OWSLEY COUNTY, Ky. (FOX 56) — Honestly, it seems Abe is everywhere in Kentucky, from the Capitol rotunda to college campuses, public squares, and riverside parks. Every school kid knows the 16th president was born in a log cabin near Hodgenville. You don’t have to go far to find a likeness on a pedestal, on a wall, or in the flesh. But one tribute is off the beaten path in rural Owsley County — way off the beaten path.
If you’re lucky, the 9-year-old boy who lives at the base of the mountain will take you there.
Walker Gibson likes to see how visitors react when they see a life-size image of Abraham Lincoln carved into a boulder, 500 feet up a mountain covered in kudzu vines.
“They’re just amazed,” he said. “Whenever there’s really nothing to do, I just walk up here.”
The sandstone sculpture was created sometime in the 1930s. There’s some information on file in the history section of the county library.
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Here’s what’s known. A peddler named Granville Johnson was working in the area when he became sick. A local family took him in, and during the day, the stranger would often disappear into the woods for hours. It’s believed he the carving of Lincoln as a thank-you gift for his hosts, who may’ve doubted his claims that he had been trained by an Italian sculptor.
“I think he might’ve wanted to show them he knew something about sculpting. So, it may have been a tribute, but it may also have been to prove a point that ‘Hey, I can sculpt,’” said Sue Christian, director of the Owsley County Alliance for Recreation and Entertainment.
Christian said the county once discussed moving the rock to a more accessible place, but that proved to be a monumental task that was too difficult and too expensive. She said officials were also worried they would damage the carving.
You have to cross private property to get to it, but landowner Wayne Gibson (Walker’s father) said the family is more than happy to allow it.
“I try to be good to people,” he said. “That’s the Christian-like thing to do. It’s pretty neat just to have something historical like that behind your house.”
They plan to keep the pathway open as long as visitors refrain from vandalism and littering. So far, that hasn’t been a problem.
The people who’d like to bring more tourists to Owsley County are thinkin’ Lincoln might be a solid attraction. Christian just visited the rock for the first time this spring, although she had tried to make the hike a couple of other times. Those times, it was either too muddy or too overgrown with kudzu.
Upon seeing it for the first time, Christian said she couldn’t believe how big it is. It makes her wonder how Johnson was able to reach so high to create his masterpiece.
“There are just so many questions,” she said.
Local history lover Dedria Morgan, an antiques dealer, said she’d love for more people to know about the rock.
“We may not be here to see it ever become what we want it to be, but we’re excited to know there are children who know and study Abraham Lincoln and they’re willing to take the hikes and show people,” she said. She hopes more teachers will bring students to the rock for field trips and would love to see a state or national park open around it, but the site’s remoteness may prevent that.
The carving does have some notoriety among scholars. It’s listed in the Smithsonian Art Museum’s Inventories Catalog as an example of outdoor folk art.
The site’s unofficial tour guide is always willing to lead the way for any able to climb the mountain. “It’s worth the walk,” Walker Gibson said.
We may never know the whole story behind the chiseled features off Kentucky Route 846, but that’s OK with local folks who are just happy it’s there. They like that there’s a little mystery to their history.
How to get to the Lincoln Rock
The Lincoln Rock is about eight miles south of Booneville. Take State Route 11 to State Route 846 and then turn left on Abraham Lincoln Trail. Park just past the house on the right of the road and walk 500 feet up the hill.