Abraham Lincoln Birthplace
Administrative History
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The sale by the commissioner of the Lincoln farm in 1905 attracted a great deal more attention from the press than had previous sales of the property. The event was advertised for two separate weeks in the Louisville Courier-Journal, which called it "a sale of national importance [which] will attract people from many other states because of the interest attaching to the famous old farm." [1] It was expected that although there were ample possibilities for turning the property into a national park, the land was not particularly good and "as a farming venture it would not claim a high price." There were few in the vicinity who could afford to pay very much for the land. "If the bidding is confined to neighboring farmers, it is predicted that the birthplace of the immortal Lincoln will be sold very cheap." The average price of land in that section was $15 per acre.

The postmaster of Hodgenville, Thomas B. Kirkpatrick, had been taking an active interest in the fate of the birthplace farm. Approximately a year before the sale, he had been in communication with William Jennings Bryan about spearheading a popular sub scription drive to purchase the farm and present it to either the county, State or Federal Government. The movement did not get under way, but Bryan was in agreement about the basic goals of the plan: "It is nothing to the credit of the American people that Lincoln's birthplace has been neglected. . . . the time will come when our posterity will regret the ruin and decay of the old log cabin and the magnificent spring." [2]

The farm at the time of the sale presented a decidedly run-down and neglected appearance. A portion of the fields was grown up in sassafras and locust bushes and "fences are so dilapidated that they scarcely afford sufficient protection to the few scattered patches of corn and tobacco which are to be found." Dennett was supposed to have cleared the farm and planted blue grass which was now ragged and overgrown. The article in the Courier-Journal of August 27, 1905, reproduced the photograph of the cabin taken by Evans in 1895 and some later views of the site after the cabin had been removed. A large flagpole, which had never been used, marked the spot where the cabin had stood. [3]

On August 28, 1905 Richard Lloyd Jones bought the farm for $3,600 in the name of Robert J. Collier, editor of the popular Collier's Weekly. There was a large crowd of out-of-town people present at the sale in Hodgenville, but only a few of them bid. Among them were John E. Burton of Milwaukee, a famous collector of Lincolniana, and Edward J. McDermott of Louisville, representing the New York Christian and Missionary Alliance. [4] Many years later, Jones recalled that it was he himself who first conceived of the plan to preserve Lincoln's birthplace. While visiting with Col. Henry Watterson, editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal, he was encouraged to visit the farm, then in the hands of David Crear:

It occurred to me that something should be done to mark the birth of such a giant. . . . I had no idea what to do with it if I could get it, but the notion of acquiring it impelled me to get information. I left word with a local lawyer to notify me if it was ever offered for sale.

Back in New York, Jones interested Collier in "somehow marking that birthplace. . . . Whatever we did [toward the preservation of the farm] we would need the help of Mr. Collier's magazine." [5]

Robert Collier received possession of the farm in December of that year. The Courier-Journal rejoiced that the farm at last "has fallen into the hands of men of wealth who are willing to spend large sums to beautify and ornament it in the proper way." [6]

In a large spread in the February 10, 1906, issue of Collier's, Jones presented to the public for the first time the plans of the newly formed Lincoln Farm Association:

When the Lincoln Farm Association, actimated by the highest patriotic motives, gives to posterity the purifying inspiration of a Lincoln righteousness, then indeed the government of the people, for the people and by the people shall not perish from the earth, and the old Kentucky birthplace will not have been saved in vain.

The role of Collier's in this venture was to save the birthplace farm from "the exploitations of speculators for vulgar show and unwholesome popularity." Jones stressed that the magazine held the farm "in trust for the nation" and had "no ulterior object in view." The park which the Association planned to establish at Lincoln's birthplace would "differ widely from our other national parks, such as Gettysburg, Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge [sic], Vicksburg and others, in that it will express our national unity rather than preserve the memory of our lamentable differences."

Everyone who contributed no less than 25 cents nor more than $25 would receive an engraved certificate of membership in the Lincoln Farm Association. The money thereby raised would be used to restore the cabin to its original site, clean and protect the old spring , plant the fields in bluegrass and erect at lease one monument and historical museum.

Endorsements solicited from President Theodore Roosevelt and Speaker of the House Joseph G. Cannon praised the plans of the Association. President Roosevelt stressed the importance of simplicity in carrying out improvements, and Speaker Cannon warned against the disposition of the property to the Government: "For once accepted by the Government, it will be practically impossible to make conditions that would forever keep the park as its projectors would have it kept." [7]

On February 14, 1906, an account was opened with the U. S. Mortgage and Trust Co. in New York. All accounts and books of the Association were placed with the New York firm of Barrow, Wade, Guthrie & Co. Offices were opened at 74 Broadway,with Gov. Joseph W. Folk of Missouri as President. In March, Frederick J. Pierce was installed as general manager. [8]

The Lincoln Farm Association was incorporated on April 18, 1906, for the purposes of honoring and perpetuating the memory of Abraham Lincoln, the taking and holding of 110 acres of his birthplace farm, and the development and maintenance of the same. The original Board of Directors included many illustrious names:

Joseph H. Choate
Henry Watterson
Cardinal Gibbons
August Saint-Gaudens
Charles A. Towne
Joseph W. Folk
August Belmont
William H. Taft
Albert Shaw
Lyman J. Gage
Samuel L. Clemens
Jenkin Lloyd Jones
Norman Hapgood
Ida Tarbell
Horace Porter
Edward M. Shepard
William Travers Jerome
Robert J. Collier
Thomas Hastings
Clarence H. Mackay
Richard Lloyd Jones [9]

The Board of Trustees included the above as well as Oscar L. Straus, John A. Johnson; Charles Evans Hughes, Samuel Gompers,Augustus E. Willson, William Jennings Bryan and Charles E. Miner. [10]

An immediate search for the whereabouts and recovery of Lincoln's "original birthplace cabin" was launched. Jones reported in the February 10, 1906, issue of Collier's that the cabin had been

sold to an exhibitor, who has taken it about the country as a traveling show and who now holds it intact in a cellar in Stamford, Connecticut, for ransom. It will never be given back to the people, to whom it should belong, but can be brought back, and this will be done . . . Vandal hands have carried off the humble cabin wherein a giant soul was born. [11]

The cabin, of course, had not been carried off by "vandal hands, " nor was it held for ransom in a cellar in Stamford, Connecticut. The logs resided in the basement of the old Poppenhusen Mansion at College Point, Long Island, where they had been stored by their owner, David Crear. He had come into control of them since Dennett became insane and was committed to a state hospital in California in April 1904. In February 1906, Norman Hapgood, member of the Board of Directors, bought the logs from Crear for $1,000. [12] A triumphant tour of the logs back to their original site on the birthplace farm was arranged for June 1906.

The logs were loaded on a flatcar which left Pennsylvania Station in New York City on June 6. The car was decorated with flags and bunting and portraits of Lincoln and was guarded by a special detachment of the Kentucky Militia under the command of Capt. Neville S. Bullitt. Stops included Baltimore, Philadelphia, Harrisburg and Indianapolis. [13]

The logs arrived in Louisville on June 12 and were set up in Central Park as part of the Kentucky Homecoming Week festivities. A reporter from the Courier-Journal described the logs as they lay ready to be put together: "All that can be seen is a pile of rough and partially decayed logs, an old door which is minus one of its panels [sic] and a rough mantel-piece." [14]

The June 15 edition of the Courier-Journal showed a picture of the reconstructed cabin in Central Park and noted that spectators were disappointed that it had no roof. [15] After Homecoming Week the cabin was stored until the site at the farm could be prepared.

In May, the Association had engaged the Hodgenville law firm of Williams and Handley to determine the authenticity of the cabin. Four of the twelve affidavits taken by Williams and Handley concerned the cabin, the rest related local recollections and traditions about the birthplace farm. On May 28, Judge John C. Creal, who sold the farm to Dennett and had lived on part of the Lincoln farm since his birth in 1836, attested that the house which Bigham removed from the Davenport place in 1895 "was a comparatively new house when I knew anything about it." [16]

The authentication of the cabin in the possession of the Lincoln Farm Association was based on the affidavits of the above mentioned (Chapter II) Lafayette Wilson and Zerelda Jane Goff, and the remarks of John A. Davenport, from whom Bigham had purchased the logs. He stated that he had come to Larue County in 1863 and lived near the Lincoln Farm:

That in 1875 he moved into the cabin built of the logs from the Lincoln cabin: That when he first camt to this county in 1863 [he was then 13 years old] it was well known by all the older residents that these logs were taken from the Lincoln Cabin at the Spring. [17]

The Lincoln Farm Association was satisfied by the results of this perfunctory investigation that the cabin, despite its colorful history in the preceding ten years, was indeed the original cabin built by Thomas Lincoln for his family in 1808, and made plans to enshrine it in a grand memorial hall to be built on the farm. The conflicting testimony of Judge Creal, who had lived on the property most of his life and had had personal dealings with Bigham and Dennett, was disregarded. Williams and Handley submitted their evidence with these remarks:

We have obtained the above facts, which are the best obtainable at this late date at some consider able trouble. Many more witnesses could be had testifying substantially to the facts, but this would be merely cumulative and we close the testimony with the submission of the facts to the public, believing that the American people will not be so unreasonable or critical as to demand more conclusive evidence of the birthplace of this great American. [18]

On June 19, Robert Collier conveyed the farm and cabin to the Lincoln Farm Association. The conveyance was carefully worded as to the authenticity of the cabin:

[I, Robert Collier, party of the first part] by these presents do bargain sell, and convey unto the said party of the second part, the Lincoln Farm Association, its successors and assignees, the log cabin called the Abraham Lincoln log cabin, and which has been and is now exhibited as such, and which was sold to me, the party of the first part and said to be the log cabin or part of the same in which Abraham Lincoln was born. [19]

At the first annual meeting of the Board of Directors on February 18, 1907, Richard Lloyd Jones, secretary of the Association, reported that a total of 29,000 persons had contributed to the fund. The average contribution in 1906 had been 31 cents, which left a margin of only 14 cents after the considerable expense involved in paying for the five-room office suite, the engraved membership certificates, and publicity had been deducted. The amount of the average contribution rose in 1907 to 85 cents, but the association was still running at a deficit. The Memorial Fund received a boost later that year with the contributions of Clarence Mackay, who donated 400 shares of "Mackay companies preferred stock" worth $29,247 in 1907, and Mrs. Russell Sage, who made an outright gift of $25,000.

Frederick Pierce, the association's general manager, contrived many schemes for raising the money needed to improve the birth place. It was he who devised the tour of the old logs to Louisville, during which time more than 600,000 circulars were distributed in various cities soliciting funds for the work of the association. A list of 1,100 daily newspapers had been secured, each paper promising to run a series of articles on the movement. Mailing lists and club subscription sheets were collected for employees of several large industrial concerns, and efforts to enlist the help of patriotic organizations in forming local committees for fund-raising were made. The views of "leading men in all lines of activity" were eagerly solicited, and a particular effort was made to enroll students of elementary and secondary schools in "Lincoln Leagues" for the collection of contributions. [20]

During 1907, Jules Guerin and Guy Lowell, distinguished landscape artists, were sent to survey the grounds and make recommendations for improvements. A long-time resident of the area, who also lived on the property, was appointed caretaker. The promotional booklet distributed for Lincoln's Birthday in 1907 spoke of the "cordial cooperation pledged by many surviving commanding generals of the Confederate Army." The GAR officially endorsed the work of the Association and "empowered its Commander-in-Chief to call upon its upwards of 6,000 posts and enlist all patriotic citizens." [21] Samuel Gompers pledged the support of the National Federation of Labor in February of 1907. By August, the 80,000 members of the Daughters of Liberty had been solicited for contributions.

John Russell Pope, the eminent architect, was selected to design the memorial building in which the cabin would be enshrined. The association at that time had in mind a large two-story museum with a design similar to the front of the White House. There was to be a central court with a copy of Saint-Gaudens' famous Lincoln statue from which an avenue of trees would lead to the entrance of the museum.

A business depression in October of 1907 produced such a marked falling off of contributions that the office staff was reduced by one-half. In November, the contracting company of Norcross Brothers began construction of the memorial building on a $237,101 contract. The association began to be concerned that work would not be completed by the centennial of Lincoln's birth in 1909. It was at this time that the policy of not soliciting contributions of more than $25 was discontinued. Jones reported in 1908, "in order that work might not be delayed beyond the centenary of Lincoln's birth, the Executive Committee deemed it advisable to make special efforts to raise the necessary money for this work." [22]

Accordingly, Jones spoke to several Representatives and Senators early in the year in favor of a bill asking a Congressional appropriation to help the association in the construction of the memorial building. H.R. 20435 was introduced in the House by Representative Martin B. Madden of Illinois on April 7, 1908.

It called for an appropriation of $100,000 "to aid the Lincoln Farm Association of New York to build and endow a national memorial to Abraham Lincoln on the site of the Lincoln Birthplace Farm in Kentucky." In the Committee of the Library, the sum was reduced to $50,000. A similar Senate Bill to the same end and a series of petitions and joint resolutions failed to impress upon Congress the urgency of the situation and no Government funds were forthcoming.

The original plan of the architect for the memorial building had to be somewhat revised. Pope had provided for a central court with a movable roof in which the cabin would be placed. Around this were to be the museum halls, the main room being convertible into an auditorium for patriotic gatherings. It is fairly clear that the Lincoln Farm Association and many of its supporters intended the birthplace farm to be the site of the country's principal monument to Lincoln. A combination of financial problems and a feeling that such a memorial would be more appropriate in Washington, which was the scene of his greatest accomplishments, led the Association to abandon many features of this plan. The Association also proposed to keep the grounds growing in corn, squash and bluegrass "as it has always done since the day Thomas Lincoln took his little family to venture into the wilderness beyond the broad Ohio." [23]

The centennial of Lincoln's birth on February 12, 1909, arrived without the completion of the Memorial Building. President Theodore Roosevelt and a number of dignitaries were invited to come to the cornerstone ceremonies. The Louisville Courier-Journal of that day predicted that when the monument was completed Hodgenville would become"a new Mecca in America and the Lincoln Farm a second Mount Vernon." [24] The day was cold and rainy. The papers reported that the rain had begun early in the morning and the red, white and blue decorations looked "a fright." Nevertheless, President and Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt, Miss Ethel Roosevelt, Secretary of War Luke E. Wright, Governor Augustus E. Willson of Kentucky and 7,993 other visitors slogged up the rain-soaked hill to where the cabin stood on the site of the Memorial Building. The Courier-Journal wrote of the event:

When in the days to come a beautiful Doric temple shrines the "log cabin of destiny," when landscape artists have worked a paradise, let us not forget to doff our hats, broad-brimmed or silk, to the Lincoln Park Association [sic] and its generous founders. [25]

The Memorial Building and grounds were completed in the fall of 1911. More than 3,000 people were present on November 9 to witness Joseph M. Folk, Governor of Missouri, in behalf of the Lincoln Farm Association, turn the property over to the State of Kentucky. Gov. Augustus Willson of Kentucky accepted the trust pending necessary legislation and stated that Kentucky would add to the $50,000 trust fund set up by the association for the maintenance of the farm. President William Howard Taft, a member of the Board of Trustees of the Lincoln Farm Association, gave an address.

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Last Updated: 10-Feb-2003