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The business of vintage

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Eastern National now manages Nancy Lincoln Inn

By Ron Benningfield

 Nancy Lincoln Inn, adjacent to Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park, might be a mecca for both today’s kids and their grandparent baby boomers looking for games made before the advent of high tech entertainment.

“We’ve got jacks, Pick-up-Sticks, and even wooden tops that they can spin,” said Jennifer Harris, site supervisor of the business which, since May is under the management of Eastern National, a not-for-profit “cooperating association” that supports the National Park Service.

The games of yesteryear are part of the mission of cooperating association outlets like the Inn, a mission to assist the educational and interpretive mission of the national parks.

 “We have cooperating outlets with over 150 national park sites,” Harris said.  “The products we sell are purposely selected so as not to be in competition with what the national parks’ gift shops sell, and we at Nancy Lincoln Inn focus on Kentucky Proud, made-in-Kentucky products.”

Since Eastern National was formed in 1948, the company has donated over $100 million to the National Park Service from its retail outlets’ proceeds.

Harris, a Chattanooga native who now lives in Hodgenville, has already learned from the older customers who patronize the store, which her organization leased from owner Carl Howell, Jr.

“I learned more about the older games from a gentleman who was in the store that ‘boys don’t play jacks…that’s a girls’ game,’” she smiled. 

She also learned that today’s kids seem to assume all games come with batteries or an electric cord.

“One of the children, while looking at some of the earlier period toys, saw a checkerboard on display, walked around it, and asked, ‘Where do you plug it in?” Harris shared.

Not only does the Inn have other vintage toys including Tiddly Winks and marbles and card games such as Old Maid, it also sells “old-time” candy such as sassafras, root beer, and Sky Bar, ice cream, muffin and pancake mixes, old fashioned crème soda, Ale 8, and root beer with almost all of its products made in America.

 “We look for unique items to sell, ones with historical and educational value,” Harris explained. 

John-Mark Clark, store clerk, often demonstrates to visitors how to spin a wooden top, crafted in Little Nashville, Indiana.

“It took me several times to get the hang of it,” said Clark who lives in Buffalo.  “When you put it down and spin it, you have to do it just right or it will spin upside down.”

Each of the toys (the top sells for $7.95) and card games comes with a brief summary including not only the instructions, but also the history of the game.

Other Inn employees include Pam and David Hardin, and Nikki Sabo.

Built in 1928, the historic Inn has undergone extensive landscaping.  It is open 9 am to 5 pm Monday through Saturday; 10 am to 5 pm Sundays.