The Spencer County Leader - Leisure Guide 2002, May 29, 2002

Article was typed as it was worded in the newspaper.

Living history--times two
Story and photos by Bonnie Hackmann

A visit to Lincoln Pioneer Village is an opportunity to spend an afternoon reliving the sights and events of the early 1800s when Abraham Lincoln tilled the fields and fished the rivers of Spencer County.

The first outdoor living history museum in Indiana, Lincoln Pioneer Village was the dream of George Honig, who was enthralled with the Lincoln story and wished to create a memorial to his time in Indiana.

To that end, he designed a village with homes and businesses named after the friends, family and business associates who were part of Lincoln's life during his Indiana years.

Among the dozen or so replicas of cabins and businesses within the village are the James Gentry cabin with its twin fireplaces on each end of the structure, the Col. William Jones store built of locust wood with a dirt floor, the Azel Dorsey home which also served as the first courthouse in Spencer County and Brown's Tavern, where Lincoln "speechified" in support of Henry Clay's election.

Built in 1935-36

Indeed, the construction of the village is, in itself, an historical event. It was built during the Great Depression with funding from the WPA (Works Progress Administration), a program designed to put people back to work and bolster the economy with the earnings these workers spent on food, housing and other items.

Gentry Mansion

Additions over the years included a tobacco storage and warehouse building featured in the movie, The Kentuckian, starring Burt Lancaster, which was donated to the museum and became the transportation building. Vehicles ranging from an antique bicycle of the type popular in the 1890s with a giant front wheel and a small back wheel to a horse-drawn hearse complete with side windows draped with curtains to outline the coffin are housed in the shed. Other items in the building include surreys, buckboards, horse-drawn hay rakes and other implements used in farming.

By the 1990s, many of the cabins had fallen into disrepair. Many of the structures had sagging roofs and termites had infested others. The buildings seemed doomed to crumble and fade into history, joining their real life counterparts.


However, in the late 1990s, a group of Rockport citizens spear-headed an effort to restore the village to its original status as a living history museum. According to Lila Daniel, President and Project Coordinator for Old Rockport, Inc., the restoration effort took four years from the original grant process to completion.

Azel Dorsey Cabin

But, said Lila, "It was a labor of love."

A general contractor was hired and intense research begun. "We wanted to restore the village to the original," noted Lila. "We talked to people who remembered the village when it was constructed. We used photographs and researched details.

"We left as much original materials as possible," recalls Lila. However, rotted base logs had to be replaced to support cabins and new chinking had to be incorporated into some of the structures to hold the logs together. Many of the cabins required new roofs.

One of the most challenging of the restoration efforts was the Gentry cabin. Although the cabin was somewhat stabilized by the chimneys on each end, the top had slid five inches north. And, there was termite damage. The base log had to be replaced along with several of the logs in the walls.

Said Lila, "Working on these cabins is listening to history. You could listen to the moans and groans of cabins as they were leveled and raised."

Lila's crew consisted of several people who contributed their time and skills to the restoration. Among them were Sonny Ash who drew designs and secured logs and stone for chimneys, Scott Marshal of Yellow Banks, who restored the dog trot home (dog trot refers to a breezeway between the two rooms of the cabin), Jake Lindauer restored chimneys and fireplaces and Paul Gogel of Yellow Banks handled roofs (along with Lila, who roofed one of the cabins herself).

The result is a restored village inviting people to again walk the path to the dirt floor school, shop at Col. Jones' store, or sit a spell at Brown's Tavern.

Said Lila, "I wouldn't trade this experience for anything."

And, like many of the public works projects completed by the WPA, the village remains a tribute to the people who were glad for the work construction of the village provided during some of the country's darkest economic times.


Gentry Mansion

Lincoln Pioneer Village also features an impressive collection of artifacts from the early 1800s to the Civil War. Clothing, including high button shoes, tatted shawls and woolen army uniforms is displayed behind glass. A grand piano graces one of the alcoves and period furniture with scarves and doilies appear to have just been occupied by the lady and her guests. Lila Daniel is coordinator for the furnishings in the cabins and selects pieces appropriate to each cabin's imaginary inhabitants.

When visiting both the living history community and the museum, allow plenty of time to take in the intricate details. It is well worth the investment.

Tour Info

Tours of the village are by appointment. To schedule a tour, call Lila Daniel at 649-2615. Visitors are welcome to take as much time as they wish. Lila will be available to answer questions and provide interesting details about the village.

The village is always open to wander through and there is no admission charge. However, visitors must make an appointment to visit the museum and see inside the cabins.

While in the area, other places of interest include, The Bluff, from which Lincoln set his flatboat a-sail; The Mathias Sharp House, located on the bluff; and Rockyside Park, under the bluff. Also in the area are the River Belle Bed and Breakfast in Grandview and the Rockport Inn.

To enjoy a live stage performance of Lincoln's Indiana years, visit the Lincoln Amphitheatre in Lincoln National Park for a performance of "Young Abe Lincoln". Phone the box office at 800-264-4ABE (toll free) or 812-937-4493 for ticket information and performance dates.

Call the Spencer County Visitor's Bureau at 1-888-444-9252 for more information about other attractions and events in Spencer County.

Transportation Building

Lincoln Pioneer Village is located in Rockport's City Park. Call Lila Daniel at 812-649-2615 for tour details.