Furniture experts open new door to Lincoln’s heritage

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Items in historic house linked to carpenter who became president’s father

Landmark News Service

An expert in carpentry believes a door at the Jack Thomas House was handcrafted by Thomas Lincoln, father of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States.

Mike Fleener, vice president of Grayson County Historical Society and a carpenter, called on Steve Haaff to come see the door and make an evaluation.

Haaff is an industrial arts teacher at South Spencer High School in Rockport, Ind. Haaff is also an expert on furniture made by Thomas Lincoln.

“He returned my call within two hours,” Fleener said.

Before Fleener could fully explain the request, Haaff told him he already was 80 percent sure the door was the work of Thomas Lincoln. After seeing it, he said he was 95 percent certain Lincoln built the door, the door jams and the casing and jam of a nearby window in the original part of the Jack Thomas House.

The first brick structure in Grayson County, the house was built between 1812 and 1814 by Jack Thomas, who served as county clerk. The son of Hardin Thomas of Elizabethtown, he was associated with Lincoln through his father’s friendship with the young carpenter.

Thomas Lincoln had worked as a carpenter for Hardin Thomas’ home in Elizabethtown around 1805. Known as the Lincoln Heritage House, it was restored and on display at Freeman Lake Park until it was burned by an arsonist in 2009. The home was reconstructed and opened for tours in 2011.

Lincoln Heritage House is one of 16 stops on Kentucky’s Abraham Lincoln Trail. The trail includes the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln in LaRue County and the home of Mary Todd Lincoln in Lexington.

Haaff and another Lincoln furniture expert, Leo LaSoto of Maryland, visited the Jack Thomas House in early April to view the structures and take pictures. They both agreed that the door jams and window casing and jam appeared to be Thomas Lincoln’s work. However, no marks were found to prove that.

A mantle made by Lincoln for the Hardin Thomas home in Elizabethtown was marked with a plaque indicating Lincoln made the piece but no marks were discovered on the Grayson County woodwork.

LaSoto is working on a book called “With These Hands” about Thomas Lincoln’s carpentry skills. After the visit, he planned to mention the work at the Jack Thomas House in the book.

“For years, we felt like Thomas Lincoln may have done a lot of work at the Jack Thomas House. Haaff encourages us to think that he made the door,” said Ken Robinson of the Grayson County Historical Society.

The historical society doesn’t have immediate plans for the door. Robinson said the society has discussed displaying the door in the community museum as a Thomas Lincoln artifact.

The original door was taller, having been cut down on the top and bottom over the years. The original string latch was long-ago replaced with a doorknob. The original structure of the home was two rooms, what now are the kitchen and the dining room. There are four doorways, three of which are considered Lincoln’s work as well as one window.

Fleener said it is likely that the society will apply for membership to the Abraham Lincoln Trail. Other resources are available such as grants for restoration and tourist-inviting opportunities.

Fleener has done various repairs to the Jack Thomas House for years, completely pulling up the kitchen floor and labeling each piece of flooring to make sure it was reconstructed properly. When the society requested he work on the door, Fleener’s suspicion that it was Lincoln’s work caused him to put off the task.

Fleener said he doesn’t really want to restore the door but have it appreciated for Lincoln's work. He traced his finger along joints in the door front where seems come together.

“Just look at that craftsmanship,” he said. “He did a good job.”

DeAnna Lasley can be reached at (270) 259-6061 or news@graysonrecord.com.