Abraham Lincoln Birthplace
Administrative History
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In May 1948 the first draft of a bill was drawn up authorizing the inclusion in the park of the 5 1/4 acres of property around the Boundary Oak acquired by the Government from Howell and Ferrill in 1945. It was considered too late at that time for action on the matter by the current session of Congress, but on March 7, 1949, Rep. Frank L. Chelf of Kentucky introduced H.R. 3259 "to add to the Abraham Lincoln National Historical Park, Kentucky, certain land acquired by the United States for that purpose." It was referred to the Committee on Public Lands, which reported it back on March 23 without amendment. On April 4 the Bill passed the House and on May 23 it passed the Senate. It was approved by President Harry S. Truman on June 6, 1949.

Preparation of an historical handbook for the park had long been considered an important part of the interpretive development program. It was begun in 1949 by Historical Aide Benjamin Davis, but never finished. Originally scheduled to replace the 16-page booklet prepared in 1941, the handbook posed serious problems because of the controversial nature of the cabin. Unfinished handbook material now resides in the files at the park.

A survey of buildings at the park made in 1949 revealed that the former pump-house-and toolhouse thirty yards east of the garage, was being used as an office for the Superintendent and record depository. Built in 1930 by the War Department, it was coal-heated and inconvenient. A residence for the Superintendent, planned as early as 1929, was finally erected in 1951 near U. S. Route 31 at the cost of $17,457. It is frame on masonry and contains five rooms, an oil furnace, electricity, telephone wiring, a range, and refrigerator.

Ernest L. Wright, Jr., was appointed Superintendent of Abraham Lincoln National Historical Park in March 1950, replacing Benjamin Davis, who had been serving as Acting Superintendent since the death of Superintendent Lyon in June of 1949.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower became the fifth President of the United States to visit Lincoln's Birthplace on April 23, 1954. Over 8,000 people attended the occasion. President Eisenhower spoke of Lincoln who "seemed to represent all that is best in America in terms of its opportunity and the readiness of Americans always to raise up and exalt these people who lived by truth." [1]

It was in January 1953 that plans got under way for the construction of an "Administration-Museum Building" at Lincoln's Birthplace. There was a question as to its location; if it were placed in the rear of the Memorial Building, where the restrooms and pavilion then stood, the park could conceivably operate on less personnel. Another choice would be a site, adjacent to the parking area. It was necessary for the planners to ascertain the number of visitors who did and did not climb the steps from the parking area to the Memorial. [2]

Yearly visitation by the mid-1950's had jumped from 133,503 in 1950 to 287,847 in 1955-56. The development of the Kentucky Turnpike in the vicinity and the improvement of U. S. 31 served to increase visitation even more. The interpretive facilities were limited to a tour on foot of the principal points of interest.

In accordance with the MISSION 66 Program of the National Park Service and the rise of visitation at the Birthplace, plans for the construction of a visitor center to be located near the parking area were approved in January 1956. The Museum Prospectus, indicating the direction of interpretive planning to be taken in connection with the new building, recommended that:

no changes [be made] in the present interpretive treatment of the cabin, except that the narrative marker be revised to emphasize more strongly the fact that the National Park Service considers the cabin of debatable authenticity. Recent scholarship has presented a strong case against the cabin's authenticity and has, in fact, introduced evidence that it had its origins in little more than a promotional scheme.

It is curious that this relatively strong language suggesting a distinct possibility of a hoax in the matter of the birthplace cabin, never resulted in any rectification of past interpretive errors, except the removal of the 16-page booklet from circulation. In 1957 it was advocated that Benjamin Davis' 1949 report on the cabin be published by the National Park Service. This report tended to support the increasing conviction of many in the National Park Service that the "existing evidence as to the cabin's authenticity is too weak to support the 'traditional' treatment currently in use in the area." Either the historical marker in the Memorial Building should be changed or the report not published. [3]

As it turned out, the report was not published. A recommendation to the members of the Board of Directors of the Eastern National Park and Monument Association in July 1957 suggested that the cabin be "simply presented" as now, on a marker in the Memorial Building and not receive any special attention in planned exhibits at the new Visitor Center." This policy of interpretation by omission as concerns the birthplace cabin is followed to the present day. [4]

The Visitor Center, containing a main lobby with exhibit panels, administrative offices, restrooms and an alcove seating 2S for audio-visual presentations, was constructed by Clark, Stewart,and Wood, Inc., of Lexington at a cost of $129,129. The building, of structural steel and masonry, was dedicated on May 30, 1959. [5] A ten-minute audio-visual slide show with narration on "The Lincoln Country" was prepared by Dr. Hollis Summers of the University of Kentucky and was shown in the Visitor Center starting in the fall of 1959. [6]

A new residence for park personnel was constructed in May of 1959. Built by Clark, Stewart, and Wood at a cost of $22,564,the seven-room wood and siding structure is currently the residence of the Superintendent. The pavilion and restrooms to the rear of the Memorial Building, built by the War Department in 1930, were demolished in August 1959. The ground was leveled and seeded. [7]

In a letter to Senator Thruston Morton of Kentucky, a visitor complained that "everything is being done by someone [at the Birthplace] to detract from the memory of Lincoln." The reference was in particular to the commemorative plaques which had been covered by plaster and canvas in 1941. [8] Senator Morton was informed that the plaques had been cracked in the process of replastering the walls of the Memorial Building and that the material on them had been either incorrect or "largely repetitive of the information presented in the Visitor Center." Replacement was therefore not considered urgent. [9]

This raised the question of policy in regard to interpretive or commemorative features which have lost their meaning or usefulness through changing needs, functions, or tastes in design. The question of the cabin itself, of course, lurks in the background. If plaques and other features erected in the Memorial by the Lincoln Farm Association can be removed by the National Park Service for errors and misinterpretation of events, does not the presentation of the cabin merit similar consideration?

The sesquicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth was celebrated at the park on February 12, 1959. A parade at 9:30 a.m. was followed by addresses by Dr. Rhea Taylor, the executive director of the Kentucky Sesquicentennial Commission, Superintendent Wright and Gov. Albert Chandler, who placed a wreath at the Memorial Building. A special one-cent stamp bearing a portrait of Lincoln made in 1860 by George Healy was issued for the occasion.

In April of 1958, Senator John Sherman Cooper of Kentucky had introduced, for himself and Senator Morton, S. 3617 "to change the name of the Abraham Lincoln National Historical Park to Abraham Lincoln's Birthplace." An amendment suggested by the National Park Service, in order that the Service nomenclature be retained, caused the name to be changed to its present designation "Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site." H. R. S764, reported to the House on August 24, 1959, passed in lieu of the Senate bill and was approved by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on September 8, 1959.

In February 1960, Jenkin Lloyd Jones, son of Richard Lloyd Jones of the original Lincoln Farm Association, visited the park. When he was told of the lack of material on the activities of the association, he promised to have his father send some documents. In August Richard Lloyd Jones sent a good number of lantern slides, campaign pamphlets, and newspaper clippings which reside at present in the files at the park. This and other interesting material merits the attentions of a qualified historian.

Various ideas for expansion and improvement of park facilities have been advanced in the past few years. The 1964 Master Plan called attention to the smallness of the audio-visual alcove. A room with a capacity of 75-100 persons would be more appropriate for the heavy visitation during the spring and summer months. The expansion of the trail system was also a much-requested need. In line with the increased visitation, it was proposed that the Nancy Lincoln Inn property be acquired and used for picnic facilities. This idea was shelved in 1963 and has not been reconsidered. [10]

A Service directive laid down in 1964, however, proposed the acquisition of a buffer strip along the south boundary, if a change in the ownership of the Nancy Lincoln Inn occurred, to protect the park from adverse developments.

The development of the 50 acres of park-owned land on the east side of U. S. 31 as a golf course was suggested by the Hodgenville American Legion Post "as a memorial to Kennedy and Lincoln." The National Park Service rejected the idea as incompatible with the purpose of the park. [11] Local citizens have urged the development of this property as a picnic area: "There is not a public picnic grounds, roadside park with rest area, nor overnight camping facilities within 40 or 50 miles of this area." [12]

In 1965 the Assistant Director of the National Park Service suggested to Representative Chelf that "some recreational development [is] appropriate" at the park. [13]

The Park is currently in need of several physical improvements. The construction of a new Service Building to replace the one built by the War Department in 1930, repointing and general repair of the exterior of the Memorial Building, and the addition of separate restrooms for park personnel are urgently needed.

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Last Updated: 11-Feb-2003