Abraham Lincoln Birthplace
Administrative History
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As the years passed, portions of the original 300 acres of the Sinking Spring or Nolin Creek Farm were sold to various persons. The area immediately around the spring, where the birthplace cabin traditionally stood, contained about 110 acres and devolved into the hands of the Creal family.

In the Spring of 1865, John B. Rowbotham, an artist-journalist, was sent by a Cincinnati publishing firm to make a picture of Lincoln's birthplace. He described the site in a letter to William H. Herndon:

From E.T. [Elizabethtown] proceed to Hodgenville which is about ten miles south east of there-inquire the way to Rock Spring Farm owned by Mr. R. A. Creal better known as "old Dickey Creal." The Farm is about 3 miles south of Hodgenville and a good straight road. The site of Mr. L.'s birthplace is on this farm about 500 yards from Mr. Creals house. It is situated on a little knoll or rising ground and is now a barley field. Some rocks indicating the site of the chimney are still there. At the edge of the field are two old pear trees planted by Th. Lincoln - between which - was a gateway leading to the house. Mr. Creal remembers him well. Near the spot is a very romantic spring from which the farm takes its name - & where no doubt Mr. L as a Child often strayed. [1]

The Rowbotham visit was probably one of the earliest attempts to determine the site of Lincoln's birth. There was little local interest in the site--the people of the area were amused by the occasional pilgrim or journalist who came through to cut a souvenir cane from one of the trees on the farm.

R. Wintersmith, the elector for the Fifth Congressional District of Kentucky, had sent a friend in Cincinnati such a set of canes in October 1860. An ardent supporter of "Honest old Abe," he claimed that the "Long-plumb stick was cut from the very place in the house where the bed stood when he [Lincoln] was born. The house has been removed." The canes were almost certainly meant to be used in Lincoln's presidential campaign, for Wintersmith assured his friend McKeehan, "You can certainly recommend them as coming from off his birth-place, as I cut them myself." He identified the birthplace as being "in Larken [Larue] County,formerly of this county. [Hardin; he was writing from Elizabethtown]." [2]

The first attempt to commemorate the site at the Sinking Spring by the Government was made on July 12, 1886, when Rep. Thomas A. Robertson of Kentucky introduced House Resolution No. 200 calling for the appropriation of $10,000 "to erect a granite shaft, on the Creal plan, 3 miles south of Hodgenville, Larue County, Kentucky." The appropriation was to be made on the condition that the land be donated to the Government. The resolution was referred to the Committee of the Library and failed to be reported out. Robertson, a native of Hodgenville, was probably much more conscious of the value of the site than were other legislators of that time.

The Louisville Commercial of March 26, 1894, announced that an option to buy "the old Creal place" with a view toward the establishment of "a resort of national interest like Mount Vernon or the Hermitage" had been contracted by Major S. P. Gross. Major Gross, "the genius who presided over the destinies of the restaurant in the Kentucky building at the [Chicago] World's Fair," was supposed to have contracted to pay not more than $3,000 for the 110-acre property. He would not divulge his exact plans, but it was assumed that he would improve the place with the expectations of "disposing of it to the Government." The newspaper evidently interviewed Major Gross or sent a reporter to Hodgenville for supplementary information on the purchase. The article noted that only a "stray tourist" visited the spot:

From Hodgenville only a country road leads out to the old homestead and the visitor finds himself under the necessity of hiring a lively rig to reach it. . . . Of the old single-room log hut in which the President was born there remains only a heap of stones where the rough chimney stood. All else has disappeared though the decayed stump of what is said to have been a pear tree is seen near by. [3]

For some reason Gross never proceeded further with his project, and in November of the same year Alfred W. Dennett, restaurant chain owner and patron of missionary organizations, bought the 110 acres of the "old Creal place" for $3,000 on three installment notes due in six, twelve and eighteen months. [4]

Dennett and his sometime partner, the Rev. James W. Bigham, had often engaged in money-making enterprises for the benefit of the missionary cause. It is certain that the preservation and improvement of the "Lincoln Spring Farm," as it now came to be called, was promoted for this purpose. A short while after the sale, Dennett made Bigham his agent and assigned him the management and development of the property designated in the contract as the "Lincoln Birthplace." The Louisville Courier-Journal article announcing the sale mentions no cabin standing on the site or elsewhere, nor does it intimate that the location of a "birthplace cabin" was a part of Dennett's plans. He admitted that it was to be a profit-making enterprise and that he would turn it into a public park and build a large hotel on the grounds. The 1895 encampment of the GAR nearby would provide him with his first visitors. He was planning to have "special trains run down to Hodgenville" to transport the veterans out to the farm. [5]

The Larue County Herald of August 29, 1895, announced that Bigham had been instructed by the owner of the farm, Dennett, to "have built at once a log cabin on the Lincoln Farm exactly where stood the cabin in which Lincoln was born, and the cabin is to be built of the identical logs that were in the original cabin." [6] With no further ado, Bigham purchased the logs of an old cabin standing on the nearby property of John A. Davenport and had the cabin re-erected at the spring. [7]

This is the earliest written account of the existence of the "original Lincoln Cabin." In the November 1895 issue of McClure's magazine, however, Ida Tarbell, in an article on Lincoln' boyhood, related that "the cabin was long ago torn down, but the logs were saved. The new owner [Dennett, through Bigham] in August 1895, rebuilt the old cabin on the original site." [8]

In the Tarbell article was reprinted a post-card photograph of the cabin as it stood at the spring in 1895. This view of the cabin, the source of which was for years unknown, was finally proven to be one of a set of photographs of the farm taken by Russell T. Evans, of Evans Art Co. in Elizabethtown. They were apparently commissioned by Bigham for souvenir or promotional material. [9] If McClure's used this material in the Tarbell article on Lincoln, they were probably in contact with either Dennett or Bigham and accepted their word as to the authenticity of the logs in the rebuilt cabin.

The articles in the Larue County Herald and McClure's probably surprised a great many local people who had not been aware of the existence of "the identical logs that were in the original cabin." It certainly seems strange that Major Gross, a figure of more prestige and entrepreneurial reputation in Kentucky than Bigham or Dennett, did not discover the existence of the "identical logs" on the Davenport farm. Nor was he told this interesting fact by any of the local people with whom he must have had dealings in order to search the title and negotiate the option. The Louisville Commercial article announcing the Gross option in March 1894 stated plainly that except for a few stones from the chimney "all else has disappeared."

It is also difficult to believe that neither Rowbotham nor Wintersmith, both early pilgrims to the birthplace site, would not have been told had the original birthplace cabin remained in altered form, on another site.

The "written lecture, descriptive & historic," which Bigham prepared after he had re-erected the cabin at the spring took great pains to establish a connection between the logs he bought from Davenport and the logs of the original cabin built by Thomas Lincoln. It was well known in Larue County that Dr. Jesse Rodman had been commissioned to see President Lincoln some time during the Civil War [10] to petition for the relief of the draft in that area. Bigham stated that it was George Rodman, brother of Jesse, who had gone to Washington and returned with such admiration for Lincoln that he removed the cabin, still standing at the spring, and re-erected it on his property, now in the hands of John Davenport. [11]

Research has shown this story to be largely spurious. An affidavit taken in the spring of 1906 from Lafayette Wilson by agents of the Lincoln Farm Association, which had purchased the farm and cabin, states that he (Wilson) moved the logs of a cabin from the spring in March 1860. [12]

Mrs. Zerelda Jane Goff had asserted a few days earlier that it was Lafayette Wilson who moved them and that they were re-erected into a cabin on the property of Dr. George Rodman. [13]

In March of 1860, when Lafayette Wilson asserts he moved the logs, Abraham Lincoln was not yet President of the United States, and there was of course no draft in Larue or any other county, as the Civil War did not begin until April 1861. Furthermore, a search of the land records in the Larue County Courthouse in Hodgenville by Benjamin Davis of the National Park Service in 1948 failed to reveal any documentary evidence to show that either George Rodman or his far more prominent brother Jesse ever owned or occupied the land later in the hands of the Davenport family. [14]

It may be concluded that the owner of the Davenport property in 1860 probably hired Lafayette Wilson and his stated assistant, James Dyer, to disassemble a log cabin on the Lincoln farm to supply logs for a cabin he was building on his own property. The statement of Mrs. Goff that this was the land belonging to Rodman may be explained by the influence of the Bigham story which was probably well-circulated in the Hodgenville area. The belief that the removal of these logs was in any way motivated by a desire to preserve the birthplace of the great Civil War President is not substantiated by historical evidence. Further, it cannot be proven or disproven, except circumstantially, that the cabin standing on the Creal property at the time of its removal by Wilson contained any or all of the logs used by Thomas Lincoln to construct the cabin in which his son Abraham was born in February of 1809.

Dennett began almost immediately after the purchase of the farm and cabin to seek their sale to the United States Government. He was perennially in debt, and apparently was unable to raise the capital necessary to improve and administer his acquisitions himself. In April of 1896 Rep. John W. Lewis of Kentucky introduced H.R. 8589 into the House. The bill provided for the appropriation of $100,000 to ascertain the location and investigate the title to the Abraham Lincoln birthplace with a view toward purchasing the land and erecting a National Soldiers' Home. Referred to the Committee on Military Affairs, the bill failed to be reported out of committee.

This was to be the last legislative effort for some time in behalf of the Lincoln birthplace. In January 1899, Bigham went to Washington for Dennett to lobby for the sale, but repeated efforts among members of the Kentucky delegation came to nothing. [15] Suddenly, the next month, Dennett conveyed the property to his associate David Crear of New York. The purchase price on the conveyance was left blank. This was an obvious maneuver to protect various debts he had to Crear, for Dennett was in serious trouble with his creditors in New York. Desperately, Dennett searched for Congressional relief from the extra financial burden of the Lincoln farm. He visited Washington twice in 1900. In March of that year he wrote to Bigham "nobody but God Almighty, in my opinion, can sell that property. . . ." [16]

The birthplace cabin, however, was proving a better investment. It was dismantled and moved from its place at the spring for display at the Nashville Centennial in May 1897. There it stood on the midway alongside another Bigham purchase, the "original birthplace cabin of Jefferson Davis," illustrating, no doubt, the humble beginnings of the two Civil War leaders. [17]

The logs of both cabins were next transported by Dennett to New York, where they remained in storage until May 1901. At that time they were rented to a pair of showmen who took them to Buffalo for the Exposition. At the end of the Exposition it was stated that half of the logs had been lost on their way back to New York City. The logs were to remain in the basement of an old mansion in Long Island until they were rediscovered and the cabin reconstructed first at Central Park in Louisville and then at the birthplace farm by the Lincoln Farm Association in 1906.

The Cincinnati Commercial Tribune of August 4, 1901, reported that Thomas J. Thomas, a wealthy Negro and ex-slave of Larue County, planned to devote the whole fortune left to him by a former master to convert the Lincoln farm into a home for "old and decrepit ex-slaves." David Crear, reported as the owner, showed reluctance. The plan for some reason did not progress further. [18]

Sinking deeper into financial despair, Dennett filed a petition for bankruptcy in November 1901. For some reason he did not schedule the Lincoln farm among his assets and although some of his creditors brought this up against him, he was never questioned about it in court. After Dennett's discharge for bankruptcy in September 1903, it remained for Crear to defend his title to the birthplace farm. Finally, however, in May of 1905, the Larue County Circuit Court ruled Dennett's conveyance to Crear as fraudulent and the farm was ordered up for commissioner's sale. [19]

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Last Updated: 10-Feb-2003