Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park pays homage to the humble beginnings of arguably the greatest president in the history of the United States. Abraham Lincoln was born in a small log cabin near present-day Hodgenville, Kentucky, and also lived on a farm not too far away. The park is split up into two units and doesn’t charge an entrance fee.
The Birthplace Unit is a few minutes south of Hodgenville and encompasses the property Lincoln’s father, Thomas Lincoln, owned in 1809. There’s a visitor center with a small museum and theatre playing a short film about Lincoln’s early years in Kentucky. The museum contains images and recollections of Lincoln’s Kentucky and part of the Boundary Oak tree that marked the edge of the family’s Sinking Spring Farm.
From the visitor center, you can take the short Pathway of a President accessible boardwalk trail to the memorial. It’s a pleasant walk through the forest.
The Memorial Building is the very first Lincoln Memorial, predating the one in Washington, DC. It was built between 1909 and 1911 to protect the symbolic “birth cabin”. It was built in the neoclassical style and includes symbolism related to Abraham Lincoln. There are 56 steps to the memorial representing the 56 years of his life, and 16 windows were placed in the building representing the fact Lincoln was the 16th president. His quote, “With malice toward none, with charity for all” is inscribed above the entrance.
Inside the memorial is the symbolic “birth cabin”. It’s not the actual cabin he was born in, but is a replica.
Next to the steps leading up to the memorial are two points of interest. Sinking Spring is a natural spring that was the Lincoln family’s water source and gave the name to the farm. The Boundary Oak Trail is a short trail through the forest on the edge of the Lincoln property, and passes where the large Boundary Oak once stood. Both were closed for renovation.
Nancy Lincoln Inn
Also at the Birthplace Unit is the Nancy Lincoln Inn. It was built in 1928 by James Howell, an enterprising local wanting to cash in on the growing number of visitors to the birthplace. Named after Lincoln’s mother, the inn contained the main building and small one room log cabins similar to what the Lincoln would have been. There’s a small museum and souvenir shop inside, but it was closed for the season during our visit.
Big Sink Trail
Across the highway is a picnic area with a nature trail. The Big Sink Trail travels through the forest in what was a part of the Lincoln property. It’s possible to spot deer and several types of trees, as well as wagon ruts from the old wagon road that crossed the Lincoln farm. The entire loop trail is just over a mile long, but you can cut it short by not crossing Keith Road.
Boyhood Home Unit
The Boyhood Home Unit is about 10 minutes east of Hodgenville at Knob Creek Farm. This is where Abraham Lincoln’s family lived from 1811 to 1816 before moving to Indiana. There’s a small ranger station and the historic Lincoln Tavern, both of which were closed when we visited.
The cabin on the site isn’t the actual Lincoln cabin, but was owned by the Gollaher family, who lived nearby, around 1800. A friend who once saved Lincoln’s life, Austin Gollaher, lived in the cabin with his family. It was moved to the site to reflect how the Lincolns might have lived. The actual Lincoln cabin was later dismantled by Austin Gollaher.
A short trail around the property leads to Knob Creek, and interpretive panels explain what life might have been like when the Lincolns lived there.
The Lincoln Tavern is the largest building on the site. It was built in 1933 by Hattie Howell Howard, the sister of the man who opened the Nancy Lincoln Inn. Food and drinks were sold there along with gas, and there was often live music and dancing in the evenings. It’s now a museum and gift shop.
Lincoln’s First School
Further down the road about two miles, a historical marker points out the location of Lincoln’s first school. Abe and his sister, Sarah, attended the school for a short period of time.