Abraham Lincoln Birthplace
Administrative History
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Almost as soon as the Park had been completed, a campaign was launched to secure legislation allowing its conveyance to the United States Government. The plan of Governor Willson of Kentucky, to accept and maintain the Park for that State, apparently did not bear fruit. On June 3, 1912, only seven months after the dedication of the park by President Taft, Representative Ben Johnson of Kentucky introduced H.R. 25074. The bill called for the acceptance by deed of gift or conveyance from the Lincoln Farm Association of "the land . . . embracing the homestead of Abraham Lincoln and the log cabin in which he was born, together with the memorial hall inclosing the same; and . . . an endowment fund of $50,000 in relation thereto."

No funds were requested for appropriation; the sole source of revenue for the maintenance of the Park was to be the interest on the $50,000 invested in City of Louisville bonds. The bill was referred to the Committee of the Library. A Senate bill with an identical text had been introduced by Senator William E. Borah of Idaho. Both bills languished in the Committees of the Library throughout the 62nd Congress.

In April of 1913, Senator Borah again introduced the identical bill in the form of S. 602. Representative Johnson also brought forward H.R. 12802 in February of 1914. The bills were identical to those of 1912 and were again referred to the Library Committees, where they died. The intrepid Senator Borah introduced it yet again in January 1916, and was followed by Representative Johnson with H.R. 8351, a bill destined for success. The bill escaped the icy clutches of the Library Committee on February 18 without amendment. On the House floor in April it was amended and passed, and referred to the Senate on April 15. A Senate debate on June 3 led to a further amendment, and the bill passed the Senate. The House concurred in the amendment and the bill became law with President Woodrow Wilson's signature on July 18, 1916. When he delivered the speech of acceptance at the park in September of 1916, Wilson became the third President of the United States to visit Lincoln's birthplace.

The passage of H.R. 8351 was a festive occasion in the House of Representatives. The body had resolved itself into a Committee of the Whole House and a series of speeches on Lincoln and his heritage were delivered by members of the House. There were several Congressmen who had known Lincoln; Speaker Joseph Cannon reminisced about Lincoln on the circuit in Illinois, at the Republican Convention, and the election of 1860. There were others, such as Representative Isaac Sherwood of Ohio, a member of Congress in 1873, who were Civil War veterans or were old enough to remember Lincoln's administration. Representative Simeon D. Fess of Ohio expressed the general climate of enthusiasm for the Lincoln Farm project with his remarks:

This proposition will connect his [Lincoln's] greatness as he left us with the simple beginnings of his life and will refresh the future generations with the inspiration of American opportunity. For that reason I want to speak my favor of the reception of this gift by those whose hearts are filled with gratitude toward the memory of this great men. [PROLONGED APPLAUSE] [1]

The bill provided in Section 4 for the jurisdiction over the property to be placed in the hands of the Secretary of War. An early reading of the bill had vested these powers in the President and the Secretary of State. For some reason this obvious error was not corrected in committee, but required amendment from the floor.

The deed of gift or conveyance between the Lincoln Farm Association and the United States was signed on June 19, 1916. In consideration of the sum of one dollar, the United States received the 110 1/2 acres "known as the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln" and all buildings and appurtenances, which "shall be forever dedicated to the purpose of a National Park or reservation." The United States further agreed to "preserve said lands, buildings, and appurtenances especially the LOG CABIN in which ABRAHAM LINCOLN was born and the Memorial Hall enclosing the same from spoliation, destruction, and further disintegration . . . and further agrees that there shall never be any charge or fee made to, or asked from the Public for admission to said Park or Reservation."

The United States accepted title also to a $50,000 endowment fund which, according to the report of the Committee of the Library, provided the property with an income of more than $2,000 a year, enough for it to be self-sustaining. [2]

The Farm regulations drawn up by the Secretary of War and subject to his jurisdiction provided for a non-resident Farm Commissioner and the assistance of a custodian, who was to reside on the farm or its immediate environs. Richard Lloyd Jones had volunteered his services for the position of commissioner, but the Government ruled that he must be paid a nominal salary of $100 per year. The rationale for the commissioner system was explained in this way:

It is believed that it is only through an organization of this general character whereby the general executive officer will not be required to reside thereon, that such services in that capacity can be enlisted as will make the farm what the originators of the conception proposed to make it, namely, an ever increasing source of inspiration to the American people. [3]

John A. Cissell, a resident of the Lincoln Farm property and grandson of John Creal, was appointed custodian on September 14, 1916. He had served in this position under the Lincoln Farm Association since 1910.

It cannot be determined that any investigation of the authenticity of the birthplace farm and cabin was ever made under the auspices of the War Department. None was made at the acceptance of the property by the United States Government in 1916. As late as November 1928, the War Department's official policy on the matter of the cabin was that it had been authenticated by Act of Congress. A letter questioning the presentation of the cabin at the Park brought this response:

The perusal of the Act of Congress approved July 17, 1916 (39 Stat. 385) will give you the official history of Lincoln's birthplace. In view of the above mentioned and the action taken in acceptance of the farm and memorial in pursuance thereof, the War Department does not question the authenticity of the statement that the cabin is the birthplace of Lincoln. [4]

The regulations for the maintenance and operation of the farm charged the custodian with enforcement of the rules against private notices, hunting, trapping, purchase, sale or use of liquor, solicitation, or grazing of livestock. The sale of refreshments and souvenirs by persons not employees might be permitted by the Farm Commissioner, or, subject to his consent, by the custodian on specific public occasions. [5]

Jones, as commissioner, was charged with making periodic visits to the farm and submitting reports to the Secretary of War. By 1926, the Commissioner arrangement was beginning to show signs of strain. Jones' report for July 1925-June 1926 submitted to the Secretary of War that the ruling by the War Department, disallowing travel expenses for anyone but the commissioner himself, had prevented him or his representative from visiting the farm that year. [6] In February 1927, Representative Martin B. Madden disclosed to the Secretary of War that an investigation by a committee formed by the Hodgenville Chamber of Commerce revealed the Memorial Building and its surroundings to be in a state of deterioration. "There is a commissioner I think," wrote Representative Madden, "who it is said has been on the ground only once in seven years." He suggested that a new road be built and a new commissioner appointed. For this position Madden recommended the Quartermaster General, who could easily coordinate the job with the Department of War. [7]

The Quartermaster General had already been charged, in July 1926, with "supervising and acting upon matters pertaining to the Lincoln Farm and Memorial." [8] The War Department, however, hesitated to remove Jones as commissioner because he had been one of the original members of the Lincoln Farm Association, which had established the Park without cost to the Government. [9]

As a solution to the problem, the Secretary's Office suggested in March that Jones relinquish routine duties while retaining the right to be consulted on important questions. He was at that time an editor of the Tulsa, Oklahoma, Tribune, and left the impression that "the affairs of the farm now need more immediate supervision than he seems to be in a position to give." In April, Jones received notice from the Quartermaster General of the removal of his general administrative duties as commissioner. These affairs were to be placed in the hands of a regional quartermaster "for those purposes not involving decisions as to policies, concerning which you would be consulted as heretofore." [10]

The attentions of the War Department were next turned toward two important areas of improvement at the farm: flood control and the construction and paving of a good road from the highway past the farm to the court and memorial building. Commissioner Jones had urged capital investment in improvements at the farm, as the interest from the endowment fund was only enough to pay the salaries of Custodian Cissell and his assistant W. C. Ragsdale, who also worked part of the acreage in tobacco and bluegrass. In June 1926, Jones had suggested an outlay of $25,000 for a drainage system and a dam and reported that the Kentucky State Engineering Department had submitted an estimate of $24,964.75 to build the road to the Memorial Building. An appropriation, perhaps by the 70th Congress, of about $55,000 would be needed to underwrite these projects. [11]

The annual floodings of the court, spring, and Memorial Building area were caused by a run-off from the generally higher surrounding fields and a stoppage of the spring drainage. Almost every year, the court and parking area were inundated with several feet of water, and at times large branches of trees and fence rails were found stuck in the spring run off basin. The mud and slime left by the receding flood waters made conditions for visitors, both on foot or in vehicles, most unpleasant. The lack of a paved road connecting the main part of the Park with the highway also contributed to bad conditions. Visitors would often drive their cars across the open fields to park around the flagpole in the court. A picture taken by the Army Corps of Engineers in August 1929 (Plate 6) show the location of the plaza in a basin.

In March 1927, a memorandum from the Quartermaster General to the Assistant Secretary of War spoke of the "extensive repairs and improvements [which], are necessary to keep this shrine in proper condition." [12] It was beginning to be realized that a substantial appropriation would be essential if the Government were to be true to its pledge to "forever protect, preserve and maintain said land . . . from spoliation, destruction, and further disintegration."

The number of visitors by 1927 totaled nearly 20,000 annually. Each year 8,000 cars were driven on to the property. Another factor in the rapid increase of visitation in 1927 and 1928 was the establishment of a tour to Louisville, Mammoth Cave, Lincoln Birthplace, and Bardstown by several bus companies. [13]

The Jeffersonville (Indiana) Quartermaster Depot suggested the drawing up of a topographical map and the erection of permanent boundary markers at each corner as a preliminary step toward the needed improvements. A resurfacing with gravel of the present park road, which was in a rough, washed-out condition, was suggested. The construction of a concrete dam, 75 feet along the crest and 15 feet high, it was felt, would help to alleviate the flood problem. [14] The Engineering Division of the War Department suggested in April that the proposed road follow as closely as possible the "old Telford Road," presently sixteen feet wide. The distance between curbs was to be extended to 21 feet, and a rock asphalt wearing course 1-1/2-inch thick laid from curb to curb. [15] Five thousand dollars was allocated by the War Department for this project during the fiscal year 1928-1929. An "auto camp site" to be located at some distance from the Memorial Building was proposed in order to relieve the unsightly congestion of cars at the approach to the Memorial. Foot trails were planned for visitors to the Memorial Building.

Inspection of the grounds and sanitary facilities at the farm by the Kentucky State Bureau of Sanitation Engineers in October 1928 revealed that the water supply for drinking purposes, provided exclusively by the Sinking Spring, "can only be classified as 'suspicious' because of the lack of toilet facilities on the farm." [16] The location of the "spring house"caused the outlet of the spring to be flooded in heavy rains.

The toilets, located about 200 feet from the rear of the Memorial Building, were found to be "in the most unsanitary condition possible." Papers, trash, and leftovers from picnickers were strewn about the grounds. The report concluded: "The toilets, the rubbish, and consequently the water supply at Kentucky's most famous memorial create conditions which are unsanitary and certainly a menace to the health of visitors to the Lincoln Farm." [17]

The accompanying memorandum requested that the Governor bring this matter to the attention of the Federal Government.

An investigation of the issue for the Quartermaster General revealed that there was simply not enough labor at the farm to keep the place properly policed. In November 1928, the total funds available for the maintenance of the farm were $1,700 annually from the interest on the endowment fund. Of this sum $1,200 went to pay the custodian's salary, $100 to Commissioner Jones, $300 for the assistant to the custodian, who worked ten days per month, and $100 per year for the purchase of tools, fuel, and supplies. [18]

It was clear that additional funds for the maintenance of the farm would have to be made available. The liquidation of the endowment fund bonds was brought forth as a possible solution, but such a measure would have to be authorized by Congress. On December 21, 1928, Representative Maurice H. Thatcher of Kentucky introduced H.R. 15657: "To provide for the improvement and preservation of the Lincoln National Park or Reservation." The bill authorized the appropriation of $100,000 "for the purpose of protecting from disintegration and of improving, beautifying and preserving" the farm.

In his report for the hearings held on January 9, 1929, Col. W. R. Gibson of the Quartermaster Corps stated that prior to the present fiscal year, no Government funds had been expended for the Lincoln farm, other than the interest from the endowment fund:

This amount has proven to be entirely insufficient with the result that the roads, grounds, buildings and fences have deteriorated. The entire farm is in a run-down condition and cannot be placed in the condition which it merits without the expenditure of a considerable sum of money.

He added that the Government having accepted the property, "a kind of 'Holy of Holies'," the public should have the opportunity of visiting it under conditions of convenience.

The improvements to the farm to be covered by the appropriation would include rebuilding and extending the road from the highway to the Memorial Building, the construction of suitable parking space, the construction of a comfort station and rest rooms, and a proper drainage system. Repairs to existing buildings and fences, landscaping, planting, and marking of boundaries were also to be carried out under the authorization. The improvements could be maintained by a small annual appropriation. [19]

On February 4, 1929, the bill was passed by the House. Representative Thatcher wrote to Colonel Gibson, "The bill went through exactly as agreed upon." [20]

The next day it was reported and passed by the Senate in lieu of S. 5228, which contained essentially the same text. The bill was approved by President Herbert Hoover on February 14, 1929.

A survey of the property had been made by the Jeffersonville Quartermaster and completed on July 2, 1928. [21] Assigned as construction quartermaster in charge of improvement and preservation of land and buildings at the farm, Capt. Francis I. Maslin reported for duty in April 1929. He found no buildings on the farm farm except a barn, a toolshed, and the Memorial Building. His preliminary recommendations for improvement brought this statement of policy from the Quartermaster General:

The general policy of this office is to approve only such plans as will restore the farm and birthplace of Abraham Lincoln to the condition it was at Lincoln's birth. An exception to this, of course, will be the modern necessity that has arisen for a proper road to enable autos to have access to the Memorial, but the point that it is desired to impress is that the surroundings must be kept simple and old-fashioned as far as possible. [22]

A preliminary inspection of the grounds by Col. F. W. Van Duyne of the Quartermaster Corps revealed the extent of deterioration at the farm. Of the 110 acres of the property, about ten acres were being cultivated as a farm; the rest was uncared for, except for five acres near the Memorial Building. An old log house near the entrance to the park which had been built by the Creal family around 1860 had an assortment of shabby outhouses, including a chicken-coop and pigpen, used to store coal. It was recommended that it be restored, but not as a superintendent's lodge, as had previously been suggested.

The two crude wooden toilets were in poor condition. The tool house was beyond repair, but the frame barn was worthy of repainting. The lack of fresh water facilities except at the spring was noted, and installation of a suitable water supply system was urgently recommended. Drainage was "poor" and roads bad. There was no government transportation provided; mowing was done by a laborer with the help of his own team. The Memorial Building needed new plastering and painting on the interior, and the removal of an unserviceable furnace in the cellar. A persistent leak on the roof over the porch needed repairing. [23]

The prospect of improvements at the park received a large amount of enthusiastic support from citizens of the Louisville area. Captain Maslin expressed concern, however, that these very conditions "create a situation which renders the whole project peculiarly liable to adverse criticism." He suggested that the final plans for improvement be passed on by the Fine Arts Commission, "which will effectively protect the War Department from later unfavorable comment." [24]

By June 1929, about $4,000 had been spent on some general repairs. New fencing was erected, stone steps and retaining walls constructed by the spring, and the interior of the Memorial was repainted. A test bore was made as a preliminary step toward reducing the drainage problem. [25]

About 2,500 old rails were obtained from Fort Knox and set up around those sections of the park visible from the highway, the approach road, and the plaza. Openings in the fence were subject to some political considerations. Maslin reported that a certain "group in Hodgenville [which is] seeking to capitalize on the national eminence the farm has attained" would be antagonized should these gaps in the fence be closed.

The farm was surrounded by cultivated fields, but because the soil was poor, several families sought to make some extra money by selling souvenirs, such as canes, miniature log cabins, and post cards just outside the park boundaries. A gas station and rooming house had been set up nearby, and two local entrepreneurs were running a restaurant and dancing establishment, the Nancy Lincoln Inn, immediately adjacent to the farm. It was becoming clear to War Department officials that steps would soon have to be taken to regulate the access of such commercial ventures to the birthplace in order to preserve the integrity and dignity of the historical scene.

Twenty years before, a section of the old boundary oak had been filled with concrete and banded with iron and guy wires. The tree was in danger of being strangled by the iron band and old decay had been detected behind the concrete. A tree surgeon gave it a 50 per cent chance of recovery. [26]

Work began on a solution to the drainage problem in August 1929. It was determined that additional underground channels for water run-off would be the best idea, for that system provided the most flexibility. Diversion of the water to adjoining properties before it reached the farm, or impounding the water on the adjoining Nancy Lincoln Inn property, were rejected because of the difficult political problems that would arise. Pumping to the next watershed, creating a water reservoir on the farm, or elevating the plaza about six inches would be inadequate and too expensive. [27]

In September, extensive repairs were programmed for the roof of the Memorial Building. The old tile and concrete was to be removed down to the weatherproofing which would be patched. Sixteen-ounce soft copper flashings would be added and a new roof laid. The contract with Kirchdorfer-Hutchison Co. of Louisville for the job was completed in May of the following year. In April 1930, F. W. Owens Co. of Louisville received $1,900 contract for the construction of granite steps on the east and west sides of the Memorial Building, to balance the setting and provide access to the comfort station, to be located in the rear of the Memorial Building. [28]

By May 1930, the revised plan for the comfort station had been sent to the Quartermaster General and the site graded and staked out. A pit was excavated for the septic tank; steel reinforcing and poured concrete had been added. A leaching field of terra cotta pipe was laid out to connect the distributor box with the septic tank. A. 250-feet long walk from the comfort station to the plaza was laid out and shrubbery planted. [29]

The plaza was closed to auto traffic as of May 14, 1930. The approach road, constructed by George M. Eady of Louisville, was 1,662 feet of rock asphalt and extended from the park entrance on the Jackson Highway to the 80-feet wide parking facilities facing the Memorial. It was completed in November 1930. A well, pumping 115 gallons per day, was drilled by H. W. Childers of Louisville. The Daugherty Lumber Co. of Hodgenville built the log comfort station and 1,000 feet of limestone walk. The septic tank, completing the comfort station facilities, was installed by Captain Maslin and his personnel in December 1930. [30]

The problem of picnickers on park grounds was settled by the influence of Representative Thatcher in obtaining a pavilion to be set up in the vicinity of the comfort station to the rear of the Memorial. Ladies of the Womens' Clubs of Hodgenville had been given permission early in 1926 to sell souvenirs inside the Memorial Building. For several years the superintendent, the War Department, and visitors to the park had expressed concern over the appropriateness of such activities. In July 1929 Representative Thatcher met with representatives of the two clubs, but did not express himself publicly on the subject. In private, however, he confided to Captain Maslin that such activities were a disgrace to the memory of Lincoln. He suggested that a kiosk be built for this purpose, somewhat removed from the Memorial Building. When the pavilion was built, a section was reserved and walled for the ladies to sell their souvenirs. [31]

The log house at the entrance to the park, known as "the Old Creal place," had stood vacant for years. Visitors passing the farm on the Jackson Highway occasionally mistook it for the birthplace of Lincoln and did not stop to enter the farm. In 1930, Maslin suggested that it be renovated and used either as a residence for the superintendent or a living exhibit of a 19th century Kentucky farmhouse. The whole structure needed extensive repairs, and the project was shelved for the time being.

In November 1930, Maslin was relieved of his duties at the farm and supervision was turned over to Capt. W. L. Bartley of the V Corps Area in Jeffersonville, Indiana.

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Last Updated: 11-Feb-2003