State agencies have spent several hundred thousand dollars promoting Kentucky as the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln during the 200th celebration of his birth.
The funds spent on Lincoln Bicentennial Web sites, refurbished historical landmarks, advertising and visitor brochures seem to be paying off in terms of increased tourism and greater awareness of Lincoln’s life and contributions.
According to figures released by the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, visitation to Lincoln-related sites increased by 18.1 percent for the first six months of 2008, compared to the same period in 2007. More than 159,000 visitors were recorded at the sites.
Data was collected from nine Lincoln museums and historic sites throughout the state, including the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site/Boyhood Home at Knob Creek and the Lincoln Museum in Hodgenville.
ALBNHS had 89,235 visitors in the first six months of 2007; 105,665 visitors during the first six months of 2008 – an 18.4 percent increase.
The Lincoln Museum had 5,551 visitors January-June 2007; 7,237 visitors January-June 2008 – a 30.3 percent increase.
“Speaking as a member of the Kentucky Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, I believe we are seeing results from lots of planning and marketing on the part of all the partners in the Bicentennial program, from the local communities and many of our state agencies,” said Iris LaRue, director of The Lincoln Museum. “We think these numbers will continue to climb as we approach 2009 and hopefully have set the stage to continue throughout the next few years.”
The numbers are not exact, but they are close, according to officials.
Sandy Brue, chief of interpretation and resource management for the historic site, said each person who enters the gates of the park, picnic area and Knob Creek parking lot is counted by imbedded electronic counters that have been in place for years.
“We also count those who come into the visitor center and the Memorial building,” said Brue. “There is a formula to subtract double counting. Patti Reynolds is our statistician who has compiled these numbers for many years and sends in the monthly report that also records how many buses come into the park and several other items that all National Park System sites report on monthly.”
LaRue said the figures don’t reflect the customers who have stopped by the museum’s gift shop on Lincoln Square.
“Our gift shop has had a definite increase (in customers),” LaRue said. “We attribute part of that to being a site for Bicentennial merchandise and also for Kentucky Crafted Lincoln merchandise.”
The museum totals did not include visitors of Feb. 12 – the day of the Bicentennial kickoff, during LaRue County Week which offered free admission to residents, or May 31 – the day of the Boy Lincoln statue unveiling.
“Visitors on those nine days were admitted free of charge, but the actual number who toured was around an additional 1,500 people,” LaRue said.
“During the summer months we see an increase in our Kentucky residents visiting, but this year – in light of gasoline costs – it is interesting that we are still seeing significant out-of-state traffic including the New England states,” LaRue added.
The Birthplace secured funding for extra staff during the bicentennial years (2008-10) to handle the anticipated crowds, Brue said.
“In all I have five extra folks – temporarily. All five are limited to 1,039 hours per calendar year,” she said. “But we have been able to add two folks to our Knob Creek staffing most days, offer tours, work on some Resource Management projects, and provide all the school field trips and special groups individual attention with one or two staff people devoted to them while they are in the park. We have had several large groups reserve tours just because of the Bicentennial – most notably the 350 federal court clerks that came out for the afternoon in eight busses. It was kind of overwhelming.”
A quick review of license plates in the Birthplace parking lot tells Brue that visitors are not just from Kentucky – they’re “from all over.”
Brue said the revamped Lincoln Heritage Trail program has received a lot of attention since it was unveiled in Hodgenville in May. Visitors pick up trail passports and get them stamped at several Lincoln sites. They are also eligible for prizes through a related Web site.
“We have folks bring in their maps to be stamped and the July winner was from Florida,” said Brue.
The increased visitation at Lincoln sites translates to greater economic impact for the whole community, LaRue said.
Rita Williams, director of the LaRue County Chamber of Commerce, agreed, adding that local businesses are benefiting from the flow of visitors.
“We at the Chamber office have seen a major increase in the number of people from many places,” Williams said. “We are meeting many families visiting the Lincoln sites or just stopping in Hodgenville. I see children almost every day having their picture made with the Boy Lincoln statue. Pedestrians are sitting on our new benches on the square and browsing in our shops.”
The Hardin County Museum in Elizabethtown was the only one of the nine sites to report a decrease in visitors: 1,270 in January-June 2007 to 1,169 in 2008.
Other visitation numbers at signature Kentucky Lincoln museums and historic sites were:
•Mary Todd Lincoln House, Lexington – 3,143 January-June 2007 to 4,340 January-June 2008
•Farmington Historic Plantation, Louisville – 1,276 January-June 2007 to 1,720 January-June 2008
•White Hall, Richmond – 2,116 January-June 2007 to 2,284 January-June 2008
•Camp Nelson, Nicholasville – 3,251 January-June 2007 to 3,903 January-June 2008
•Ashland, Lexington – 5,437 January-June 2007 to 5,596 January-June 2008
•Kentucky Historical Society – 23,342 January to June 2007 to 27,102 January to June 2008.
For more information about the Kentucky Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial, visit www.kylincoln.org.