Though the pre-1860 origins of the modest cabin in the site’s Memorial Building are unknown, it is similar to the one in which the future 16th U.S. President arrived February 12, 1809, Chief of Operations Gary Talley says.
“We refer to it as a ‘symbolic birthplace cabin,’” says Talley.
Visitors to the park, 2995 Lincoln Farm Road, (270) 358-3137, www.nps.gov/abli, can peer down into the mossy depths of The Sinking Spring, the farm’s namesake and water source for the Lincoln family, and view the remains of the towering Boundary Oak, a famous landmark on the property that died in 1976.
Tours are self-guided, but rangers will answer questions, and you can also watch an 18-minute video presentation in the Visitor Center. Walking trails and picnic facilities are also available. The site is open 8 a.m. to 6:45 p.m. daily Memorial Day through Labor Day, and 8 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. the rest of the year.
Ten miles northeast of the birthplace site, The Lincoln Boyhood Home at Knob Creek, 3120 Bardstown Road, (270) 358-3137, is an extension of the birthplace site. The Lincoln family lived here for about five years.
The boyhood home park is undergoing studies for future planning, including archeological, plant, and animal surveys, Talley explains. For now, visitors can enjoy the upcoming fall foliage and hike the 228-acre property during daylight hours. A few buildings on the site are for exterior viewing only. Admission to both the birthplace and the boyhood home sites is free.
Just behind the bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln in downtown Hodgenville you’ll find The Lincoln Museum at 66 Lincoln Square, (270) 358-3163. Several thousand 1800s-era items in the collection lend authenticity to the 12 dioramas there depicting notable scenes from Lincoln’s life, from his birth to the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, and the 1865 assassination at Ford’s Theatre. The museum recently underwent a $700,000 expansion and also showcases 38 pieces of Lincoln-inspired artwork.
Admission is $3 for adults, $2.50 for senior citizens or military, $1.50 for children 5-12 years, and free for children under 5. Hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. Sundays, and closed Christmas, Easter, New Year’s Day, and Thanksgiving. Allow at least 30 minutes for tours.
Hodgenville pays tribute to its most famous native son the first full weekend of October, this year October 4-5 with opening ceremonies October 2. As Lincoln impersonators from across the country stroll around Lincoln Square in their trademark top hats and black suits, teams will compete in pioneer games like log splitting and egg tossing. The festival also features food and craft booths, a car show, and parade. For more information, call (270) 358-8710 for the Lincoln Days festival, now in its 31st year.
People come to Hodgenville’s historic sites as a pilgrimage of sorts, observes Tally, to see for themselves the place where Lincoln spent his formative years.
“From those humble beginnings, he rose to the highest office in the land,” says Talley.
For more Hodgenville information, contact the LaRue County Chamber of Commerce, 72 Lincoln Square, (270) 358-3411, or go online to www.laruecountychamber.org.
Hodgenville Dining & Music
•Joel Ray’s Restaurant has a daily buffet at 2579 Lincoln Farm Road, and on Saturday nights, 8 to 11 p.m. year-round, it is home to the Lincoln Jamboree, with live country music, admission $8. The restaurant is closed Mondays. For more information call (270) 358-3545.
•Locals recommend the home-style meals at Paula’s Hot Biscuit, 311 W. Water Street, (270) 358-2237, 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., closed Sunday.
More Lincoln Lore
•Lincoln Heritage House, in nearby Elizabethtown on North Dixie Highway, (270) 769-3916, features the handiwork of Abe’s father Thomas Lincoln, a skilled carpenter, and a copy of the cabin in which Sarah Bush Johnston, Abraham Lincoln’s stepmother and Elizabethtown native, lived at the time she married Thomas Lincoln.
•Mary Todd Lincoln House, 578 W. Main St., Lexington, (859) 233-9999, is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday, March through November. Abraham Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, lived here from 1832 to 1839.
•Springfield-Washington County Courthouse, 117 Cross Main St., Springfield, (859) 336-5425, contains the marriage certificate of Abraham Lincoln’s parents, Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks.
•Lincoln Homestead State Park, 5079 Lincoln Park Road, Springfield, (859) 336-7461, is home to the Mordecai Lincoln House, built by Abraham’s uncle—it is an exterior exhibit only. The Berry house, where Nancy Hanks lived when courting Thomas Lincoln, is here, as well as The Lincoln Cabin and Blacksmith Shop.
•Lincoln Marriage Temple at Old Fort Harrod State Park, 100 S. College Street, Harrodsburg, (859) 734-3314, houses the cabin in which Thomas and Nancy Hanks Lincoln were married.
Shannon Leonard-Boone is a regular contributor to the Traveling Kentucky column.
Music on a Mountain Byway
Newly named a National Scenic Byway, Kentucky’s Country Music Highway 23 meanders 150 miles through its eastern region. Four of its shining vocal stars hail from Prestonsburg and Paintsville: the former claims Dwight Yoakam and the latter, Loretta Lynn, Crystal Gayle, and Hylo Brown.
Assuring that these music traditions will be honored and passed along to future generations, Prestonsburg’s Mountain Arts Center (MAC), begun in 1996 thanks to the monumental efforts of retired teacher Billie Jean Osborne, is a treasure house of arts, culture, and education. A stop on the Kentucky Music Trail for headliners like Ricky Skaggs and Montgomery Gentry, the $7 million, 1,054-seat facility is best known for its Kentucky Opry, which stages year-round high-quality family entertainment with special summer, Christmas, Halloween, and Valentine’s Day shows, all under Osborne’s tutelage.
“We’re especially proud of the fact that all of the Opry performers are from eastern Kentucky,” says Pat Bradley, MAC’s executive director. “Most have day jobs and this gives them the chance to use their talents locally.” Some, like Rebecca Lynn Howard, go on to musical success in Nashville.
Also in Floyd County, Jenny Wiley Theatre (JWT), in leafy, lovely Jenny Wiley State Resort Park, will celebrate 40 years of successful outdoor productions in 2004. In addition to a play about Jenny Wiley, an amazingly brave pioneer woman who escaped from Indian captivity, the 500-seat outdoor amphitheater presents rotating repertory all summer long. An indoor option of dinner or luncheon theater in 2004 will net you a seat for Moon Over Buffalo and a luscious buffet, complete with warm banana pudding.
“Seeing a play outside is a much larger experience,” explains Kristen Bradley, head of group sales for JWT. “It’s a great opportunity, as there’s not a lot of us left.”
Mountain HomePlace, by 1,140-acre Paintsville Lake State Park, is one of the few places left where you can time travel back onto a working 19th-century Appalachian farm, built to educate and to dispel mountaineer stereotypes. Interpreters in period costumes plough with oxen and forge horseshoes the old-fashioned way, as they explain it all.
See sorghum made with a mule-driven mill early in October at Harvest Festival and get your Kentucky Crafted holiday gifts early at the HomePlace gift shop.
Or wind down KY 404 to David Appalachian Crafts, where you can buy items made by 60 craftspeople from a 10-county area, from beautiful baskets to a coal dust crèche. Begun to give miners’ wives extra income, the cottage industry is run by St. Vincent’s Mission. You can have a quilt commissioned here, like the Olympic Committee did for the 1984 Los Angeles games. Other clients have included Johnny Carson and Bloomingdale’s. If you’re not up for a country drive, order a catalog.
Just east of David, the third weekend of September brings a re-enactment of the Battle of Middle Creek, which began the Union’s effort to drive the Confederates from Kentucky. School kids can visit the soldiers’ camps on Friday, and Sunday is the live action re-enactment.
For a history-music doubleheader weekend, sandwich in the Kentucky Highlands Folk Festival, held at MAC, which showcases the area’s traditional folk music heritage.
“It’s touching,” says Misha Curnutte, of the Prestonsburg Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Some musicians have no instruments at all and their voices are fabulous.”
A fabulous voice and heartfelt lyrics made Loretta Lynn famous. Take a tour of Butcher Holler and their birth cabin with Lynn’s brother, Herman Webb, whose #5 General Store has lunches of thick-sliced baloney sandwiches and fresh green onions. Don’t miss the Van Lear Historical Museum, the former office of Consolidated Coal Company, to see a model of Van Lear as a coal camp where 10,000 people once lived and labored.
Eastern Kentucky’s first coal baron, John C.C. Mayo, brought 100 Irishmen across the ocean for labor to make bricks for his home. Today, you can tour the 43-room Mayo Mansion in Paintsville and learn how this crony of the Rockefellers and Vanderbilts traveled the mountains with his wife, buying up mineral rights for 50 cents an acre.
You can buy up a truckload of tree-ripened treats the first weekend in October at Paintsville’s Kentucky Apple Festival, when 75,000 pack the downtown. Says Jim Williams, director of the Pikeville Tourism Commission, “We’ve got anything you can make with an apple—apple stack cakes, hot apple pie, fried pies, and dried apples.”
Not to mention an antique car show, parade, kids’ games, and two free concerts—gospel music on Friday night and the Exiles on Saturday night.
You’ll want to hang around, because the next week is Prestonsburg’s Jenny Wiley Pioneer Festival, a week’s worth of fun, including a horse show, beauty pageant, and more free music, some usually furnished by bluegrass great Dr. Ralph Stanley.
Wherever you go in the Big Sandy area, know that you’ll be royally welcomed.
“Our greatest asset is our people,” says Curnutte. “I’ve had groups say that when they’re eating at a restaurant, people will stop to say hello and ask where they’re from. You won’t find any friendlier folks.”
Additional Area Attractions
•Throw your clubs in the trunk for a real challenge at Paintsville Country Club’s golf course, (606) 789-4234, where men must hit a drive over the Big Sandy River and women rattle across a swinging bridge to the ladies’ tee, and at Prestonsburg’s StoneCrest Golf Course, (606) 886-6777, perched atop a beautifully terraced reclaimed strip mine. Sate that duffer’s appetite with a gourmet chicken salad croissant at the StoneCrest Grill. Or in downtown Paintsville, Wilma’s, (606) 789-5911, serves an “Appalachian lunch” of soup beans and cornbread, weenies and kraut, and homemade pie.
•Race fans can take in harness and late-model dirt-track car racing at 2,500-seat Thunder Ridge Racing & Entertainment Complex in Prestonsburg, (606) 866-RACE.
•The milder-mannered can tour the 1817 Samuel May House, ogle handmade crafts, and munch exotic flavors of homemade fudge at Country at Heart, (606) 886-8957, or hit the Paintsville Livestock Market, a huge outdoor year-round flea and farmers’ market.
•Rest overnight on a houseboat at Paintsville Lake, (606) 297-LAKE, or right next door to the Mountain Arts Center at Microtel Inn, (888) 771-7171, which has in-season packages with Jenny Wiley Theatre.
Sites and Numbers of Interest
•David Appalachian Crafts — ( 606) 886-2377
•Jenny Wiley State Resort Park — www.jennywiley.com, (800) 325-0142
•Jenny Wiley Theatre — www.jwtheatre.com, (877) Call-JWT
•Mountain Arts Center — www.macarts.com, (888) 622-2787
•Mountain HomePlace — (606) 297-1850
•#5 General Store — (606) 789-3397
Katherine Tandy Brown is a regular contributor to the Traveling Kentucky column.