, but the original Lincoln Memorial was completed almost a decade before in 1911. To reach it, one must travel deep into the rolling hills of the Bluegrass State. Located about forty miles north of Mammoth Cave National Park, the site is protected within the borders of Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park. The park is an easy drive off I-65, just a few miles outside Hodgensville, Kentucky.
The historic site preserves Sinking Spring Farm, a sprawling area of fields and woodlands which was the first home of the future President. It was here, on a cold February day in 1809, that Abraham was born to Thomas and Nancy Lincoln. Although they only lived here a few short years before a property dispute forced them to move, the site is rich with history.
It was here in 1909 that the Lincoln Farm Association began construction of the First Lincoln Memorial. Today, the neoclassical temple dominates the surrounding landscape from its spot atop the park’s highest point. Fifty-six steps lead up to the marble pillars which line the front, one for each year of the President’s productive life. Inside sits a representative log cabin that intends to give the visitor a glance into the early life of Lincoln. Interpretive displays continue the story of the Lincoln family and the memorial itself which was begun in the visitor center located near the parking area.
Abraham Lincoln Birthplace NHP offers visitors a chance to connect with nature in addition to learning of all the wonderful history. The Boundary Oak Trail winds through the woodlands behind the memorial. The farm’s namesake Sinking Spring sits near the start of the trail and provides a cool place to retreat during a hot day. An accessible walkway begins next to the visitor center and provides another route for visitors to reach the memorial entrance. Across U.S. Highway 31E sits a picnic area and access for two more nature trails.
This is not the only portion of the park, as another unit sits a short drive away on the east side of town. Known as Knob Creek, it was here that the Lincolns moved after being forced off their land. They would remain here for five years before once again making a new start, this time in Indiana. This place harbored the first memories for little Abe, including those of slaves being marched down the road in the front of his house on their way to auction.
An information area is run by the Park Service and offers some information on the area. The Lincoln Tavern sits on the site today and was built in the 1930’s first as a dance hall and later as a gift shop. Next to this sits the Gollaher Cabin, home to one of Abraham’s boyhood friends. It was reconstructed here since the original Lincoln home was long since demolished.
Open fields stretch behind the complex and can be explored via a mowed trail which runs along Knob Creek. It was here that the young Abe almost lost his life trying to cross the stream after a heavy rain. He was saved by his friend Austin; whose home now stands where Lincoln’s once did. Visitors can continue on the trail as it enters the woods and climbs to the top of the ridge which overlooks the farmstead. If you want to follow more of Lincoln’s extraordinary life, it’s only a two-hour drive through Louisville to Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial in Indiana. Three hours more will lead to Springfield and Lincoln’s final home before Washington.