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Here's Why Hodgenville is Eager to See an End to Government Shutdown

Credit Lisa Autry
The gate at the entrance to the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Place is locked during the partial government shutdown.

Friday marks the third week of a partial government shutdown stemming from the debate over funding for President Donald Trump’s southern border wall.  One of the towns feeling the effects of the debate is Hodgenville, Kentucky, the birthplace of President Abraham Lincoln. 

When you drive through Hodgenville, you soon notice that it's Lincoln country.  The presence of our nation’s 16th president is felt everywhere: statues in the middle of the town square, the Lincoln Museum, Lincoln National Bank, the Lincoln’s Loft Bookstore, and the local radio station, Abe 93.7.

“Our town sees anywhere from 200,000 to 250,000 visitors each year," said Lincoln Museum Assistant Director Rob Thurman.

Tourism is the lifeblood of this town of 3,500.  The main draw is the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park.  Visitors get to see the first Lincoln Memorial ever built in the U.S., which houses a replica of the cabin where Lincoln was born. 

The partial government shutdown has closed the gates to Lincoln birthplace.  Across the road from the national park is a log structure known as the Lincoln General Store.  Owner Nikesh Patel says he’s had a lot of confused customers.

“They come here and ask us, ‘Why they shut down?’ They come from different states and they have to go back," Patel told WKU Public Radio.

Next to the general store is the Lincoln Lodge that includes a gift shop and motel.  Owner Regina McDowell says it’s tough seeing the disappointed faces.

“I had a family in here the other day and they had their two little kids with them," said McDowell. "The kids could not understand at all why they couldn’t go in. They had drove several states away just to get there.”

Visitors to the Lincoln birthplace, his boyhood home, and museum pump about $15 million a year into the local economy, according to estimates from the National Park Service.  The museum is a local non-profit and not supported by federal funding.  Assistant Director Rob Thurman says he's been able to keep the doors open since some government operations ceased on Dec. 21.

“January is usually slow, so if there does have to be a shutdown, I suppose now is the best, but certainly there’s no best time for so many people to be out of work right now,"  Thurman said.

As the partial government shutdown enters its third week, the Lincoln Museum’s Mark Thurman says President Trump and Congress could take a cue from history.

“The way he was able to build so many bridges with people who had different views, how he found ways to compromise even with members of his own political party, people from different political parties, and how he brought people with those differing ideas together to create a reunified country," Thurman said.

In an 1861 speech, President Abraham Lincoln said, “If the great American people will only keep their temper, on both sides of the line, the troubles will come to an end.”  Those are words that perhaps shouldn’t be lost on a divided nation 158 years later.

Lisa is a Scottsville native and WKU alum. She has worked in radio as a news reporter and anchor for 18 years. Prior to joining WKU Public Radio, she most recently worked at WHAS in Louisville and WLAC in Nashville. She has received numerous awards from the Associated Press, including Best Reporter in Kentucky. Many of her stories have been heard on NPR.
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