Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site Hodgenville, Ky. Visited: May 11, 2004 NPS Site Visited: 41 of 353 Local Website
WHAT IS IT? The site of Abraham Lincolnís birth which is marked by a log cabin once believed, later disproved, to be the building in which our 16th president was born. The log cabin is encased in a large white granite and marble neoclassical structure.
BEAUTY (3/10) The ornate Memorial and the log cabin it holds do not mix well. In addition, the gentle beauty of Kentuckyís rolling hills and strikingly green grass is lost in the dense woodland of this Site.
HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (4/10) Abraham Lincoln was born and lived here for the first two years of his life. The National Park Service has recently acquired the Lincoln farm at nearby Knob Creek where Abe lived his years 2-7. We assume that the two Sites will soon be combined to form a National Historical Park.
The Siteís log cabin has a strange history. A businessman purchased the Lincoln farmland in 1894, found a log cabin on the land and proclaimed it to be the place of Abrahamís birth. He toured the country with the cabin, reassembled it at each stop and charged money to see the Great Emancipatorís humble origin. Recent testing, however, proved that the cabin does not date back to Lincolnís time here in Kentucky.
The grandiose Memorial has a history as well. It was the first Memorial honoring Abraham Lincoln. In 1905, Collierís Weekly publisher, Robert Collier, bought the farmland and started the Lincoln Farm Association whose intention was the creation of a Lincoln memorial. After buying the cabin, the Association, whose members included Mark Twain and William Jennings Bryan, raised over $350,000 to build the neoclassical memorial we see today.
Despite the extravagant Memorial, one gains a better understanding Lincolnís modest upbringing after visiting the Site. The rural setting, the dirt floor log cabin, and the life-providing sinking spring stand in sharp contrast to the mansion birthplaces of Teddy Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and FDR.
CROWDS (5/10) Only two other people at the Site. The lack of visitors did not enhance or detract from our trip.
EASE OF USE/ACCESS (3/5) Brown NPS signs direct visitors from the highway to both the national historic site and the state park, which is a good thing, Hodgenville isnít that big of a mark on the atlas.
The parking lot is large. The Visitor Center is small, but accessible to people using wheelchairs. A wooden boardwalk snakes behind the Visitor Center to the Memorial-encased cabin. Wheelchair access to the Memorial is in the back of the building. A flat, unpaved path takes visitors to the sinking spring.
CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (2/5) There have been thousands of books written about Abraham Lincoln. The Site bookstore sells only a few. While the Park brochure quotes the famous Carl Sandburg biography of Lincoln, the bookstore does not stock the book. If you are dedicated enough to make the pilgrimage to Hodgenville, Kentucky, you probably have a better selection of Lincoln books than the ones on sale.
COSTS (4/5) The Site is Free.
RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (4/5) There were Rangers posted at both the Visitor Center and inside the Memorial.
TOURS/CLASSES (3/10) The Siteís video is the worst we have seen. The 18-minute video exists mainly of nature close-ups taken with a shaking hand held camera while the narrator, Burgess Meredith, reads elegies to the land. It would have been creepy if it were not so boring. At one point, a woman breaks into a four-minute vocal rendition of the 23rd Psalm while the viewer watches nature scenes. The video makes little attempt to connect any of these artistic leaps to the life of Abraham Lincoln. We learned nothing.
The small museum, only three exhibits, in the Visitor Center poorly showcases an extraordinary piece: the Lincoln family Bible. If you are not looking for the Bible, you might fail to notice it on your way to see the video.
A Ranger stationed inside the neoclassical mausoleum for the log cabin answered every question of ours; every question the video failed to address. We were thankful that she was there.
FUN (3/10) The Abraham Lincoln Birthplace NHS is a confusing place. On the one hand, both the video and your senses show you a great man who was born into poverty. Your imagination wants to transport you to 19th-century rural Kentucky. On the other hand, there is an imposing granite and marble Memorial and a large log cabin-style kitsch shop abutting the grounds. We did not have much fun. Perhaps the nearby Abraham Lincoln Boyhood Home is a saner representation.
WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (3/10) A special trip is necessary only for the most die-hard Lincoln enthusiasts. If you are in the area on the Bourbon Trail, you should take the quick detour to the birthplace of one of our greatest presidents. Give yourself some history.
USA-C2C.com is an independent website, not affiliated in any way with the National Park Service, the National Parks Foundation or any of their partners.