Though President Lincoln never visited the area, we are told that he was deeply grateful to the Unionists of East Tennessee, whose loyalty was tested during the Civil War. General O.O. Howard, who spoke with Lincoln in 1863, came to speak at the nearby Harrow School and was reminded of the 16th president’s gratitude to the people of the Cumberland Gap.
In 1897, the Lincoln Memorial University was chartered and soon, supporters began donating books, manuscripts, firearms, uniforms, and various other artifacts. Over the years, as the collection grew, and by the 1970s, it had outgrown the available space. In 1977, due in large part to the financial support of a famous donor, the present facility opened.
That donor? Col. Harland Sanders, founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Today, the 21,000-square-foot facility is one of the most significant repositories of Lincoln and Civil War material anywhere.