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At Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park, we have the great honor of telling about our 16th president's formative years.
Make the visitor center your first stop. Here you'll find park information, a 15-minute orientation film, and intriguing exhibits about the Lincoln family and their life in Kentucky.
Get a glimpse inside a typical Kentucky frontier-era cabin and imagine how the Lincoln family would have lived. You'll see a bed with a bear-skin blanket and the loft space where young Abraham and his sister, Sarah, would have slept and swapped stories as children. You can also see a spinning wheel similar to the one Nancy Lincoln would have used to spin sheep's wool into thread to make clothes for her family.
From there, head up the hill to the temple-like Memorial Building. The famous American architect, John Russell Pope, designed this building and its surrounding landscape. (Pope also designed the Jefferson Memorial, the National Gallery of Art's West Building, and the National Archives—all in Washington, D.C.) Climb the 56 steps of the Memorial Building—one step for each year of Lincoln's life—to reach the top.
The Memorial Building has very strong, classic features. Its outer walls are made of pink granite from Connecticut and Massachusetts; the interior walls are made of marble from Tennessee. Mr. Lincoln probably would have been pleased with this choice, as the materials are symbolic of the country, the North and the South, each part of the integral whole.
Inside you'll find the Symbolic Cabin. It stands near the spot where the original Lincoln cabin was built and where Abraham Lincoln was born in 1809.
Once you've toured this area, walk back down to the base of the hill to visit the Sinking Spring. A natural feature called a karst window, the spring is the exposed part of an underground cave, revealing part of a subterranean river. It is a cool refuge on hot summer days. Imagine what it would have been like for the Lincolns to get water from this spring. This spot is probably where young Abraham would have had his first drinks of water!
While many people think that their visit is complete after seeing these sites, I always encourage visitors to explore the Knob Creek area. About ten miles from Lincoln's birthplace, the Knob Creek Farm is where the family moved when Abraham Lincoln was about two years old.
At Knob Creek, you'll find a reconstructed log cabin, similar to the one the Lincoln family would have lived in, as well as the 20th century addition of the Lincoln Tavern. The tavern was built in 1933 and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Although it is not open to the public, you can wander the farm fields and see a view very similar to what the Lincolns would have seen.
Walk a trail high up on the bluffs overlooking the farm or stroll down by the creek. Just be careful! Knob Creek can rise rapidly and without any warning, as young Abraham Lincoln found out one day. He and his neighbor, Austin Gollaher, were walking along the creek bank when Abraham toppled in. He didn't know how to swim, but his friend, Austin, pulled him quickly to safety.
We invite you to come and see this park. A place that inspired Lincoln to say, “I too, am a Kentuckian.”
By Stacy Humphreys, Chief of Interpretation and Resource Management, Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park
Additional sites to explore:
The American Presidents Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary
The Presidents (Biographical Sketches)