Five rich, colorful Central Kentucky historical sites

teblen@herald-leader.comSeptember 22, 2011 

Central Kentucky is steeped in history — a history that began long before pioneers ventured over the Appalachian mountains 250 years ago into what explorer John Filson called the "new Eden."

Ancient native American tribes, statesmen, soldiers, horsemen, industrialists and many others have left their marks on this land. Many of those marks are still visible, if you know where to look.

Here is my list of a few places to visit to get a sense of Central Kentucky's rich and colorful history. I have left off most of the obvious destinations. After all, you can find those at the Lexington Convention and Visitors' Bureau Web site, VisitLex.com.

Woodland Indian Mounds. Thousands of years before Daniel Boone arrived, Native Americans lived, wandered and hunted buffalo all across the Bluegrass. They left behind stone tools, arrowheads and big mounds of earth. Most of those mounds have been fenced off over the years to keep out scavengers. An excellent example is the 105-foot circular mound at Adena Park off Mount Horeb Pike, which is thought to have been built between 200 and 1,000 B.C. The park is owned by the University of Kentucky and isn't open to the public, but faculty and staff can arrange access for picnics.

Lower Howard's Creek. This 240-acre property is both a nature preserve and Central Kentucky's first industrial park. Some combination, huh? The property is in Clark County, in a deep, narrow gorge, just upstream from where the creek meets the Kentucky River. Some of the first settlers to leave Fort Boonesborough went there in the 1770s, and by 1812, it was one of the largest manufacturing districts west of the Allegheny Mountains. Today, Lower Howard's Creek has mostly reverted to nature, with spectacular waterfalls and a beautiful forests. Some ruins of the stone mills, factories and distilleries remain. Visit: LowerHowardsCreek.org.

Pope Villa. Central Kentucky has many historic mansions that have been beautifully restored. This circa-1810 home built for former U.S. Sen. John Pope is notable for two reasons: It is the Bluegrass region's most architecturally significant home, and it is a wreck. Pope Villa was designed by Benjamin Latrobe, America's greatest early architect, to showcase his ideas for how a "modern" home should be designed. The home was incredibly innovative, but much of that innovation was remodeled out of it over the next 150 years. The Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation is slowly restoring the home to its original state. Although not regularly open to the public, tours of Pope Villa, which is at 326 Grosvenor Avenue near the University of Kentucky, are scheduled periodically. Visit: BlueGrassTrust.org.

Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill. This one is obvious, I know. But this is such a special place that any Bluegrass resident who hasn't been there at least once should be asked to move to Ohio.

This village of stunning early 19th-century architecture, carefully restored in the 1960s, offers a window into the Shakers. This religious community remains famous for its simple lifestyle and elegant buildings and furniture. If only the Shakers had believed in having sex, they might still live there. Visit: Shakervillageky.org.

Country roads. When I was young, my parents' idea of an interesting Sunday afternoon was to pile us kids in the station wagon and drive aimlessly on country roads throughout the Bluegrass. The beautiful scenery included antebellum homes, battlefields, old stone churches and historic horse farms. I still ride country roads several times a week in good weather, but I do it on a bicycle. One of Central Kentucky's best-kept secrets is that it is a road biking paradise. If you don't bike, though, touring Bluegrass country roads is still a great experience by car. Just watch out for the cyclists.

More Central Kentucky bucket lists:

Reach Tom Eblen at teblen@herald-leader.com or (859) 231-1415 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 1415. Read and comment on his blog, The Bluegrass & Beyond, at Kentucky.com.

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