Within a half-hour drive of Lexington are two quintessential small towns that, aside from being picturesque and charming, are chocked full of history. For the visitor, Harrodsburg and Danville are gems of the inner Bluegrass region.
Fort Boonesborough gets most of the attention because of its connection with the romantic exploits of Daniel Boone, but its Fort Harrod that has the distinction of being the commonwealths first permanent white settlement. In 1774, a year before Boone founded his namesake settlement and William McConnell founded Lexington, pioneer James Harrod erected a fort, which was the beginning of the town bearing his name.
While he never attained Boones fame (nor his place in history), Harrods life was equally fascinating, albeit tragic. His brother and son were killed in Indian uprisings, with the latter meeting a particularly grisly end burning at the stake. Following his sons death, Harrod lost interest in his frontier settlement, and began to disappear on increasingly longer hunting trips. On his final trip in 1792, he mysteriously vanished, never to be heard from again. Stories abound as to what happened to Harrod, ranging from the belief that, he too, was killed by Indians to a tale that he was murdered by a man named Bridges while both were searching for a lost silver mine.
Whatever Harrods fate, his settlement lives on, reconstructed on a site not far from the original. At Old Fort Harrod State Park, visitors can tour the heavy timber stockade, with its cabins, blockhouses, schoolhouse and cemetery, and watch costumed craftspeople perform pioneer tasks such as blacksmithing, weaving and tending to farm animals.
Fort Harrod has other attractions as well, including the original log cabin where the marriage of Abraham Lincolns parents was solemnized in 1806; a federal monument dedicated to George Rogers Clark and his exploration of the Northwest Territory; and an Osage orange tree that is estimated to have already been there when the fort was built.
Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill has been called one of Kentuckys special places. The beauty of its setting alone 2,900 rolling acres spread above the palisades of the Kentucky River would merit that designation, but Shaker Village also happens to be the largest restored Shaker community in the United States, and the first site in the country to be designated in its entirety a National Historic Landmark.
Only 20 miles from Lexington, Shaker Village represents a place frozen in time back to 1805, when it was an active religious community, home to the United Society of Believers in Christs Second Appearing, or more commonly, Shakers. Set amidst the rolling landscape are woods featuring 35 miles of hiking trails, and 34 buildings, 14 of which may be seen on the self-guided village tour. Among these buildings are the 40-room Centre Family Dwelling, with its collection of original furniture, and the East Family Dwelling, with its excellent Shaker Life exhibit. Throughout the village, costumed interpreters demonstrate broom-making, basket-weaving, spinning and coopering.
Two of Shaker Villages most popular activities river cruises on the sternwheeler Dixie Belle and Shaker music performances in the 1820 Meeting House take place from late April through early October. However, you can enjoy the farm-to-table cuisine in the Trustees Office dining room, or stay overnight in one of the 81 guest rooms spread throughout the village, all year long.
If youre looking for another spot with excellent cuisine and accommodations, historic Beaumont Inn is the place to go. The stately white-columned mansion set amid equally stately magnolia trees first opened as a school for privileged young ladies in 1845, and remained an educational institution until it was converted to an inn in 1919.
Today, it has 31 guest rooms in three buildings, with a fourth building, Bell Cottage, housing a spa. Rooms are filled with antiques. Kentucky bourbon is served in the Old Owl Tavern or the Owls Nest, and the dining room offers such regional favorites as Kentucky cured country ham, yellow-legged fried chicken, corn pudding and cornmeal batter cakes.
This lovely city is home to one of the best liberal arts colleges in the nation, Centre College, with its renowned Norton Center for the Arts, and one of the commonwealths most popular events, the Great American Brass Band Festival, held every June.
Constitution Square State Historic Site lays claim to being the birthplace of the state of Kentucky. It was on this spot, in 1784, in Graysons Tavern, that a caucus met to begin framing a constitution that would separate what is now Kentucky from Virginia. The process took eight years, and on June 1, 1792, Kentucky entered the Union as the 15th state.
Constitution Square honors those early visionaries. A statue of a frock-coated statesman shakes hands with a companion statue of a buckskin-clad frontiersman, with the commonwealths motto, United We Stand; Divided We Fall. In the northwest quadrant of the square, the Governors Circle honors all of the states governors, beginning with its first, Isaac Shelby.
Surrounding Constitution Square are a few of the original buildings, including the post office which, when built in the 1790s, was the first post office west of the Alleghenies, as well as replicas of the courthouse, jail and meetinghouse.
Across Second Street from Constitution Square is a modest white-frame dwelling in the Federal-style common in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The Ephraim McDowell House and Apothecary Shop was the office of McDowell, a Scottish-born physician, and it was here that the worlds first successful surgery to remove an ovarian tumor was performed in 1809.