Abraham Lincoln Birthplace
Historic Resource Study
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Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site (Site) commemorates the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, sixteenth president of the United States. The Site contains 116.5 acres, representing approximately one-third of a 348.5-acre farm along the South Fork of Nolin Creek that was purchased by Lincoln's father, Thomas Lincoln, in 1808. [1] On the Site is a Beaux-Arts classical granite and marble memorial building containing the traditional Lincoln birth cabin. A notable natural feature on the Site is a spring that emerges from a rock ledge and flows into a deep sinkhole. The spring is adjacent to the knoll on which the Memorial Building is located. Roughly triangular in shape, the Site is located in the rolling hill country of LaRue County, Kentucky, three miles south of Hodgenville, the county seat, and approximately 50 miles south of Louisville (see Figure 1). [2] U.S. Highway 31E/Kentucky Highway 61 bisects the Site on a north-south axis.

Figure 1: Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site vicinity map, 1999

The Site lies in the extreme eastern portion of the Pennyroyal, an approximately 8,000-square-mile physiographic region in west-central Kentucky. The Pennyroyal is part of the Highland Rim section of the Interior Low Plateau physiographic province. The Pennyroyal is a karst region, the topography of which is produced by the dissolution of soluble limestone by water and characterized by underground streams and caves, sinkholes (dolines), small ponds, long valleys, rolling hills, and occasional steep ridges and stone escarpments. Approximately seven miles east of the Site, Muldraugh's Hill, a large limestone escarpment, marks the eastern boundary both of the Pennyroyal and the karst region. Soil fertility varies considerably with the terrain. The most fertile LaRue County areas are the watershed of the Nolin River and the bottomlands of the Rolling Fork River, which forms the county's eastern boundary. LaRue County retains a predominantly rural character; farms of fewer than two hundred acres raising crops of wheat, tobacco, soybeans, and corn are typical. The northeastern and southeastern portions of the county are heavily forested. [3]


The farm Thomas Lincoln and his wife Nancy moved to in 1808 was just within the borders of "the Barrens," a four-hundred-square-mile subregion of the Pennyroyal that Native Americans had burned repeatedly to create grazing land for game. Tall grasses dominated the Barrens, with scattered trees present only along stream courses. Locally known as the Sinking Spring Farm, the Lincoln property contained a large spring that flowed through a limestone channel, dropped into a sinkhole, and disappeared into the earth. On high ground close to the spring, the elder Lincoln constructed a log cabin, where his son Abraham was born on February 12, 1809. []4 The young Lincoln lived on the Sinking Spring Farm for only two years; in 1811, after a legal dispute centering on land patents, the Lincolns moved to a 230-acre farm on Knob Creek, approximately ten miles northeast. [5]

The idea for a memorial at Lincoln's birthplace was established by the Lincoln Farm Association (LFA), a nonprofit organization formed by Robert Collier, publisher of Collier's Weekly. In 1905, the LFA purchased a 110-acre portion of the original Lincoln Sinking Spring Farm intending to create a national memorial to Lincoln. The LFA also purchased a set of logs identified by some local residents as coming from the original Lincoln birth cabin. The birth cabin had been dismantled sometime prior to 1865, and a local tradition held that some of the logs were removed and used to construct a nearby house. By 1905, the logs associated with the Lincoln birth cabin were in storage in New York. [6]

Memorial Building
Figure 2: Memorial Building and Steps, 1987

The LFA commissioned architect John Russell Pope to design a memorial building on the knoll near the spring, identified by some as the site of the birth cabin. The Memorial Building, completed in 1911, was carefully sited within a formal, designed landscape that featured a terraced approach leading from a court. Upon the building's completion, the LFA removed the logs from storage, moved them into the Memorial Building, and erected them into a cabin which in their view approximated the appearance of the original Lincoln birth cabin. In 1916, the LFA donated the cabin, Memorial Building, and surrounding 110 acres to the Federal government, which established the Abraham Lincoln National Park. The War Department administered the park until August 10, 1933, when it was transferred to the National Park Service (NPS). The park was designated a national historical park August 11, 1939, and was renamed the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site on September 8, 1959. The NPS expanded the park's boundaries with the purchase of approximately 5.25 acres, authorized May 27, 1949, and another addition, authorized April 11, 1972. [7] In 1998, Congress authorized the Secretary of the Interior to acquire the approximately 228 acres of land and the cultural and natural resources of the historic Knob Creek Farm.

Development of the Site after 1916 focused on areas other than the Memorial Building and terraces. In the late 1920s, the War Department constructed limestone steps and walls at the Sinking Spring, built a parking area, and created a formal, rectangular plaza in place of the unpaved court. The current appearance of the memorial landscape thus partially reflects the original 1911 design, as well as later War Department alterations intended to improve visitor access and give the court a more finished appearance. Some historic materials have been replaced—notably, the tree species flanking the terraces and the flagstone pavers of the plaza, but the formal, ceremonial aspects of the approach to the Memorial Building are unchanged. Beyond the immediate area of the Memorial Building, secondary growth forest covers about half the Site, with the rest consisting of expansive mowed lawns. The Site also includes a 1959 Mission 66 visitor center and two employee residences, two small stone maintenance buildings constructed by the War Department, and a maintenance garage. The visitor center contains interpretive exhibits on the Lincoln family, including Thomas and Nancy Lincoln's Bible. Southwest of the Memorial Building is the former site of the Boundary Oak, a large white oak frequently cited in land surveys. In 1949, NPS acquired six acres surrounding the Boundary Oak, which died in 1976. [8] East of U.S. 31E lie park recreational facilities, including a picnic area with a restroom building and pavilion, several forest trails, and an environmental study area. Some commercial development, including motels and a convenience store, has occurred north of the park, and the potential exists for further development both north and south of the park boundary.

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Last Updated: 22-Jan-2003