Lincoln Boyhood
Administrative History
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The Establishment of Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial

Senator Vance Hartke's Lincoln day bill (S. 1024) providing for a new area study to determine whether Lincoln State Park and the Nancy Hanks Lincoln State Memorial were nationally significant and thereby suitable for inclusion in the National Park System became law on April 22, 1959. The National Park Service (NPS) assigned Charles Shedd, Jr., Historic Sites Historian for the Service's Region Five headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to do the study as part of the nationwide Historic Sites Survey.

Shedd's study contained a critical analysis of the site, a historical narrative about the Thomas Lincoln farm, several maps and photographs, and other data. [1] Shedd expressed his concerns that the locations of both the gravesite and the cabinsite were based on "human memory which, although in accordance with probability, cannot be considered as final and conclusive proof." [2] Although Shedd's report contained no specific recommendation concerning the park's addition to the National Park System, it observed that the state managed the area well (". . . and there is every reason to believe that present high standards will be maintained" [3]; that most visitors were from southern Indiana; and that there were already more units in the National Park System associated with Abraham Lincoln than with any other individual. Although Shedd's study failed to specifically recommend against the inclusion of all or part of Lincoln State Park to the System, it certainly did not promote the addition.

Local entrepreneur William Koch, however, did promote the concept; in fact, it was his idea. Koch's father had built an amusement park centered around a Christmas theme only five miles from Lincoln State Park in the first quarter of the twentieth century, and Bill Koch assumed management of Santa Claus Land (now Holiday World) following his service in the Second World War. Koch grew up in southern Indiana, and had a sincere desire to preserve Lincoln history in the area. A competent and influential businessman, Koch also recognized the potential boon to tourist trade in southern Indiana which national park status would bring, and asked Eighth District* Congressman Winfield K. Denton to introduce legislation proposing the establishment of a National Park Service unit at Lincoln City. [6]

*Indiana's Eighth District encompasses both Lincoln State Park/Lincoln City and Santa Claus Land/Santa Claus.

Congressman Denton embraced the plan with enthusiasm. He agreed with Koch's evaluation that national park status would increase tourist traffic in southern Indiana, and was eager to do what he could to improve his district's sagging economy. What's more, Denton, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, wanted some of the Department of the Interior funds spent in his state. [7]

In March 1960, Denton expressed his dissatisfaction with the Shedd report to National Park Service Director Conrad Wirth. Denton was successful in gaining Wirth's attention, for the director met with Bill Koch in Lincoln City to discuss the advantages of NPS presence in the area later that month. In May, two Service representatives from the Philadelphia office visited Lincoln State Park, apparently to conduct a preliminary investigation of the site. The following month, NPS Assistant Regional Director George A. Palmer* notified Indiana State Parks Director Ken Cougill that he was sending Frank Barnes and Andrew Feil of the Philadelphia office and Herbert Kahler from Washington to study the park further, and asked if someone could show them around. One week later, Cougill informed park Superintendent Eugene Ayer of the impending visit and instructed him to assist the NPS personnel, as needed. [8]

* Because George Palmer was from Indiana, he was the regional office's "lead man" for matters concerning Lincoln Boyhood and Indiana Dunes. George A. Palmer to author, May 22, 1987.

On September 8, 1960, as a result of these studies (which may well have been influenced by Denton's position on the powerful Appropriations Committee), Region Five Regional Director Ronald Lee recommended to Director Wirth that a park in southern Indiana be included in the System, but under the Advance of the Frontier theme rather than the Civil War theme. (Shedd's study had analyzed Lincoln State Park in the Civil War perspective.) [9] Having won Wirth's support, Denton introduced H.R. 2470 proposing the establishment of Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial on January 11, 1961. Denton's bill proposed the transfer of the Nancy Hanks Lincoln Memorial to the National Park Service.

About the same time, Senator Vance Hartke introduced legislation to transfer the entire Lincoln State Park to Federal management. The State of Indiana supported Denton's proposal, but wanted to keep the recreational portion of the park under state control. Denton's bill received the most attention in the press, including a series of editorials in the Evansville Courier promoting the Federal park. Most area residents, indeed, most Indianans, supported the transfer of the Nancy Hanks Lincoln Memorial. There were a few exceptions; some employees of the Department of Conservation felt the park was, and should continue to be, Indiana's tribute to her most noted resident. [10]

One Conservation Department employee firmly opposed to the transfer was Robert D. Starrett, Supervisor of Memorials. In a handwritten note notifying Ken Cougill of the visit by two unnamed Park Service employees in May 1960, Starrett exclaimed: "Someone keeps 'stirring this * pot'! I don't imagine Indiana will surrender this memorial without a fight. It's a lot of tommyrot! * [sic]" [11]* Starrett could not have been more mistaken. Indiana Governor Harold Handley favored the transfer of the memorial,** and apparently made it clear he wanted no opposition to the proposal voiced. [12]

*Starrett's notes included printed asterisks, apparently intended to replace expletives.

**While Governor Handley favored the transfer of the Nancy Hanks Lincoln Memorial to Federal management, he was simultaneously fighting a proposed transfer of a portion of Indiana Dunes State Park to the National Park Service. Newspaper editorials from across the state referenced the state's different attitudes concerning the two proposals. For example, see the Bicknell [Indiana] News, 1 April 1960.

There was no dearth of voices favoring Denton's bill. State newspaper editorials resoundingly promoted the bill on the basis of its presumed economic benefits and its appropriateness in recognizing the significance of Lincoln's Indiana boyhood. They pointed out the cost (one million dollars) was small when spread over the several years it would take to establish and develop the park. The Indiana Lincoln Foundation's campaign to raise funds for an international education center they hoped to construct near Lincoln State Park also benefited the National Park proposal.* Bill Koch and State Auditor Roy T. Combs conducted a vigorous campaign for passage of Denton's bill; their correspondence and personal visits with key people in the state government and in Congress ensured steady progress toward the bill's passage. [13]

*Although the Indiana Lincoln Foundation (ILF) claimed credit for coordinating support for the Lincoln Boyhood bill, their papers, housed in the Indiana State Library in Indianapolis, demonstrate that their primary concern was the education center, not the Lincoln Boyhood proposal. Indiana Lincoln Union Scrapbooks, Indiana State Library, Indiana Division, Indianapolis.

George Palmer of the National Park Service met with representatives of the Indiana Lincoln Foundation and Indiana State Parks on three occasions to discuss possible Foundation involvement at the proposed memorial. At the first meeting, the ILF offered to operate the memorial from a structure to be located onsite. At the second meeting, the Service informed the ILF of its intention to operate the memorial itself, but offered to cooperate with the Foundation if they located their headquarters in the Lincoln City area. At the final meeting, the ILF acknowledged the poor prospects of raising funds to construct the education center/headquarters building, and decided to drop the matter. This was the last formal communication between the ILF and the National Park Service. George A. Palmer to author, May 22, 1987.

In fact, the passage of Denton's bill was really never in danger. The proposed Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial was noncontroversial. The handful of Indianans opposed to the concept deferred to the governor's wishes. Koch's and Combs' activities were effective in keeping the proposal in the public eye and kept the proposal moving steadily through the hearings and debates. Their work enabled the complex series of events required to accomplish the transfer of the Nancy Hanks part of the Lincoln Memorial to the Department of Interior to be accomplished smoothly and in relatively short time.

The spirit of cooperation was set in the State of Indiana's March 6, 1961, Joint Resolution (H.C.R. 11) affirming the State would work with the Federal government to accomplish a smooth transition. Two days later, the assembly passed H. 85 authorizing the conveyance of the Nancy Hanks Lincoln Memorial to the Federal government. A provision limiting the amount of land which could be transferred to 200 acres reflected the State's desire to transfer only the Nancy Hanks Lincoln Memorial, not the entire Lincoln Park. [14]

On April 27, 1961, Assistant Secretary of the Interior John M. Kelley informed Congressman Wayne N. Aspinall, Chairman of the House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, of the Department of Interior's support for H.R. 2470. [15]

The House passed H.R. 2470 on August 22, 1961, with only one dissenting vote. [16]* By this time, Senator Hartke's S. 376 proposing the transfer of the entire Lincoln State Park to the National Park Service was dropped. The Senate passed an amended version of Denton's bill on February 8, 1962; the Senate version established funding limits and required the transfer of state lands by donation, while the House bill had no funding limits and would have permitted transfer by purchase. The Conference Committee retained the funding ceiling and replaced the donation requirement with a limit on the amount which could be spent for land acquisition. President John F. Kennedy signed the act authorizing the establishment of Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial (P.L. 87—407, 76 Stat. 9) on February 19, 1962. [17]

*Representative H. R. Gross of Iowa claimed a memorial to the taxpayers would be more appropriate, since they would have to foot the bills. Gross wanted the Federal budget balanced before any new expenditures were assumed.

Echoing the restrictions of Indiana's March 8, 1961, law permitting the transfer of land, P.L. 87—407 limited the size of Lincoln Boyhood to 200 acres;* established a funding ceiling of $1,000,000 (with a limit of $75,000 to be spent on land acquisition);** and stated the memorial would be established when an "administrable unit" was acquired; and such was announced in the Federal Register. [18]

*As stated earlier, the major differences between Denton's and Hartke's bills was in the amount of land to be transferred to the National Park Service; Denton wanted only the property associated with Thomas Lincoln's farm, Nancy Hanks Lincoln's gravesite, and the memorial buildings to become a unit of the National Park System. Since Denton's bill reflected Governor Handley's wishes, and met the needs of Bill Koch and others hoping to increase tourist traffic, it was the only proposal seriously considered by the Congress. The 200—acre limit specified in P.L. 87—407 was included to ensure that Lincoln Boyhood remain only large enough to protect and preserve the land associated with the Lincolns' farm and the state's tribute to Abraham and his mother. The present size of Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial, 197 acres, includes only half of the land Thomas Lincoln once owned. If the National Park Service is to preserve "the original Thomas Lincoln farm, the nearby gravesite of Nancy Hanks Lincoln, and such adjoining land as [the Secretary of the Interior] deems necessary. . . ,"as intended by the authorizing act, it may be necessary to increase the acreage limitation.

**P. L. 92—743 subsequently raised the funding ceiling from $1,000,000 to $1,320,000, and the land acquisition ceiling from $75,000 to $395,000.

Implementation of P.L. 87—407 required several steps. First the State of Indiana conducted a boundary survey of the Nancy Hanks Lincoln Memorial, which the newly elected governor, Matthew E. Welsh, approved. Then the Department of the Interior designated boundaries for the newly authorized Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial, and Secretary of the Interior Stuart Udall approved them. On June 11, 1963, Governor Welsh and Department of Conservation Director Donald Foltz signed the deed transmitting 114.49 acres to the United States of America. The deed was verified by the Department of Justice, and transmitted to the Attorney General with preliminary title insurance on the twenty—fourth of June. On August 9, Udall signed the Notice of Establishment; the Department of the Interior filed Doc. 63—8731 with the Federal Register on August 14, 1963, and the Register published the notice the following day. The Federal Register notice completed the requirements for establishment of Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial. [19]

The National Park Service did not wait for the national memorial's establishment to announce its presence in Indiana's first authorized unit of the System. On March 26—28, 1962, Supervisory Park Landscape Architect Hodge Hanson and National Park System Planning Chief Andrew Feil of the Washington Office, and Assistant Northeast Regional Director George Palmer visited the Memorial with Bob Starrett* to begin the boundary study and initiate plans for a dedication ceremony. At this meeting, the parties also determined they would relocate Highway 162 south of the memorial building. [20]

*In spite of his earlier opposition to National Park Service operation of the former Nancy Hanks Lincoln Memorial, Starrett was very cordial and cooperative at this meeting. George A. Palmer to author, May 22, 1987.

Bill Koch of nearby Santa Claus Land and Roy Combs, State Auditor and Indiana Lincoln Foundation President, planned the dedication ceremony. The National Park Service sent George Palmer to Lincoln City a few days before the ceremony to see that satisfactory arrangements had been made. The National Park Service promised to reimburse the State of Indiana for any costs it incurred in planning and execution of the dedication ceremony, and in planning for the road relocation. (Congress' $75,000 appropriation for Lincoln Boyhood was for fiscal year 1963, which began July 1, 1962. Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial would have no budget until then.) [21] Senator Vance Hartke asked President Kennedy to speak at the dedication, but the schedule could not be worked out. [22] The dedication ceremony took place in front of the memorial building on July 10, 1962. Interior Secretary Stuart Udall presided over the ceremonies, which featured Governor Matthew Welsh's formal presentation of the land deed* to Secretary Udall, and brief talks by Senator Hartke (also Master of Ceremonies for the event) and Congressman Winfield Denton. The program for the dedication ceremony listed poet Carl Sandburg as Honorary Chairman of the dedication committee, but there is no evidence of Sandburg's involvement in the planning, nor did he attend the ceremony. [23]

*The governor did not present Udall the actual deed. Rather, he presented the Secretary of the Interior a blank sheet of paper tied with a red ribbon, furnished for the ceremony by George Palmer. George A. Palmer to Ron Cockrell, May 28, 1987.

While working together on passage and implementation of the authorizing act and on the dedication ceremony, the State of Indiana and the National Park Service reached several cooperative agreements. In addition to agreeing to relocate Highway 162 south of the memorial building, the Service promised to replace the Lincoln State Park entrance with a "unified entrance treatment," [24] and to build a gatehouse at the new state park entrance. The state, in turn, fabricated entrance signs for Lincoln Boyhood (which the Department of Conservation charged against Lincoln State Park's account). [25] Lincoln Boyhood's first superintendent, Robert L. (Bob) Burns worked closely with state park superintendent Charles Weber, setting a pattern for cooperation between the two parks which continues to the present.

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Last Updated: 25-Jan-2003