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After months of work, reconstruction of the Lincoln Heritage House at Freeman Lake Park in Elizabethtown is almost finished.
Elizabethtown Mayor Tim Walker on Thursday said construction is complete and the house — a museum-quality replica of the home destroyed by fire in May of 2009 — will open for tours in the spring. Believed to be a direct connection to President Abraham Lincoln, the house had been preserved by the city and promoted as a tourist attraction for decades. The home featured original woodwork by Lincoln’s father, Thomas, and its historical significance was recognized statewide and nationally.
The city hired Tony Vance and his Glendale-based company, Vance Restoration, to closely replicate the structure destroyed by the suspected arson that left city and state history officials baffled.
Walker himself was devastated by the fire and said the preservation of historic structures was growing harder because more kept slipping from grasp.
To guard against future damage, Walker said the city plans to install a security system within the cabins, including built-in fire detection technology “so hopefully we can preserve it.”
Steve Park, finance director, said the city has not yet purchased the system and is shopping around for estimates. Park also said the city plans to place a camera in the cabins as a further deterrent.
“We want to be able to hide the wires so you don’t see anything,” Park said.
Walker said Vance is sanding the floors this week but the city still needs to furnish the home. The city received a $5,000 grant for furnishings, Park said, and individuals and organizations have stepped up to donate items. The city is working together with the Hardin County History Museum to coordinate the internal decorating, Park added.
Walker said Vance has constructed a remarkable replica of the same size and dimension as the cabins lost. Vance also constructed a mantle for the home patterned off the original mantle built by Thomas Lincoln that is on display at the Fort Knox Leader’s Club, Walker added.
The cabin’s reconstruction cannot bring back the original structures, Walker said, but it can serve as a marker of the historical significance of the site.
Not that the process has been easy or quick. Mired by delays, the house was originally slated to be finished by early 2010 until the state stepped in and ordered the city to halt construction.
Under the Kentucky Antiquities Act, municipalities are required to preserve historical sites with potential archaeological significance, and state archaeology officials said the site qualified.
In response, the city hired local firm Brockington & Associates to oversee the process of excavating artifacts from the site and Louisville-based Corn Island Technology to analyze the artifacts found — about 1,300 to 1,500 total.
Brockington & Associates was then retained to finish the last leg of the survey by drafting the final report for the state.
Park said the project cost the city about $16,000 while Vance has been paid about $189,050. The city is now negotiating some change orders Vance has requested as a result of the delays that would increase the cost.
“He deserves something,” Park said.
During the delay, the Elizabethtown City Council expressed frustration with the state’s mandate and labeled it “ridiculous.”
Walker, meanwhile, said the survey produced little to nothing in actual historical artifacts and cost “too much.”
“They didn’t find anything of (significance),” Walker said. “They found a few marbles.”
Sherry Murphy, executive director of the Elizabethtown Tourism and Convention Bureau, said it is nice to have a visual aid to coincide with the educational experience of the tours. Opening the replica, she added, also will aid the interpretive signage installed on the site as they work to show visitors a glimpse into Lincoln’s life.
“It just allows us to to continue to tell the story,” she said. “Even though it’s not the original cabin, the story is still there.”
Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or firstname.lastname@example.org.