Like many other historic Lincoln sites, this one probably doesn’t match the picture in your imagination. When you arrive on the grounds, you see not a log cabin but a neoclassical granite and marble structure — a sort of Greek temple in the Kentucky woods. Fifty-six steps, symbolizing one for each year of Abraham Lincoln’s life, lead to the huge double front doors.

Designed by architect John Russell Pope, the memorial building was constructed between 1909 and 1911 by the Lincoln Farm Association. It was deeded to the U.S. government in 1916. President Woodrow Wilson acknowledged the gift in an acceptance speech on Labor Day of that year.

The reconstructed cabin which stands inside the memorial building dates to the 19th-century but is not the original. In 1919 Robert Todd Lincoln, the president’s eldest son, referred to the “pretended pictures of the Lincoln Cabin. They easily indicate what it probably was, but the actual cabin was a decayed ruin long before my father’s election.” Nevertheless, the one-room cabin does reflect Lincoln’s humble beginnings. See a All US Presidents in Order

It measures about 13×17 feet, which is probably smaller than the original, thought to be 16 x 18 feet. It includes one door and window, a stone fireplace, and dirt floor.

Beside the entrance to the memorial building is inscribed, “Here over the log cabin where Abraham Lincoln was born, destined to preserve the Union and free the slave, a grateful people have dedicated this memorial to unity, peace, and brotherhood among the states.”

President Theodore Roosevelt, a well-known Lincoln admirer, spoke when the cornerstone was laid on February 12, 1909, the centennial of Lincoln’s birth. President William Howard Taft dedicated the completed building on November 9, 1911. The memorial building and farm, managed by the National Park Service, became a national park in 1916. You can read the fascinating story of the park’s history in Merrill Peterson’s book, Lincoln in American Memory.

A few months before Lincoln was born his parents and sister moved from nearby Elizabethtown to the property, known as Sinking Spring Farm. His father paid $200 for 348 acres of stony ground on the south fork of Nolin Creek. The farm’s name came from a spring on the property which emerged from a deep cave, still visible today. However, Lincoln did not remember living on the farm because his family moved down the road to Knob Creek Farm when he was only two years old.

If you visit the site, you will find information and exhibits in the reception center near the memorial building. Among the artifacts is the Lincoln family Bible with the signature of his father and mark of his mother. Many visitors stay to see a brief orientation film about Lincoln’s early life in Kentucky.

Hours: This historic site is free of charge and open daily between 8 a.m. and 6:45 p.m. Memorial Day through Labor Day and 8 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Labor Day through Memorial Day. For more information call 270/358-3137 or write: Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site, 2995 Lincoln Farm Road, Hodgenville, Kentucky 42748-9707.