We have a joke in the historic preservation world about “George Washington slept here.” There are an amazing number of houses and hotels that claim this honor. Our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, has similarly left behind a trail of historic places and multiple states that claim him for their own. Illinois may be the “Land of Lincoln,” and Indiana may be where Lincoln grew from a child to a young adult, but it was in Kentucky that Lincoln spent his earliest years. On the way back from a recent trip to Kentucky, I made a quick trip to see the two sites where Lincoln spent his Kentucky years: Sinking Springs and Knob Creek.
In 1809 Lincoln was born, according to local lore, in a cabin on a hill above a spring at Sinking Springs Farm in western Kentucky. The region features varied topography blanketed in dense foliage and hundreds of natural springs. Today, a Classical Revival monument stands on the approximate location of the Lincoln family cabin, with Sinking Spring still a stream of water bubbling out of the ground at the base of the monument’s broad stairs.
When Lincoln was just two and a half, his family moved ten miles north to Knob Creek, which Lincoln recalled as the location of his earliest memories. While it is in question whether the cabin located at Sinking Springs actually belonged to the Lincolns, Knob Creek has a restored cabin from the family of one of Lincoln’s childhood friends. The cabin and the surrounding countryside provide glimpses of the things that might have been familiar sights to Lincoln in his years there.
The Lincoln family left Kentucky in December of 1816 for Indiana. These sites, however, quickly joined the ranks of noted historic sites in the early 20th century. President Theodore Roosevelt dedicated a corner stone at Sinking Springs in 1909 and tourism was quick to follow. The Nancy Lincoln Inn was built in 1928 and is notable in its own right: like the Bryce Canyon Lodge, it features a series of historic cabins. These, however, are made to look just like the Lincolns’ own ca. 1800 cabin. A similar lodge at Knob Creek is to become a future visitor center.
Despite changes and uncertainty, I can’t help but search the landscape. Because these are the best parts of history–the parts you can touch, the parts you can see with your own eyes. As I stood along the fence line, with the road, power lines, and cell phone service all behind me, for a moment I thought maybe I could see hills that would have looked familiar to Abraham Lincoln.
Sources and Further Reading:
Visit and learn more about Abraham Lincoln’s Birthplace. Also:
The Lonely Planet article “Following Lincoln” has a good round-up of all of the Lincoln-related sites that you can visit today.