The southeastern part of Hardin County had always seemed somehow set apart from the rest of the county. Though the distance between the settlements in the Nolin Valley and the Severn’s Valley was not great in today’s terms, travel in those days made visits to the county seat of Elizabethtown difficult. Imposing hills may have contributed to a certain sense of isolation and, over the years, a distinct feeling of community and common interest had developed among the people of southeast Hardin County, an area which had always been referred to as the “Nolin section” of Hardin County.
The population had grown in the Nolin country over the years. Calls for the formation of a new county began around 1840, with the town of Hodgenville to be its county seat. Citizens in the vicinity of the town actually obtained, through subscription, a total of $2,555 for public buildings that might be needed (Elliott 1970: 16; Mather 1995: 5).
On March 4, 1843, the new county was created by act of the Kentucky legislature. Many citizens favored the name “Lynn” for the new county. John LaRue Helm, later a governor of Kentucky, suggested that the county be named “LaRue,” in honor of his grandfather, John LaRue, one of the earliest settlers at Phillips’ Fort. “Helm” and “Slaughter” were also proposed before a compromise was reached and a decision made in favor of the name “LaRue County.”
The first meeting of the court was conducted that same month at the Presbyterian “meeting house” in the newly-declared county seat of Hodgenville. Similarly, the first term of the LaRue Circuit Court was held in April in Hodgenville’s Baptist Church. It was not until October 1844 that circuit court could be held in the county’s new courthouse (Landmark Community Newspapers, Inc. 1976; Mather 1995:5; Perrin 1888: 949).
In 1780, a group of pioneers ventured into what is now LaRue County, and established Phillip’s Fort along the Nolin River. The fort served to protect a mill on the river built by Robert Hodgen in 1788. Among Hodgen’s early customers were Thomas and Nancy Hanks Lincoln, parents of Abraham Lincoln. In 1818, Hodgen’s widow, Sarah, petitioned the courts to establish a town called Hodgenville, which officially incorporated as a city in 1839, and was named the county seat of LaRue County when it was set off from nearby Hardin County in 1843.
Towards the end of the 19th century, national attention focused on Hodgenville as the place of Lincoln’s birth. The Lincoln Farm Association purchased Lincoln’s birthplace, the Sinking Spring Farm, in 1906 “for the purpose of honoring and perpetuating the Sinking Spring Farm”, in 1906 “for the purpose of honoring and perpetuating the memory of Abraham Lincoln.” The group subsequently raised $350,000 to build an appropriate memorial to our nation’s 16th president, which stands today as testament to their resolve. Also in 1909, the Centennial year of Lincoln’s birth, a life-sized seated statue of Lincoln by noted New York sculptor Adolph A. Weinman was placed on Hodgenville’s town square, where it remains today as a symbol of the town’s pride in its most famous native son.
Today, LaRue County is a vibrant growing community, “just close enough” to nearby larger cities, but “just far enough away” to enjoy a slower, friendlier way of life. Known for its warm Southern hospitality, LaRue County welcomes visitors to its Lincoln attractions, and encourages them to enjoy the many festivals, antique & gift shops, restaurants and agri-tourism destinations that abound in our historic communities.
As you can see, almost 200 years after Thomas Lincoln chose to move his family here, LaRue County is still a great place to live, or just stop by for a visit!
Read more about Hodgenville history here, and history of the Lincolns here.